The nation’s “catastrophe” and a political far right niche

right-wing radicals
The march of fire in Vilnius. Screenchot Youtube

Some of the candidates, who lost overwhelmingly in the first round of presidential elections, will certainly not put their hands down. On May 12 evening, when the first voting results emerged and at the same time, the verdict to the hopeless candidates, they were invited to talk at the LRT television’s studio. All of them demonstrated bravado, thanked their voters for voting at all. The most optimistic was the youngest candidate Mindaugas Puidokas. He explained that this is just the first step of his future political career (likely a stunning career) and everything is still in the future because he will be creating a new party, Laimantas Jonušys writes in

What is most interesting is that in a certain regard, these were not empty words – at least in his own eyes, there are real premises, why he with his views could have good prospects. Well, of course, he emphasised support for the traditional family, the nation and overall traditional values. And then started talking about how political powers with such views are receiving major support across Europe, mentioning Poland and Hungary, where such parties are even in power.

In other terms, Puidokas has essentially specified his political far right niche, which is still poorly filled out in Lithuania and this is exactly where he will thrive as a politician! But it will start getting cramped in this far right niche because in just a few days, another presidential candidate, who held similar views and also lost spectacularly, namely Arvydas Juozaitis, promised he would form a party. He said he would also call upon Naglis Puteikis. Not to speak of another potential companion – Vytautas Radžvilas, who is running for European Parliament with his team of supporters.

The niche of “real patriots” exists and there is no lack of those aiming to fill it. Not for the first time and not for the first elections. Conditionally and perhaps overly generalized it may be, but I would allow myself to describe these politicians as nationalist-catastrophists and ultraconservatives. I think that in current Lithuanian politics, it is a more accurate description than the radical right.

Their main theses and raison d’etre look as follows:

The nation faces catastrophe, it is threatened with extinction due to mass emigration, low birth rates, the inequality that causes all this, as well as poverty, corruption, disregard for traditional values, the future influx of Muslim immigrants, the prevalence of “liberal-Marxism”, the overall “Brussels” dictate and the gay and genderist dictate it encourages and together with all this, the destruction of the nation state’s independence. From all this stems an essential Euroscepticism.

Based on this scenario, the nation needs a new rebirth or awakening. In the aforementioned LRT show, Juozaitis explained his loss in that “the nation has yet to awaken.” Of course. It’s also not been reborn. Usually, such political and public forces (such as the Vilnius forum) emphasise the need for a new Sąjūdis to awaken the nation and have a passionate impulse to associate themselves with the Sąjūdis, which has become the essential factor of Lithuania freeing itself of the Soviet empire. This is also declared openly – supposedly the historical Sąjūdis did not complete its mission because while we escaped the soviet empire, a basis for the nation’s survival was not created.

From this point of view, two questions on the far right niche arise:

Why was the first Sąjūdis supported by near the entire nation, but this new one – by only a small part? Furthermore, why do nationalist populist powers, which have arisen in many European countries in recent years, still not have clear representation on the Lithuanian political scene in the far right niche?

To the latter question, we can say that we truly are lagging behind European political “fashion.” With the comparably thriving Western, everything is clear – they have poorly contained mass immigration from third world countries, which causes major problems. But ultraconservative and nationalist powers also have significant support in Central-Eastern Europe and not only in Poland and Hungary, where they have entered government, but also in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

In Poland, this was perhaps due to the strong influence of the conservative Catholic Church, while countries more to the South feel like they are on the front lines of the mass influx of refugees from the South. Of course, there are other reasons as well, but this is not the place to delve into them.

During the latest Estonian parliamentary elections, the nationalist populist EKRE party performed so well that it even reached the ruling coalition, which is a truly surprising phenomenon.

The situation in Latvia is unique. There, the conservative nationalist union Nacionālā Apvienība is in the ruling coalition for the second term now (despite getting only 11% of the vote, but in the mosaic of Latvian parties, which oppose the Russian Saskaņa[Harmony Party], this isn’t all that little). However, this party’s core direction is anti-Russian, thus Euroscepticism has not thrived here.

So why does the nationalist-catastrophist and ultraconservative line I mentioned not receive major voter support in far right niche in Lithuania then?

A few assumptions absence of far right niche

1.     Unlike Estonia and Latvia, we do not have problems with our Russian ethnic minority. As for the problems with the Polish minority, they are constantly in eyeshot of majority parties, never becoming a fundamental problem.

2.     The larger parties are taking on some of the conservative and nationalist stances, this includes the populists such as Order and Justice earlier and now the Farmers and Greens, but also in part the so-called establishment parties – due to this, we still have not implemented the authentic surname writing in documents reform, which intimidates some, also we have not accepted the homosexual partnership law.

3.     Euroscepticism struggles to find a broad foundation in Lithuania. A survey performed last year showed that of all EU countries, the Lithuanian citizens trust the EU the most. The same survey showed that 73% of Lithuanian citizens are satisfied with their lives and while compared to some surrounding EU countries it is not a high amount, it is still higher than before. This makes it harder to impose on people the view that the nation faces catastrophe.

4.     Troubles like mass emigration (by the way, already from December 2017, it has decently balanced out with immigration, in part from the return of emigrants), low birth rates, corruption, wealth inequality and such are hard to monopolise for nationalist political parties because all political parties agree these are problems that must be resolved. While so far, they have not been overly successful in this regard, most citizens are inclined to doubt whether other political powers would fare better.

5.     When in 2015, the EU implemented EU refugee reception quotas for countries and Lithuania agreed, some raise alarm over a flood of Muslims into Lithuania, but when this scare proved fruitless, this nationalist advantage became just another low value card.

6.     Nationalist ultraconservative European parties are often favourably inclined to Putin’s government in Russia, but in Lithuania this is something that poses a challenge, even if some may try to do so, such as by inviting AfD representatives from Germany. Here one must add that prior to Russian aggression against Ukraine, even some of our populists declared approval of the Russian government’s conservative views, but in the current Lithuanian political climate, it would be lethal.

But this does not mean that right wing populism will not receive more popularity in Lithuania in the future.

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