Social Democrats: still a monolith?

  • 2002-02-21
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
Cracks are forming in Lithuania's ruling left-wing Social Democrat Party. The widest is between the party's chairman, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and his deputy, thanks to their different positions on couple of key issues.

MP Vytenis Andriukaitis, the party's deputy chairman, is calling for a transitional period in the sale of farmland to foreigners. He is also promoting the idea to compensate pre-war real estate owners with cash, rather than return houses to their former owners, defending the interests of the tenants living in these legally controversial houses.

Brazauskas says there's no need for a transitional period in the sale of farmland to foreign citizens, and that former owners should get their real estate back.

Tensions were especially obvious during a meeting between Brazauskas and his party's MPs at the end of January. MPs on the left of the party accused Brazauskas of veering too close to the liberal policies of the rightist opposition. Andriukaitis and some of his friends even turned up an hour late to the meeting as a kind of demonstration.

This is the party's biggest crisis since two left-leaning parties, the Democratic Labor Party and the Social Democratic Party, merged to form the joint Social Democratic Party in Jan. 27, 2001. The tension between Brazauskas and Andriukaitis could be explained by the different political genesis of these two popular politicians.

Unreal communist

The Democratic Labor Party considered Brazauskas as its figurehead from 1993, when he became Lithuanian president and suspended his party membership because the constitution requires the president to be a non-party person. Officially, he never returned to the Labor Democratic Party.

For many years, Brazauskas was secretary for economics in the Lithuanian Communist Party's Central Committee before the "singing revolution" of 1988. "There were only 3 percent of real communists in the Communist Party in Lithuania," Brazauskas likes to repeat. This is not so far from the truth. The communist ideas brought in with the Soviet tanks in 1940 were always foreign to the absolute majority of Lithuanians. Communism was a foreign element in Lithuanian society, unlike Russia or Yugoslavia where it was a heady homemade brew.

In 1988, Brazauskas was elected head of the Lithuanian Communist Party. The following year, the Lithuanian Communist Party split from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Many historians say that this was the beginning of the end for the Soviet empire.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was not a normal political party. The Soviet republics' central committees feigned the functions of governments, so that the republics were simply central committee puppets. This meant that many communist bosses were more involved in the economy than in ideology.

And anyone who wanted to make a career in any sphere of life had to become a member of the Communist Party.

Of course, it was kind of prostitution. But prostitutes are very flexible people. They smiled at the Kremlin elders, but at the first opportunity turned their backs on them. The majority of the leaders of the "singing revolution" were in fact Communist Party members. And the percentage of former communists in Lithuania's right-wing political parties is not much less than in the Social Democrat Party.

On March 11, 1990, Brazauskas, a Lithuanian Communist Party MP at the time, voted together with the rest of the Lithuanian Parliament to re-establish the country's independence. The Lithuanian Communist Party then changed its name to the Democratic Labor Party.

Its members easily switched from loyalty to Moscow toward a focus on Europe.

Left flank

Andriukaitis' biography is different. The Social Democratic Party was re-established by Soviet-era political prisoners Aloyzas Sakalas and Andriukaitis in 1989. Andriukaitis is a man of traditionally social democratic views. He was never a member of the Communist Party. He lacks the political wiliness of the former communists.

Brazauskas and his friends got a lot of experience in international politics during their control of the majority of seats in the Parliament in 1992-1996 and during Brazauskas' presidency. Andriukaitis languished in opposition at that time.

Will Andriukaitis' flank, which now forms the left wing of the Social Democrat party, walk out? Unlikely. Gediminas Vagnorius broke away from the Conservatives. Rimantas Dagys broke away from the Social Democrats. Both politicians are now in a political abyss. Who remembers the Modern Conservatives established by Vagnorius and Dagys' Social Democracy 2000?

Andriukaitis will look for compromise if he still wants to play a major role in Lithuanian politics. And he is ambitious enough to be cautious. Brazauskas is an old man and the Social Democrat Party will need a new leader soon.