Bobelis the Savior

  • 2001-05-17
In late 1991 the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party was the most popular party in the country, according to surveys. Since then, however, it has been in decline and now the 11,000-strong party has merged with the tiny Christian Democratic Union of Kazys Bobelis.

Bobelis represents the last chance for a comeback by a party that looks like a spent force. Above all he has charisma. Since returning from the United States to launch his political career he has consistently been among the country's 10 most popular politicians. People love his old-fashioned way of speaking, untainted by an American accent.

The right wing Christian Democrats have made many mistakes. In the 1990s, elderly party members were nostalgic for its heyday in the early 1920s when it ruled Lithuania. They wanted a return to the close ties with the church their party once had. Some priests, like Soviet political prisoner Alfonsas Svarinskas, joined the party despite the objections of Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis and the Vatican, who would prefer the church to keep out of politics.

People expressed the same yearnings for the past at the last election. But what was good for the electorate in the 1920s is not so brilliant in the third millennium. The popularity of the Christian Democratic Party has been declining rapidly, while the church is the second most trusted institution in Lithuania, according to surveys.

The Christian Democrats' second mistake was allowing themselves to become the Conservative Party's younger sister. The Christian Democrats became tainted by association with all the sins of the Conservatives.

Algirdas Saudargas, current leader of the Christian Democratic Party and former foreign minister, has no charisma. A dull Western-oriented bureaucrat, he lacks the exotic eccentricity of Estonia's infamous Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Bobelis is a pragmatic populist - the two vital characteristics of successful politicians the world over. He describes the newly established party named the Lithuanian Christian Democrats as center-right. Almost all parties in Lithuania's Parliament describe themselves as either center-right or center-left, none as simply "left" or "right." Ideologies merge or die in modern Europe.