Will the baby be thrown out with the bath water again?

  • 2012-01-11
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Fifty-eight-year-old deputy chairman of the Lithuanian Labor Party, Arturas Paulauskas, is one of the most famous contemporary Lithuanian politicians, despite the fact that his party, the New Union, or Social Liberals, having experienced a severe blow in the 2008 Seimas elections, was left out of the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas. Later, it was swept from the Lithuanian political map following Paulauskas’ efforts to resuscitate the troubled party he founded by spearheading a referendum on empowering electors to dissolve Seimas, a straw by which the New Union could cling onto the political life’s ER tubes had the referendum succeeded. This didn’t work out. With the party’s resurrection efforts exhausted, Paulauskas decided to merge the once-popular center-left party with the MEP Viktoras Uspaskichas-led Labor Party, and in the process being rewarded in it with the position of a deputy chairman. Paulauskas, a prominent lawyer, former prosecutor general of Lithuania, former Lithuanian Seimas Chairman and Environment Minister said to The Baltic Times that the New Union’s disappearance  has been as excruciating as the loss in the cliff-hanger 1997 presidential elections, when he was beaten by Valdas Adamkus by a mere 0.5 percent margin. The Baltic Times sat down with Paulauskas for this interview.

rankly, it is strange to see you under the flag of the Labor Party.
There are many unusual things in political life. Party mergers are quite a natural thing in the West. With the 2012 Seimas election coming closer, I believe we will see some more party mergers in Lithuania. The process is for the sake of the national political life. Dissolving the party was a necessary thing, as voters stopped voting for it. It is another question as to why they stopped.

Before the 2008 Seimas election, peopled needed vociferous promises, songs and dances, which they were given. So let’s enjoy the singing and dancing Parliament!

How many of the New Union members joined the Labor Party?
Out of 4,000 members, nearly half of them did so.

From what I saw from the Labor Party stopover in Palanga, a part of the Labor Party campaign “For an active Lithuania,” you drew the loudest applause from the attendees. Does it surprise you?
It does not. I have been active in political life for nearly two decades, when some of the younger-generation Labor Party leaders were not yet born. I feel I still have the trust of many people. That is a very important thing for every politician.

Certainly, you are a big boost for the Labor Party’s ambitions, especially with the parliamentary elections being less than one year away. However, isn’t the campaign “For an active Lithuania,” which is seen as a kick-off to the parliamentary election campaign by some political analysts, too early?
As a party or as a politician, you always have to feel the pulse. The Labor Party has already outlined its 2012 Seimas election program and, therefore, touring Lithuania and speaking to people in small towns about it is kind of a check-up. I think it is high time to introduce to people the main provisions of the program we are intending to go to the elections with.
Can you name some landmarks of the program?
Well, first, we estimate the current economic and political situation of the country. And we state that a change is needed. As for the program, I have contributed to it as well, particularly to its provisions on law, justice and the judicial system. We all see that the country’s power institutions – Seimas, the courts, the police and prosecutor’s office – have lost their credibility in the public eye. This has to be reversed, as the continuing situation of mistrust threatens the foundation of the state itself. The Labor Party yearns to have people as free as possible in the process of decision-making. Therefore, we stand for direct elections of mayors and elders. We want to decrease the number of the municipalities’ council members. We support the idea of establishing self-defense units in Lithuanian towns and settlements, which would bring the sense of security and be of assistance to the police. The Labor Party wants local communities to become very proactive in solving their local issues. Authorities in Vilnius have only to set conditions to make it happen.

You also stand for establishing an institution of peace advisors at local courts. Can you explain what kind of institution it would be?
Such a judiciary institution was known in pre-war independent Lithuania. The institution of peace advisors is quite popular in some Western countries. As far as I know, in France, peace advisors solve 30 percent of all court cases. Usually, people who are trusted and who prove to be of an impeccable reputation are being elected as peace advisors in the West. They would ease the task of our courts that are heaped up with all kinds of cases. Many of them could be solved by the peace advisors.

On the left-wing of the political spectrum, there are two parties, the Labor Party and Social Democrats, which aim at the same segment of the electorate. How can the Labor Party stand out in the competition? What emphasis should be put in your program to strategically outsmart Social Democrats?
I agree that, ideologically-wise, we target the same electorate. Probably it would make sense for both parties to discuss their programs together before the elections, or even form some kind of a coalition before. However, it is too early to speak about this, and the decision will be made, I assume, by a party convention.
To answer your question, I think we, when talking to people, have to emphasize that only Conservatives and Social Democrats were at the wheel of government in over 20 years of independent Lithuania. The goal of the Labor Party tour “For an active Lithuania” is to [highlight] to our people that, excepting Conservatives and Social Democrats, there are other political forces, like the Labor Party, that can handle the leadership if given a chance.

Lithuanian liberal parties stress exactly this – the choice of the Third Way…
I do not know how real their bids are. I believe all of them face the issue of survivability now. By the way, I would disagree with you that the Labor Party, like the Social Democrats, positions itself as a leftist party. As a matter of fact, we position ourselves, like the liberals, in the center of the political spectrum. One has to agree that our chances are much better than theirs.

However, the criminal charges on the Labor Party and its leader, Viktoras Uspaskichas, over supposed tax evasion, have not been dropped yet. Don’t you think, with the case open and litigation proceeding, it (the case) will be a tool in the hands of prosecutors to make a charge before the Seimas elections? Even to shut down the party, as some prosecutors hint? Do you think our Prosecutor’s Office is politically disengaged?
Well, prosecutors cannot be politically engaged. That is first. Second, not casting a doubt on the Prosecutor’s Office and the court, I can hardly imagine a party’s infringement, [sufficient] for which it would be shut down. Whatever way the litigation goes, I do not think the court could pass such a ruling, which would have far-reaching consequences for the political life and the state itself. On the other hand, I have no doubt that some political forces use pressure on the Prosecutor’s Office and the court to pass a ruling, which would harm the Labor Party.

How do you explain the high ratings of the party despite the litigation and the fact that the party leader, Uspaskichas, has been stripped of his legal immunity by the European Parliament?
It proves to me that the public trust neither the political authorities, nor our criminal justices. Speaking on the whole, I see a lot of investigations into criminal activities regarding damage to the national budget to have been started, but many of them are stalling, and some of them, likely, will never reach court. In the case of our party, no tangible damage has been done to the state. Lithuanian people are aware of this. They see stalling, or closed high-profile cases when there a person who has been hurt or his rights have been violated, and the people hearing the charges for the Labor Party say: “Go after the real criminal!”

The fulfillment of your party program would require a substantially large national budget. Especially fulfilling the promises to increase social payouts and wages. Where are you intending to get the money from?
We have to review our tax system. For example, a luxury tax for luxury real estate could be introduced [this interview was conducted before Seimas introduced the tax]. There are also other taxation measures to be considered in setting off the budget. Frankly, I have not contributed to the program provisions on the economy, so I would rather restrain from wider comments. I believe, however, that our budget should be more oriented to social justice by employing a variety of taxes.

How is the Labor Party going to curb the immense emigration?
The bottom is line is to allow people themselves to take care of their life locally as much as possible. Those who left Lithuania have declared to all, and to the policy-makers as well, that they do not feel necessary in the country. People have to be given opportunities to work and make a living here and, most importantly, they have to be provided with the sense of being necessary for their Motherland. That is basic. As I said before, the importance of local communities has to increase. Authorities cannot interfere with their activities, only set a favorable environment.

Has the party completed its electoral list in multi-mandate and single-member electoral districts?
Yes, it has. I will run as candidate in the Fabijoniskiu district of Vilnius.

Is it too early yet to say which parties you would not engage with in negotiation talks in forming a coalition?
With those whose programs are far from ours, certainly, we will not want to talk to. However, it is too early to speak of this.

How do you see the Seimas’ ban for legal entities to finance political parties? How will the amendment affect your party?
I am not in favor of this ban. If we seek transparency in the financing of parties, there should have been set certain financing control mechanisms that would have to work effectively. By the ban the Seimas has gone along the easiest route; however, it does not solve the problem. I am pretty sure those parties, which will seek ways to evade the ban, will find them. I believe the Special Investigation Service [SIS], or some state financial institutions, had to be entitled to supervise the mechanism of party financing. With the Seimas tenure ending, it is strange to hear media revelations that the companies which rendered financial support for parties before the 2008 Seimas elections have been awarded massive contracts through public tenders, amounting, I read, to two or three billion litas. Why do the numbers come out only now? And, most importantly, why did the companies avoid bigger scrutiny until now?  What Seimas, seeking transparency in party financing, had to do was to empower, let us say, the SIS to monitor the political parties’ electoral campaign contributors. I do not know why it has not been done. I reckon it was not in the interests of the Seimas. Banning legal entities from financing parties puts a heavy financial burden on the state budget. Look: the state needs to find around 5 billion litas for paying out the state’s insured Snoras deposits. And here comes a parliamentarian, a supporter of the ban, and says: “The state found the billions for the Snoras deposits, so it easy as pie to find an extra 20 million litas in the budget to finance political parties.” What an irresponsible way of thinking this is! Don’t those politicians think that, with the unpopular parties being financed from the state budget, all parties will be hated even more?

How do you explain the futile attempts at interpellations by the Seimas opposition of the government, though all unanimously agree on its unpopularity? 
Well, the opposition has never been acting like one unit in the tenure. When the issue of interpellation was on, the opposition parties never managed to muster their ranks.

Do you believe that voters, in the parliamentary elections in the fall, will vote for ideas and programs instead of nicer entertainment and louder promises? In other words, when will Lithuania have a civil society?
I believe it – a civil society – should be a striving of all state institutions, including parties and Seimas. Alas, we are still far from it. Our current political propensities mark a certain step of our development as state and as citizenry. Unfortunately, we are where we are at now. Most likely other entertainers, not from Valinskas’ former National Revival Party, decide to try their luck in the coming elections. With the populace still thirsty for loud promises and a good show, they may stand good chances. I am afraid we will throw the baby out with the bath water again. It is something we all have think of.