Beniušis. Will Karbauskis follow in Kaczynski’s steps?

MP Jaroslaw Kazcynski
DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Kaczynski and Karbauskis are neither the reason for emigration, not the cure from it – Lithuanians and Poles flood into the UK regardless of who is in power in Vilnius or Warsaw. The more rapid increase in incomes, larger social justice and social reform that all politicians are pledging can give results in the long term, but in the short term a higher impact will be that from British immigration restrictions for immigrants.

Kazcynski and Karbauskis received votes from Poles and Lithuanians disappointed in the arrogance of the incumbent majority and social inequality. In Poland it is the so called Polska B – socially conservative, poorer Eastern parts of the country where the influence of the Church is great; in Lithuania – the Lithuanians living across from the Vilnius and Facebook “bubble.” The ideological base of Kazcynski’s Law and Justice Party is likely stronger than Karbauskis’ colourful Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union, but they are united in leftist economic policy and rightist social-value policy. The plan of governing is surprisingly similar – larger role of the state in the economy, strengthening of Christian dogma, with the chairman leading from the parliament, but not taking any cabinet post.

This is a response proposed to the feeling of social insecurity, born from globalisation, international trade and technological development. Both parties defeated traditional Conservatives – the Civic Platform in Poland and the Homeland Union in Lithuania and pushed many parties identifying as leftist and based on former communists into the political margin.

Having entered power a year ago, at home thousands have taken to the streets in protest against Kazcynski’s policies and in the international arena he received criticisms from Western partners. Will the Lithuanian cabinet dominated by the “Peasant Greens” go down the same road?

Brussels, economics and the Church

Up to now it has appeared that stances on Brussels, the economy and the Church have separated Lithuania and Poland more than united them.

Lithuanian diplomats often present the state as Northern Europe, not Eastern Europe. In recent years, with Kazcynski established in Warsaw, attempts to dissociate from Warsaw have gotten even stronger: Linas Linkevičius – having consulted with Baltic and Northern colleagues – refused a Polish invitation to meet without veteran EU states to discuss the Brexit; the Lithuanian government has accepted over a hundred fifty refugees based on Brussels quotas, Poland – not one; Kazcynski says that refugees will bring in infectious disease, while the Lithuanian President and ministers demonstratively visit them.

In economics the Lithuanian government always declares a goal of improving business conditions. Seeking to encourage investment the Social Democrats liberalised labour relations despite losing many votes in the election due to this. The Polish government is seeking a larger role of the state in different sectors of the economy: new taxes have been established for foreign banks and traders, management for state companies has been changed; despite a number of economists’ warnings, generous grants have been implemented for parents raising children.

This year differences also appeared in terms of human rights questions, in the so called value front: Poland announced it is revoking state support for in vitro fertilization, while Lithuania legalised liberal artificial insemination; on the eve of elections five of the eight most popular Lithuanian parties’ frontrunners spoke for same sex partnership; the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs along with Western embassies publically declared support for a march of sexual minorities in Vilnius – the Polish diplomatic core refused to join this initiative.

In these questions Karbauskis could follow Kazcynski. Karbauskis is critical of Brussel’s generosity to immigrants, was publically surprised that the President Dalia Grybauskaitė visited Syrian refugees and called for stronger relations with the Visegrad states. In his words the refugee crisis is an excellent opportunity to turn to national values and the meaning of the Lithuanian language. He urged to disobey EU demands to allow the sale of land to foreigners and criticised the, in his opinion, rushed implementation of the euro. In the economy, based on Karbauskis’ plan, a state regional development bank, state alcohol sale monopoly and state pharmacies would appear, the state’s role in the heating sector would increase. The heralds of the free market claim that the “Peasant Greens” are, in many regards, proposing to return to a command economy. Liberals even call them national socialists. Sympathisers say that finally a leftist party appeared in Lithuania which pays attention to the most acute social problems. In regard to human rights, Karbauskis is a clear rightist – he promises to adhere to Christian ideology, oppose the establishment of partnership and the destruction of embryos in in vitro fertilisation procedures.

But there are key differences. The politicians’ biographies differ as night and day. Karbauskis speaks of moving political power into the Seimas, but there are no signs that he would attempt to subjugate the courts, special services or the media, there are no plans to be heard of banning abortion or personally persecuting political opponents, something Kazcynski is particularly criticised for. Karbauskis’ positions in the Lithuanian Seimas are weaker than Kazcynski’s in the Polish counterpart, he publically promises not to push party members into posts and instead rely on “professionals.” To turn to Central Europe and less appease Brussels is not just Karbauskis’ call, but also that of some Conservatives who aimed for the post of Foreign Minister. Karbauskis has justified arguments that his proposals on alcohol limitations and education reform are not Polish, but Scandinavian.

The greatest political difference is that Kazcynski does not have Grybauskaitė, Saulius Skvernelis or coalition partners, who would act as a counterbalance. Frontrunner Skvernelis is not a “Peasant” ideologist, it would not have taken much for him to have gone to the elections with the Social Democrats. While working as the Minister of Interior he agreed to refugee quotas in the EU Council in the name of Lithuania, speaks for legalising the relationships of same sex individuals. He is more liberal and would not balk at negotiating with Liberals on a coalition. Though he was the frontrunner and party representative in debates, after the election there is an impression that he is being pushed into the background. A significant detail – during the post-election press conference in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania they sat next to one another, but Karbauskis spoke for over sixteen minutes, while Skvernelis – less than six. Skvernelis’ role in the future government and the remaining 55 fraction member’s wish (or not) to obey Karbauskis’ strict hand will partially decide how much Lithuania will follow in Poland’s footsteps. Lithuania will not become the fifth state of Visegrad, but identifying with Scandinavia and not Eastern Europe can be even harder.

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