A few scenarios for Lithuania 2050

Lithuanian flags. @ A. Pliadys MoD

In Lithuania, long-term planning has not been the greatest strength. Our country knew very clearly what it wanted when it joined the European Union and NATO, but then it started to be tossed to one side and then to the other. Then it began to dawn on us that it would be good to have a vision of Lithuania’s future at least a few decades ahead because it is said that the best way to foresee the future is to create it. For this reason, four plausible future scenarios were constructed, and one that would be the most favourable for the country’s development was identified, Eglė Samoškaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.

The scenarios for Lithuania were developed by the State Progress Council, the Government, the Government Strategic Analysis Centre (STRATA), Vilnius University, the Future Committee of the Seimas and several hundred different organisations. The Cabinet of Ministers, led by Ingrid Šimonytė, has already approved a vision for Lithuania’s future in 2050, and the debate will now move to the Seimas.

The creators of the vision are well aware that Lithuania’s success, unfortunately, does not depend solely on the efforts of Lithuanian citizens. For example, the demographic imbalance will be very pronounced in the future: the world will see a growing number of people, but not in Central and Eastern Europe, or even more so in Lithuania. If current trends continue, Lithuania is expected to have a population of 2.2 million in 2050. As we are already a country with a large elderly population, this will be similar in the future, which means that half of our population may be over 65. This means that pensions in Lithuania will decline in comparison with past incomes in the future unless the economy is particularly efficient and innovative.

For Lithuania, climate change could mean impacts on water sources and soil, as well as increased migration from Africa, where the population tends to grow, and the climate is becoming unbearable. Such changes will certainly force Western countries to change their economies in a climate-neutral way, but this is expensive, and products and services should become more expensive in the future. Technological developments will also have an impact, but it is difficult to predict with certainty. It is likely that automation will mean that there will be high-paying jobs that require a lot of creativity and low-paying jobs that do not pay for automation. It is estimated that around 63% of jobs in Lithuania could be automated. This is very high compared to other developed countries.

Predicting how international politics will turn is even more difficult, but it is clear that the centre of gravity of international politics will shift to the East and the South, where the population is larger, and China dominates critical green energy chains. The East and the South have a different view of the international order than the West, and this does not bode well for Lithuania. The unity of the US and the European Union is very important for our country, but the US will still have to pay a lot of attention to the countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

In the case of Russia, it is bad for Lithuania, both if Russia is strong and if it becomes weak. The Strategy for National Progress notes that the scenario of Russia’s disintegration is not excluded. The recent march to Moscow by Wagner commander Yevgeny Prigozhin, which was mysteriously aborted 200 kilometres from the capital but left the impression that Putin’s government is not in the best of times, confirms this hypothesis.

“In the perspective up to 2050, the scenario of Russia’s disintegration or regional separatism cannot be ruled out. While this would undermine Russia’s ability to challenge the West, it would not make Lithuania any safer,” said the document, which was approved by the government and will go to the Parliament.

“Belarus remains a constant threat as an authoritarian, political and military ally of Russia and the unsafe Astravas nuclear power plant operator. By 2050, a large unstable zone to the East of Lithuania could emerge, with the potential for civil wars that could lead to chemical and nuclear non-proliferation, refugee and other issues,” the State of the Nation Strategy for Progress adds.

Another global phenomenon is the decline of democracies, with more than half of the world’s people now living in authoritarian states. Some people in democracies are frustrated with the way their governments are coping with difficulties, and widespread frustration could become dangerous if it brings populist forces to power. Therefore, one of the key challenges is, in fact, to reduce inequalities, which are quite pronounced in Lithuania. And not just income inequality but also regional inequality.

Scenario 1. Authoritarians in power doing well

As Lithuania depends a lot on the international environment, the scenario developers believe that even a partial success of Russia in the war against Ukraine could create excessive tensions around Lithuania, which would also affect the domestic situation. For example, if Ukraine were to be partitioned, the eastern part of its territory incorporated into Russia, and Moscow were to consolidate its influence in Eastern Europe, the eastern flank of NATO would naturally become a highly militarised region.

This would mean that Lithuania would be in a permanent zone of insecurity and could try to compensate for this with a great deal of cooperation with the US and Poland. Washington, Vilnius and Warsaw could administer the critical Suwałki Corridor. In this scenario, Lithuania would be heavily influenced by the United States in the security sphere, while cooperation with EU countries would exist but would be less important, as Vilnius’ primary objective would be to ensure its security.

It is possible that such an international environment would also have a negative impact on Lithuania’s domestic situation, as it is very difficult to resolve long-standing socio-economic problems in the face of persistent security threats. The authors of this scenario believe that under these circumstances, a charismatic, decisive leader could come to power in Lithuania and transform the country from a democracy to an autocracy. The regime could be based on young, seemingly successful graduates of foreign universities, who would come with the promise of finally getting an education, social and economic policy moving.

Power could be concentrated in the executive, which means outside Parliament, and the scope of municipalities would be narrowed. Decisions would be taken by competent professionals in their field, who would not be very interested in public opinion, but citizens could be involved through certain duties, such as caring for relatives, which could reduce public spending on social services.

If the bureaucracy of such an authoritarian state were to function efficiently, with a clear division of societal roles, it would create a sense of reduced uncertainty, which is extremely important when the whole environment is uncertain and threatening. The regime could maintain stability by shaping public opinion and ensuring judicial obedience. In such a society, freedom of thought would act as an illusion, people would simply be reluctant to dissent to violate invisible boundaries, and the transgressions of the elite would be silently covered up.

Presumably, such a regime would concentrate on education, science, technology and innovation, with technology, engineering and the natural sciences thriving, while the humanities would be restricted and serve mainly the needs of the regime. The country’s economy would grow, targeted migration from third countries would take place, appropriate health policies would help to stabilise negative demographic trends, and state-of-the-art technology would help to solve problems.

The family policy would be oriented towards the traditional family model, and single persons and unmarried couples could be subject to additional taxation. But such measures and additional support for families are unlikely to be of much benefit in the long term and would probably still result in a declining population. Such a regime could be based on the notion that the individual must be useful to the state and to society, and the unstable international environment could lead to a strengthening of security institutions such as the police, border services and the crisis response system at home. An effective health system could be developed, leading to increased life expectancy, healthy lifestyles and mass health checks. Implanted chips could be used for early diagnosis of diseases.

However, the scriptwriters are of the opinion that such an autocracy would turn society into a childish one, where citizens are relieved of their personal responsibility, thus creating the illusion of a ‘guardian state’.

Scenario 2. It was chosen for Lithuania

The other scenario is the one chosen for Lithuania: our country should follow it. It was originally called the “North Star”, but a qualitative public opinion survey showed that the citizens did not accept it. Specifically, a group of citizens was asked how they felt about the slogan “North Star Lithuania: a country of creative people, where you want to live”. People’s opinion was negative, and the slogan has now been transformed into “Showing Lithuania: a country where I want to live and create. The country I want to protect”.

In this scenario, the international environment would be more favourable to Lithuania because Moscow would be pushed out of Ukraine, the latter might even succeed in cutting Crimea off from Russia, and then Russia would be willing to negotiate and perhaps even overthrow Vladimir Putin in Russia. Internal turmoil in Russia would allow Ukraine and Moldova to integrate into the European Union and NATO, and Russia’s influence on Belarus would be reduced.

As this scenario shows, Lithuania would like to see the global competition for influence shift in favour of the West, with the US and the EU remaining very strong, and China’s economic growth stifled by negative demographic trends, the emigration of talent, Hong Kong’s declining attractiveness to investors and the water crisis. Around 2040, the West is expected to consolidate its global influence, the regional power of Russia and China to decline, and the Eastern European region to enjoy sufficient peace and stability. Lithuania would like to take advantage of this stability not only by actively supporting democracy abroad but also by maturing its own democracy.

A mature democracy is defined as one with strong representative institutions, accountable self-government, citizen involvement in decision-making, and continuity of decisions in the event of a change of government. The scenario sees the ideal state as one in which the rule of law is upheld, respect for human rights prevails, civil servants and politicians are respected, prestigious professions, plural citizenship is established, relations with the diaspora flourish, euthanasia can be legalised, and LGBT+ families can be empowered and enabled to adopt, and the state only intervenes when strictly necessary, avoiding micromanagement. In such a democracy, NGOs, civic associations and trade unions would play an active role, and humans and robots would coexist in society.

“Human dignity is perceived as an integral part of the human being, which is why there is a fundamental paradigm shift – the human being comes first, and the state comes last. The rights of all people to have their say are protected, respect and trust are fostered, and diversity is combined with tolerance. Resolving the issue of dual citizenship allows for close ties with the diaspora – it does not matter where you live. The legalisation of euthanasia, LGBT+ families and their ability to adapt. In addition, humans and robots coexist harmoniously in this society (the latter with some human rights),” the scenario states.

With few external threats, this scenario would allow political parties to come together and implement ambitious education and science reform. So ambitious that there is a public debate about whether education is overfunded and whether investment in innovation should be left to private businesses. This vision would ensure that every child has access to quality education, regardless of social, economic or territorial factors, that schools develop well-rounded personalities, that both civic and critical thinking are fostered, and that the educational process is interdisciplinary.

As investment in education and innovation would reduce inequalities, Lithuania would become an attractive place for many people to come and live, both expatriate Lithuanians and newcomers from third countries, but immigration would be purposeful and measured. The family policy would include all types of families, promote gender equality, adapt public infrastructure to an ageing population, and the health policy would focus on extending life expectancy. By the way, the target for health care is around 10% of GDP. The scenario envisages that the majority of the population would live in urban or suburban areas, that some urban dwellers would move further away from the main cities to buy second or third homes, and that leisure, nature and community would be of great value.

“The prevailing lifestyle is one of moderation and slowness, with people having high social and emotional literacy. The main problem facing people is the question of the meaning of life”, the document states.

Scenario 3. Similar to the present

Scenario 3 would see Russia’s war against Ukraine never-ending, becoming yet another “frozen conflict” and leaving the West, which is committed to supporting Ukraine, with little room to engage in competition with China. In this vision, the West and China would maintain cooperation where there are mutual interests but would compete for global influence only if the competition were to take a stable form and if it were possible to negotiate on the most important issues, such as strategic arms control. The European Union is not as strong as the US or China in this puzzle but is growing economically.

Putin’s death could provide an opportunity to end Russia’s war against Ukraine formally, and the West and China could try to bring the new Russian regime to their side (as they did with Belarus). As the poles of power would be less able to agree on a common order, uncertainty would prevail in international relations.

In this scenario, it is clear that the Eastern European region would once again be a zone of competition. As the West would like to play Russia and Belarus off against China, Lithuania would be in a quandary: it would have to protect itself from Russia but remain a constructive partner for the West. Lithuania would probably cooperate with Belarus in certain areas, but a commonwealth would meet its security needs with Poland and Ukraine, although Lithuania would remain dependent on the West and, in particular, on US support.

Frustration in Lithuania could arise from the fact that, while basic international rules would work, they could hardly help to deal with the consequences of climate change or increasing migration, which would raise questions about foreign policy and would not be agreed between political parties. In such a scenario, Lithuania would see a pendulum swing in power, with parties unwilling to cooperate with each other and a lack of strategic thinking. Democracy would formally work, but there would be little substance, as political actors would fail to agree on the country’s development goals and measures. Political majorities on the margins would hold back necessary reforms, the public sector would be dominated by mediocrity and routine, the regions would do as they please, and regional party principalities would flourish.

In this scenario, the judiciary might be independent, but it would not be adequately funded, and its capacity would be permanently weakened. Human rights would formally exist, but there would be few people to enforce them, and anxiety about the future of democracy in Lithuania could prevail.

Endless reforms would plague the education system, as each new government would try to consolidate its vision, but the reforms would not reach a stage of maturity where performance and results could be measured. There would be wide disparities in the quality of teaching between schools, and access to a good education would depend on family income, place of residence, and parents’ attitudes towards their children’s education. In this scenario, as now, there would be a massive shortage of teachers in educational institutions, and young people would not be encouraged to choose this career path. In such a situation, education would not help to move up the social ladder.

Lithuania would compensate for its lack of innovation by buying patents and importing technology, but this would not be sustainable. Higher education institutions would accept many students from third countries without paying attention to their readiness to study so that a diploma would be a mere formality, and those who are able would try to study abroad. After years of feeling that the bottom has fallen out of education, the same sentiment is spilling over into other areas. Family and social policies are constantly changing according to the script, birth rates are low, emigration is not slowing down, immigrants are not welcome, and as a result, the population is ageing at an accelerating rate. The country could even enter a demographic winter, with kindergartens being massively converted into retirement homes and the health system focusing on drug treatment rather than disease prevention, but the heavy workload would not allow for sufficient finances, so the population would have to pay heavily for the services.

In this scenario, the public would be sceptical of science-based solutions, vaccines, self-medicate, ignore health advice, spend time in front of screens, and suffer from poor emotional and psychological health. The elite and the public and their consumption of culture would diverge, with the elite falling for Western fashions and the ordinary people’s lives dominated by pop and mass culture associated with hedonism and consumption.

Scenario 4. Worst case scenario – subordination to China

Internationally, in this scenario, Russia, although marginalised, would achieve victory over Ukraine by forcing Kyiv to accept the partition of Ukraine and by ensuring the “neutrality” of Western Ukraine. Such an outcome would be a blow to Western prestige, with Eastern Europe blaming Western states for not supporting Ukraine sufficiently and the West believing that Eastern European states did not allow the situation to stabilise in time. Russia’s dependence on China would increase as it would no longer have the capacity after the war, which would lead to an increase in Chinese influence in Europe. In this scenario, the West would lose the competition with China, and Beijing would test the US by attacking Taiwan. If Washington does not defend Taiwan in any way, Lithuania would no longer be able to rely on NATO’s security guarantees after such a fiasco.

Lithuania would be under an authoritarian regime that would promise stability and prosperity through good relations with China or rather rely on China’s security guarantees because it would be in Beijing’s interest to maintain stability in Eastern Europe and to extend its influence through this part of the continent to the rest of the continent. Lithuania, Belarus and other authoritarian states would support China’s drive to rewrite international norms, to reform international institutions in the way that Beijing wants. Lithuania would feel misunderstood by the West and would distance itself from it, reviving the 17+1 format for Central and Eastern Europe that China has nurtured.

Lithuania would be controlled by a strict and just leader, with a centralised government, a weak parliament and nominal self-government. The bureaucratic apparatus that implements the commander’s orders would expand, but the most important decisions would be coordinated with oligarchic structures, and high positions would be filled by connections rather than merit. The elite could live well in such a system, but the state would be weakened a statist, national ideology would be introduced into society, a one-party system would be introduced, and the judiciary would be dependent on the government.

Human rights and freedoms, although formally declared, would be curtailed in reality. The rights of LGBTQ+ and some ethnic and religious minorities could be particularly fiercely contested, but people could escape reality in computer games, and this industry could potentially flourish.

The education system would also be subordinated to authoritarian rule, aiming for indoctrination rather than quality. Quality education would be available only to a narrow elite. In the public education system, science and engineering would receive most of the funding; in reality, personal education would be reduced to rote learning. The humanities and social sciences would be focused on research to justify the regime’s actions and to study how the East is superior to the West or how Lithuanian ethnocultural stands out in the world.

Such a regime would be likely to strongly promote births through benefits, encourage large families, focus on the traditional family model, and ignore other family forms and single-parent families. Nevertheless, fertility will not increase significantly, mortality may remain high, and waves of emigration could worsen the situation. Poverty and inequality could be high, although there would probably be no hungry people in the country.

In cooperation with China, the Lithuanian regime could try to construct a police state where there is mass surveillance of citizens, a state propaganda apparatus, and a low crime rate so that the population feels relatively safe, even though it is afraid to challenge the government.

The free trade of such a state would be replaced by strategic economic cooperation with the regional hegemons, Russia and China, and Lithuania’s strategic assets could be sold to Chinese state-owned enterprises. Beijing would finance many infrastructure projects, Chinese settlers could own the most beautiful parts of Lithuania, including the seaside, the culture of glitzy cities would dominate, and Lithuania could even win the Eurasianvision competition.

“This is a collectivist society that eliminates personal responsibility and freedom. It is dominated by materialistic, survivalist values: wealth, property, image and status, physical and economic security. However, the values of modesty and selflessness are officially promoted and implemented, contrasting them with the decadent West. This helps to mask deep social inequalities”, the scenario considers.

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