A few notes about the Augean stables of Lithuanian politics

Prof. Algis Krupavičius
Alius Koroliovas

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, leader of the main parliamentary faction Ramūnas Karbauskis and chairman of the Committee on National Security and Defence Vytautas Bakas promised to us that all this is just a beginning and even more interesting details might come soon. And that all new details might be even more spectacular.

Once Otto von Bismarck, architect of German unification of late 19th century, noted that laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. So the smell of Lithuanian political stables did not also seem to be good either. And it is not just only about a smell, but also about an overall picture, because politicians have also been wading in a real political dung.

First of all, this political dung is being made by corrupted connections between politics and business, and we do not even have serious instruments to make these politico- business relations more civilized and europeanized.

On the other hand, we all have a habit slightly to overestimate the newest facts. So today the real incarnation of the great demon is the MG Baltic corporation. Of course, new riches from the MG Baltic are cynical and hyper-confident in their imagined and real political influence. Unfortunately, similar corrupted style of relations between business and politics emerged before the MG Baltic’s decision to capture the Liberal Party more than a decade ago.

At the very beginning of the new millennium Lithuanian Business Employers’ Confederation and the Industry and Finance Corporation of Western Lithuania created the Labour Party as a political entity to represent them on national political stage. The Labour Party brought a bunch of businessmen into central politics. Still they had at least one serious and clear advantage, i.e. an openness as they acted openly and were saying that some representatives from big businesses are coming directly into politics.

After this was President Rolandas Paksas, who has been supported heavily by several relatively small business groups. Many things here remained in the shadows. Later the Paksas’ impeachment was used by competing business groups to strengthen their own influence on Lithuanian political elites. In those times lie the roots of Maxima’s Leo LT project, which intended to build new and costly nuclear power plant. A transparency was not intrinsic feature of the proposed enterprise. Finally this project collapsed, but for the businesses it brought a substantial pay off with the taxpayer’s money.

Moreover, as early as in 1996 Lithuanian Industrialists’ Confederation (LCI) did not create separate and own political party, but signed an electoral pact with the conservatives about future economic policies. Later on, Bronislovas Lubys, the President of the LCI, introduced practice in this organization to support financially all the major political parties before each parliamentary election. And here, by the way, we have an example of quite civilized relations between businesses and politics, although lobbying as political phenomenon in Lithuania for some time was called “lubism” (referring to Lubys’ surname).

The newly leaked files from the State Security Department revealed that the times changed considerably. Since 2006 the MG Baltic corporation has been developing the project of Liberal Party rather like a political tool of a single business corporation. At the end liberals turned into party, which was privatized and owned by only one major business company. Still publicly liberals showed themselves as a Western-like and value-based programmatic party. Some liberal politicians, those been sitting in the pocket of MG Baltic corporation, did not even understand that they were sitting there. And that could be a truth. Because all actions were developing behind the scenes and few liberals been fully informed about what was happening around. Unfortunately, after the recent historical ups and downs, Liberal Movement Party apparently, must be closed. Otherwise this party would remain MG Baltic’s political branch in the public eyes.

But let’s try not to be drowned in the whirlpool of details and facts. Can we summarize something that we already know?

Although we suspected this and have been thinking about it for some time, but recent events only strengthened the conviction that we live in a controlled oligarchic democracy, or, maybe, even in the post-communist mafia state, as it was recently described by Hungarian politician and scholar B. Magyar.

Here, business, politics, mass media and to certain extent judicial system are united into a few power groups or power elites. These power elites are not competing against each other, and instead of competition they are sharing the hidden zones of influence, and at least most of them are satisfied with it.

But these o tempora o mores is highly counter-productive for the society. The youngest and the middle-age generations are running out from the country very fast. The country is experiencing a triple demographic crisis, i.e. aging population, low birth rates and high emigration rates. Only the aging Lithuania is left. An outcome is a perspective without any perspective. But the oligarchic octopus does not understand how serious this situation is. Only on a regular basis the government and few politicians call to develop specific strategies to fight emigration, social inequality and so on. But at the end these calls and some discussions did not produce more or less substantial results. All this reminds an attempt to sprinkle the holy water on a dead body. And c’est la vie continues.

Still looking from the procedural point, a democracy exists. Elections take place. Regularly. We elect a half of the Seimas and all the municipality councils using party lists. Although this procedure is very much flawed. It is little trouble for political elites that those institutions are not being renewed enough and trust in them is critically low. A supply of political parties also exists. From time to time one or another new political party is coming onto political stage. Almost in every election. As usual these new ones have strong populist orientations. Some of the old elected politicians are replaced by new ones. From time to time.

Still a diagnosis is that we are living in times of the clinical death of the accountable and citizen democracy. Looks like that it is no longer enough to reshape political system cosmetically and primarily with a help of few new faces of politicians. The political system needs to be redesigned more fundamentally. And this reconstruction is needed to be pretty substantial and broad. Not the façade only.

What is clearly and first of all worth to be changed? Firstly we need an understanding about what is completely deviant in the current system. Also we need a social contract about the accountable and citizen democracy. Including a consensus about strengthening the parliamentary republic. We need an agreement about changes in the electoral representation or electoral system – both in local elections and in the Seimas elections. Here we need to introduce more opportunities to cast a vote for individual candidates instead of party lists. Not necessarily in single-member constituencies, but in several multi-member constituencies and not to lose a proportionality principle. The system of checks and balances must function in reality, and relations between the president, the government and the parliament require the constitutional amendments according to Finnish example, so that the president will no longer be a free rider of the political system, and the powers of all main authorities will be more balanced. The judiciary system must be based on a supremacy of the rule of law or rechtstaat. If you think that it is the case today, you probably need to think again.

In order to put to an end to the oligarchic democracy, the businesses of mass-media needs to be separated from other branches of business. This is an extremely important condition. We do not have it in reality today.

Will the dung from Augean stables of oligarchic democracy be taken away? This question remains open. The point is that we do not see neither Heracles nor the stream of a river around. But maybe it will appear. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Sąjūdis, who brought Lithuania to independent state in early 1990-s, but unfortunately the country was left in hands of oligarchic democracy….

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