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Class truant who got hooked on politics

  • 2012-04-26
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

If not for the shift in history, 40-year-old Vladimiras Laucius, a well-known Lithuanian political analyst and journalist, could be still somewhere in Russia, where he was born into a family of a Russian father and Lithuanian mother. With Sajudis, the national movement for Lithuania’s political independence gearing up, the 17-year-old teenager told his parents he wanted to seek an education only in Lithuania, nowhere else. His persistence prevailed and, in 1989, the family moved from St. Petersburg to Lithuania, where the Russian transplant enrolled in Vilnius University’s History Faculty. He graduated in 1999. A few years later he was admitted into Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences. With a second diploma in hand, he worked in the Lithuanian History Institute from 1995-1997, but since 2001 his breadwinner has been journalism and monitoring political life. Laucius agreed to answer a few The Baltic Times questions.

I believe you are the only Lithuanian political analyst of Russian origin. I cannot resist asking you a few questions regarding your background. What are the most vivid memories you have from your life in Russia?
I’m not sure whether I should tell you this, but the most vivid memories I have from Russia are from school – St. Petersburg’s Emperor Alexander II Gymnasium. To tell the truth, they are mostly related to deliberately missing classes and life outside it. Quite honestly, I was not a big fan of the school, therefore, I’d devote a lot of my time attempting to extend my sick leave. This was not something my parents would be fond of. But I guess they were placated to know that I, instead of aimlessly roaming St. Petersburg streets, stayed at home, reading a lot. The last two years at school were different. With perestroika, the Gorbacov-induced movement for change picking up and opening new opportunities, I was gulping down the fresh air, filling my lungs with it and engaging in lengthy discussions with my classmates over the Baltic States’ quest for independence. I even distributed the Lithuanian Sajudis-published Russian-language Soglasije at school.

Was such conduct appropriate to a member of the Komsomol organization, the Communist Party’s youth league?
In fact, I’ve never joined it. The school administration simply couldn’t ignore my views, so stark to the teachings of local Communist activists. I remember, in the 10th grade, there were three of us non-Komsomol members left in the class. Julia, who was suspected of inappropriate sexual behavior, a classmate with an Uzbek surname, who often seemed not to be comprehending his surrounding world, and me, the Lithuanian nationalist. The other two, just before graduation, bowed to the pressure and joined the Komsomol ranks. Not me.

I was very interested in your recent commentary on liberal democracy and its perspectives. Does Lithuania have the potential for eventually transforming into a liberal democratic state, combining collective solutions and individual decisions?
Alas, for us, liberal democracy is still a foreign thing - neither scrutinized, nor significant or something that has to be cherished. If we were to look around, we can hear shrieks condemning the non-spiritual and non-Christian West, reverberating from all sides. I’d say, until our accession to the euro-Atlantic organizations, this kind of rhetoric was pretty quiet, but today the screams are stronger than ever before, as they are coming not only from more politicians, but also from the Catholic Church hierarchs. I could understand the politicians’ concerns, as politicians always try to adapt to the environment and demand. However, I am more surprised by our intellectuals, who spread, I’d say, the most sophisticated rhetoric against the principles of liberal democracy. It’s very hard yet to see the academic and political elite engaging in a discussion over the topic.

Many politicians and thinkers on the right are vexed over the EU’s unwillingness to acknowledge the importance of the Christian tradition in EU legislation, like the Lisbon Treaty. Is the European Union and Lithuania doomed without keeping the Catholic Church on board?
Those claims that, because of not mentioning Christianity in the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has cut off its ties with the Christian tradition and, therefore, now hangs in an empty historical and cultural space, are absolutely unfounded. Besides, the EU undertaking is about a political and economic union, not about a religious or museum-like affair. On the other hand, speaking of Christianity during these church-emptying times as being Europe’s political cement would not mean addressing reality. In fact, there is very little pure live faith left in Europe, as it is known for its abundance of faiths, ranging from agnostic to eclectic and the cultural museum Christianity. Benedict Spinoza, John Locke and Montesquieu, the founder philosophers of liberal democracy, perceived well the essence of political Christianity and their doctrines were directed against it, at risk of their own lives. The affirmation that the EU has to lean on Christian tradition means a craving for political Christianity, a bygone era, which has caused a lot of pain.

Let’s not delve into political theory. How do you see the Lithuanian political scene up to the parliamentary election in the fall?
The political life, until the elections, will be heavily influenced by the preparation for the event. The largest ruling party - HU-LCD - will likely attempt to conjure up an impression that its efforts to successfully complete the parliamentary tenure are being hampered by others. As a matter of fact, this is already actively happening. Though, with the rows often instigated by the Conservatives themselves, the HU-LCD is deliberately and determinedly dismantling the foundation of the ruling coalition and drawing nearer the perspective of minority government.

I believe our readers should be reminded that the political row between the Conservatives and the Liberal Centrist Party (LCP) started off with LCP minister Palaitis’ sacking Financial Crime Investigation Service (FCIS) heads, which led eventually to the Minister’s resignation and the ensuing squabbles over who has to replace him. Who and which party do you believe is to garner the most from this history?
That will considerably depend on the public relations and their potential following the history and its ramifications. No one should forget that the Motherland Union is a lot bigger and stronger than the LCP. The Conservatives, who have on their side part of the media and some public commentators, have already succeeded in creating an image of protagonists for “justice.” However, while hoisting the flag of purported justice and truth, they snub the Lithuanian Constitution provisions that claim the court’s exclusiveness in carrying out justice in the country. It seems the Conservatives are ready to take the function from local courts and decide themselves what to do with the sacked FCIS heads, and in the Garliava pedophile case.

Did the rows between the two ruling coalition’s parties come to you as a surprise?
No, not at all. Most political coalitions are formed out of necessity. Participants of most coalitions are power players who seek only benefits from a coalition. It seems that, for the elite of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, waging war against its coalition partners is more beneficial now than striking a peace agreement with them.

Can we already write off the Liberal Centrists before the elections?
I believe it will not be easy for them to overcome the 5 percent barrier in order to clinch parliamentary seats according to the party list. However, the political societal movement TAIP, led by the current Vilnius mayor Zuokas, who once headed the LCP, also will deal with the same difficulty. Nevertheless, I’d not hurry to dump the parties and their leaders, Algis Caplikas and  Arturas Zuokas, into the political landfill just yet. Especially when the Zuokas-led movement won the previous municipal elections, gathering more votes than the Liberal Movement.

Why didn’t the idea of the third way, aimed at joining all liberal parties and movements, which ex-president Valdas Adamkus had sought, work out?
To believe the polls, the Liberal Movement has the best chances among the three liberal parties to get into Parliament. Perhaps this is the one of the main reasons why the leaders of the Liberal Movement didn’t want to get together with the other two parties. I believe, among other reasons, it is the belief of the liberal party that it can be the only parliamentary liberal party in Seimas, and it is Zuokas’ ambitions that his strong leadership can catapult the party into Parliament.

Seimas has declined the idea of premature parliamentary elections. But if it had happened, what parties would have benefited the most?
The idea is too ephemeral to put it under scrutiny and guesses. I believe that even the parties on top of the polls couldn’t have been convinced of the outcome they had expected. However, the same polls give us an idea in how the parties would have likely lined up.

With the court proceedings over the Labor Party’s possible financial crimes ongoing, how do you explain its continuing popularity?  
Its popularity is directly related to the popularity of its leader, Viktoras Uspaskichas. He remains popular just because he is an excellent political actor – extremely exuberant, self-confident and an aggressive populist, which is very liked by so-called protest voters. If the court will rule against the party, I believe some harder times for it can be ahead.

Paksas, the impeached and ousted president, has been granted the right to participate in the 2012 Seimas elections. How will his leadership affect his party’s parliamentary quest?
It will depend on how he will get involved in the electoral campaign. I believe the party’s ratings could be boosted if Paksas will produce an active and vivid electoral stance. If he doesn’t make any splash, it is very likely that other parties, especially the Labor Party, will take a part of Order and Justice Party’s votes.

Do you believe that all participants of the electoral campaign are known already? Can Lithuania expect a populist party to emerge before the finish line - similar to showman Valinskas’ Resurrection Party, launched right before the 2008 parliamentary elections?
Frankly, it’s unlikely the electoral campaign will produce a Valinskas’ Resurrection Party-like political entity. Perhaps the biggest participants of the contest are clear already.

To speculate, if such a party appeared, would it be a nationalist party, feeding on the animosity against the EU and nationalistic slogans, or a radical liberal party, like Palikot’s party in Poland?
In the case of the first scenario, nationalists would need to push the Conservatives out of their traditional political space, which is hardly believable in the upcoming elections. As for a radical liberal party, I doubt where a fourth liberal player, even the most radical, could take away the other three parties’ voters. Altogether, in neither a nationalist, nor a radical liberal party do I see possibilities in the current Lithuanian political landscape.

What issues do you believe to be the most important in the campaign? Economic? Social? Energy issues?
There is still nearly a half-year to go to the political showdown. A lot can still happen, something that can considerably influence the electoral campaign, its content and voters’ moods. As far as social issues are concerned, they have always been very important in Lithuania, and they will remain such in the upcoming campaign.

Do you believe Seimas can still pass a law legitimizing e-voting? For which parties would it be beneficial?
I don’t believe that e-voting will be available for voters this fall. It would definitely work against the parties whose voters’ computer literacy is poorer and which usually succeed in bringing their electorate to ballot on voting day. Obviously, the Conservatives and Social Democrats would be ill-affected by e-voting the most.

Do you think the ruling coalition parties will be able to agree on the crucial vote on ratification of the Concession Agreement of the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant (VNPP)? Or with more support for the VNPP referendum, is the Agreement is doomed?
Until the government has the support of the parliamentary majority and President Grybauskaite, it can proceed with the work, unless it itself puts barriers along the way. However, the ratification won’t be easy.