Concern expressed over the deterioration of democracy

  • 2011-05-25
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On May 21, Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius remained in his post as the chairman of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD), defeating Parliament Chairwoman Irena Degutiene 5,546-4,628 during the party-wide election of the party’s chairman. “I’m like Lietuvos Rytas and you are like Zalgiris,” Degutiene said laughing (on May 19, Kaunas Zalgiris defeated Vilnius Lietuvos Rytas in the Lithuanian Basketball League’s series for the title of Lithuania’s champion) and presented a bottle of sparkling wine to Kubilius in the courtyard of HU-LCD headquarters. The Kubilius vs. Degutiene game was a friendly match – they have a similar view on state affairs, though this view provokes concern among human rights activists, some oppositional politicians and even coalition partners in the HU-LCD-led ruling center-right coalition. Kubilius described the election of the HU-LCD chairman as a “feast of democracy” but some politicians of other parties and intellectuals say that democracy is not in so good shape under the rule of HU-LCD.

On May 20, Darius Kuolys, director of the NGO named Civil Society’s Institute, Henrikas Mickevicius, executive director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, and Leonidas Donskis, European Parliament’s liberal member, held a press conference in the premises of the Baltic News Service to express their concern over Lithuania’s slide towards a police state. They pointed out that, according to the data of the European Commission, in 2008 the Lithuanian police and secret services asked 85,315 times for Lithuanian Internet and phone operators to allow access to private communications. The figure for Lithuania in 2009 is 72,473. In the fall of 2008, the state power in Lithuania was taken by the HU-LCD from the Social Democrats.

There is maybe a positive tendency in this sphere, but in comparison with the majority of other EU states, Lithuania’s statistics are still frightening. Donskis emphasized that the figure in Germany of such surveillance in 2008 was 12,684. Germany has a population of 82 million, while Lithuania’s population is 3.1 million. The figure for Finland of such surveillance is 4,008 in 2008 while Finland’s population is 5.4 million. The Internet and phone communications’ surveillance scale in Lithuania is similar only to such post-communist states as Poland (population 38 million), where the figure was 1,048,318 in 2009. The figures for Latvia (with a population one-third smaller than in Lithuania) and Estonia (population almost one-third that of Lithuania) in 2009 were as follows: 26,096 and 8,410, i.e. the level of surveillance there is much lower than in Lithuania, according to the European Commission.
“Such surveillance is legal only for the investigation of serious crimes. How many serious criminals are in Lithuania?” Mickevicius asked rhetorically.

All three speakers at the conference also expressed their concern over the actions of law enforcement institutions in the case of alleged Islamist terrorist Egle Kusaite, now 22, who allegedly planned to become a suicide bomber in Russia – her final trial is still awaited in Vilnius. The human rights activists stated that it is possible that Kusaite could have communicated to somebody about her terrorist dreams, but they expressed the opinion that law-and-order institutions possibly overreacted in this case, especially with her imprisonment for nine months in October, 2009, and repeated imprisonment for a couple of weeks this year. The participants of the press conference asked Degutiene and President Dalia Grybauskaite to meet with them to discuss the actions of law enforcement institutions in the Kusaite case. Degutiene answered that she has no interest to discuss it, while Grybauskaite’s answer was vague: maybe some day in the future.

According to Eurobarometer (a series of surveys regularly performed on behalf of the
European Commission) in the fall of 2010, Lithuania is 25th among the 27 EU members according to citizens’ trust in their country’s law system, and 27th, i.e. the last, according to trust in the national parliament which issues the laws. Trust in the law enforcement system was weakened significantly due to the scandalous nature of the alleged pedophilia case in Kaunas, known to everybody as the Drasius Kedys case.

On Oct. 5, 2009, Kedys, 37, who said his young daughter (now she is six years old) had been the victim of pedophiles, gunned down (as prosecutors officially suspect) Kaunas Judge Jonas Furmanavicius and the aunt of Kedys’ daughter. Earlier, Kedys publicly blamed both of them for being involved in the molestation. Officials concluded that in April this year, Kedys, who was hiding from police, died due to vomiting caused by alcohol abuse. They stated that some wounds, which were noticeable on Kedys’ face, could have appeared after his death. This year, Swedish forensic experts stated that it is unlikely that the wounds could appear after the death. Nobody has been found guilty of pedophilia in this case yet. According to journalist Arnas Klivecka of Baltijos TV, possibly some high standing officials or their relatives were involved in that mysterious pedophile ring, under the assumption that such a ring existed.

On May 17, the parliament hosted a conference of intellectuals and politicians on the dangers of right extremism in Lithuania. Not much right extremism was found in Lithuania during the conference, but some liberals of the ruling coalition, as well as the opposition, pointed to the radical clericalism which significantly influences the legal system under the auspices of the quite clericalist HU-LCD.

“I see the obvious danger of clericalism in politics. Look at the last statement by [Catholic Archbishop] Sigitas Tamkevicius about artificial insemination, and look how he regards MPs who maybe will vote according to their own views. I see the clericalist radicalism in it,” Egidijus Klumbys, MP of the oppositional Order and Justice parliamentary faction.
Earlier on the same May 17, Tamkevicius expressed his negative opinion about the draft law on artificial insemination, which is scheduled to be discussed in the parliament on May 26. “We would like to remind that participation in the adopting of such law is a very big crime from the point of view of the Gospel and the Church,” Tamkevicius said during a press conference, where hierarchs of the Lutheran and Russian Orthodox churches also echoed him. There are 50,000 families in Lithuania which can expect to have a child only via artificial insemination.

The Church’s constant dictate on matters of law is starting to irritate even some members of the HU-LCD-led ruling coalition. “I’m, for example, also a Christian and a Catholic. However, it is totally unacceptable for me as a liberal that some hierarchs of the Church and politicians supporting them defend their views with political force, seeking to regulate or ban by laws what should be only up to citizens’ own decisions. Laws related to matters of personal philosophical views and morals should guarantee for citizens the maximum of freedom of choice, not fixing the domination of a concrete religion,” Eligijus Masiulis, leader of the Lithuanian Liberal Movement and transport minister in the Kubilius-led government, told the daily Lietuvos Rytas.