Disrespect to the law and other games

Vytautas Dumbliauskas
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

Once upon a time, but in a serious text, I read how during the so-called warming period in the Soviet Union, when Nikita Khrushchev ruled, laws were passed and upheld. Tourists began visiting Moscow, however the government strictly prohibited its citizens from buying foreign currency from visitors and holding such currency, Vytautas Dumbliauskas writes on lzinios.lt.

The penalty for breaches of this was imprisonment.

Nevertheless, the risk of punishment did not reduce the Soviet people’s desire to obtain real currency. Then, N. Khrushchev ordered to reinforce the law on speculation of foreign currency and set the highest punishment. All individuals arrested for this activity prior to the law changed were sentenced to death by firing squad.

The story sounds absurd because laws cannot apply retroactively. Unfortunately, such nonsense was not lacking in the Soviet Union. However, I would like to compare this story with the current Seimas majority’s aim to bend laws to act retroactively. I mean the intentions to change party financing regulation so that a newly founded party would receive state funds. I am watching and struggle to believe people, who are now part of the Social Democrat Labour Party Seimas group now. Many of them are of a respectable age and should start thinking about their historic memory, rather than the measly financing for their measly party. Unfortunately, these people are doing everything so political scientists and future historians would mock them.

Disrespect to the law is typical for not only the Seimas majority. The management of the Science and Education Ministry has the same “illness”, having decided to change the evaluation regulations for higher education institution lecturers, however having set their application not from this year, but from 2013. Is this not the same Soviet legal nihilism?

But perhaps Lithuania is no longer under the rule of law? After all, such actions by the state limit the law. All of humanity’s (especially European civilization’s) history marks the constant pursuit of limiting the power of the government, preventing it from excesses. One of the traits of European legal tradition, formed already in the XII century is described as follows – the law is above political government.

Later on, the idea of constitutionalism arose in the United States. Constitutionalism is the operation of political systems, based on the principles of limiting state authorities’ power. We should know them by heart. It is the rule of law, the sovereignty of the nation, the separation of powers and accountability to citizens, as well as human rights and freedoms protection.

Unfortunately, it is clear that the audience that humble agronomist Ramūnas Karbauskis brought to Seimas doesn’t really feel much respect to the law. Perhaps power falling into one’s hands so suddenly is so dizzying that one forgets the rule of law over political authority? Or perhaps such is these people’s political culture? Perhaps they honestly believe that the majority can do everything and the minority must obey?

For fairness sake, we should note that based on attitudes toward the rule of law, the “Farmers” are no pioneers. The Conservatives were similarly overcome by the power they received in 1996. Some spoke back then that they came to stay in power for a hundred years and that there was only God above them. Voters suitably evaluated such talks (and achievements of course) and in the Seimas elections of the year 2000, the Conservatives received three times fewer votes.

No doubt, the “Farmers” will similarly be evaluated, however for now they are playing an almost unlosable game. They are creating endless commissions in the Seimas, which are intended to show, how the political elite had been sold out to major business thus far. Meanwhile, the cabinet or more specifically – its head, chose a game the people cannot dislike – fighting with the large prices set by retailers.

At the level of rumours, there are talks that one famous public relations specialist advised Saulius Skvernelis to start this fight and that it would last until the presidential elections, where the prime minister would seemingly have to participate, even if publically he has not disclosed such intentions. It would appear that the declaration of candidacy will be made last minute and for now the “good” prime minister will fight large prices and not only among retailers, but also in the heating industry.

It would appear that in the presidential elections, the “Farmers” will employ the same tactic they used in the 2016 Seimas elections, which were very successful for them – speaking to people about what they want to hear. That prices in stores are large (especially compared to Poland) is something everyone knows, except maybe those attending kindergartens. The outrage of common citizens at such a situation is limitless – both in terms of space and time, thus retaining their attention through talks of excessive prices can go on for a long time, perhaps even up to May.

That said, it is not difficult to miscalculate. People will want a quick result, but it may not arrive because how would you make retailers drop prices? However, from this campaign, we the buyers could profit a little. After all, just talks from the government will not suffice, it will have to actually do something, for example to increase competition. One measure to this end would be to create a system, which allows manufacturers (especially the food industry) to sell their produce directly to consumers, bypassing retailers.

Another miscalculation is possible. When the presidential campaigning begins, S. Skvernelis will have to enter public debates alongside other candidates, thus it will be amusing to watch, how the prime minister manages to defend his ideas of combatting large prices. After all, three of his rivals are economists.

However the fight with prices ends, it is already very clear that S. Skvernelis will enter the elections as the “common” citizens’ candidate. It is unclear whether one should laugh or cry, but another “defender” of the “common” people is helping him craft such an image – the largest landowner in Lithuania.

In a good month, it will be two years now that the “Farmers” have taken to steering the country. We will then count the work they have done. So far, we can specify two traits of “Farmer” actions – disrespect to the rule of law and public relations games.

Vytautas Dumbliauskas is a docent at Mykolas Romeris University.

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