On Nausėda’s controversial step: sacrificing the country’s image in the name of popularity

President G. Nausėda. Photo the Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania

President Gitanas Nausėda’s decision to stand with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces criticism from the majority of European Union states, has been described by political experts as not in line with Lithuanian interests and aimed at domestic matters, with the president potentially seeking to collect popularity points while sacrificing the country’s image, Indrė Naureckaitė and Agnė Liubertaitė wrote in lrytas.lt.

Experts consulted by the news portal lrytas.lt spoke regarding G. Nausėda’s decision while at Brussels to not sign the 17 EU country leader declaration over the LGBTQ community’s rights and instead to stand by Hungary, which adopted a law that prohibits granting underaged individuals access to material on the topic of LGBTQ.

Unaligned with state interests?

Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis (VPAI) chief analyst Marius Laurinavičius believes that it’s less a problem of refusing to sign under the letter and more the fact that President G. Nausėda stood by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

According to the analyst, this harms Lithuania’s interests in the political, value and even practical senses.

“G. Nausėda clearly stood by Orban through his communication after refusing to sign the letter, declaring that we cannot judge. It was clearly standing by V. Orban and I think that it is completely out of line with Lithuanian interests,” he told the lrytas.lt portal.

The analyst believes that this way, G. Nausėda is positioning Lithuania alongside the EU’s “outcasts.”

“It’s a fairly significant problem because the EU’s long-term members very justifiably say that they accepted us to the club and we cannot change their values, that if we take issue with their values, we can leave, which is what V. Orban was told. Do we want to be in the company of those who will be told this?” M. Laurinavičius mused.

The analyst also observes a practical aspect to this matter, recalling how there have been public calls to limit support to states, which do not comply with EU principles.

In terms of the political aspect, M. Laurinavičius observes the situation’s potential impact on future decisions, which would be important to Lithuania.

“We are in a situation where our positions on Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant electricity are cardinally different as compared to Latvia. Latvia signed the letter, but Lithuania did not. You can imagine, which side certain EU leaders will choose when the decision will be made on matters of importance to us,” M. Laurinavičius emphasised.

To the notion that the positions held by Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and G. Nausėda diverged on this matter, the analyst stressed that unity is crucial in foreign policy.

“However, when it happens that the position of the president or any other politician is not in line with the state’s interests – and I believe that it is not in this case, regardless of value differences or similarities – then all the other parts of the government simply naturally defend the state’s interests,” M. Laurinavičius said.

A clear message to the country’s LGBTQ community

Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) professor Dr Dovilė Jakniūnaitė said that she was surprised by the president’s position, but, according to her, if one is to recall the events of recent months, this could be seen as unsurprising.

“It was essentially unexpected, but a factor to this surprise is also in that several days ago, the foreign minister refused to sign under an analogous address,” the political scientist told the portal lrytas.lt.

She believes that G. Nausėda’s action was a domestic, not foreign policy decision.

“The refusal to sign the letter is a clear demonstration of Nausėda‘s, to understate, caution over LGBTQ questions. Concurrently, it shows that he is no longer looking to refuse to take a position, which was the case before.

Now, he has a clear and serious position, looking to appeal to a certain segment of society who are not supportive of it, thinking that this will contribute to the president’s popularity,” D. Jakniūnaitė spoke.

“Meanwhile, the message to the LGBTQ community is clear – if anyone still held out hope, they definitely no longer have it,” she added.

Sacrificing foreign policy for a future political career?

According to D. Jakniūnaitė, the situation’s consequences on the international stage shouldn’t be dramatised just yet, but this position by G. Nausėda could cause problems in the future.

“If such decisions increase in number, I believe that the status of Lithuania as a pro-European state might decline, some direct foreign policy interests might suffer.

There’s a clear distinction in who signed – all the Western countries, the Baltic States and the Central and Eastern European states didn’t,” the VU TSPMI professor explained.

D. Jakniūnaitė believes that it is currently hard to guess at how the president will act next, but it is clear that G. Nausėda is looking to collect political points.

“With the second year passed, he had begun to more clearly formulate his value positions. To what extent he will look to coordinate with and think of domestic policy interests and foreign policy both, that’s a major question to me. In this case, it wasn’t considered to what extent it could impact foreign policy. If the president continues to sacrifice foreign policy for the sake of his future career, it’ll be bad. Based on what he has been doing lately, this could happen,” the political scientist told lrytas.lt.

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