It has been three decades now that talks have been held in Lithuania about the importance of continuity in state governance. If the measurement is the gap between elections, it is hard to create anything more complex, greater or more sustainable. Education reform is a notable example, where exactly the lack of strategy brings us.
Due to pursuits, not inheritance
Taking this stagnant sphere on its own, the average level of ability of ministers of education and science does not stand out among other members of their cabinets, however let us compare how the ministries of national defence and foreign affairs deal with their tasks.
One has completely rid itself from the grimaces of Soviet military, which once existed, while the other, starting from scratch, has become an equal partner to the diplomatic services of countries with lengthy diplomatic traditions.
The Ministry of the Interior struggled more, being held down by past burdens. After changing uniforms and becoming the police, inside the old militsya [Soviet-era police force] officer remained alive on the inside with his whole Soviet plan of action for a long time yet. Having disguised himself, he has successfully survived a number of cabinets. In recent times though, he is finding ever less breathing room because the environment, which fed him, is beginning to wane, pressured by growing public expectations.
After such a brief review we can as if make the conclusion that it was those institutions that met with more success during the years of independence that started from zero, while those who are dragging the luggage of Soviet inheritance are less successful. However, the reasons are not so simple.
For example the military was formed by individuals who had an understanding of only the Soviet military order of the prided dedovshchina [Informal practice in the Soviet army to haze and bully junior recruits], theft of food and fuel, which were examples of the excellent life in the military. However, these men did not desire to become a clone of the Red Army, they sought different experience and this is why we have a Western styled army.
March 11 – by the will of the majority
Lithuania was formally brought into independence by roughly a hundred and fifty individuals we call signatories today. Most of them became members of the Supreme Council to implement the voters’ will to re-establish our country.
It was specifically the mandate granted in elections which established March 11 as a declaration of the people’s will in the eyes of the world and prevented Kremlin propaganda from entrenching itself that the pursuit of independence was simply the ideas of a handful of nationalists.
The elections was a crucial procedure needed for democratic states to recognise our right to the March 11 Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania. We escaped the grasp of the Soviets by legal means – first elections, then independence.
Democratic elections required a working institution to organise it. As the Supreme Council – Reconstituent Seimas differed from the Soviet-era Supreme Council, so the real elections differed from the electoral spectacle, when people were told to confirm the party apparatus’ candidate, who would receive 99% of the vote.
VRK – a servant of the parties?
The Central Electoral Commission (VRK) was faced with completely different challenges, having to oversee under conditions of democracy that the electoral competition would proceed according to the law.
When the LDDP established itself in power, Algirdas Brazauskas decided it would be best if the competition between parties will be overseen by someone controlled by him and chose his advisor Zenonas Vaigauskas to oversee the process. No need for introductions.
The first generation of politicians grew old alongside him, alongside him, the generation, who were still in kindergarten when he started work in the VRK, became politicians.
For long years, the chairman suited both the left and the right, as well as various coalitions. The apparatus was functioning, scandals of all shapes and sizes would only lightly nudge it. A particular knack for avoiding conflicts and developed professionalism allowed Z. Vaigauskas to remain so long that politicians were beginning to find it difficult to retain him before the people.
Is the student behind the times?
For the past few years of his chairmanship, Laura Matjošaitytė, delegated to the commission by the jurists’ union, was Z. Vaigauskas’ deputy. If the deputy becomes the new head, often this is a sign of continuity.
The new chairwoman spoke of the need for changes, for transparency and publicity. She said what had to be said while sitting in Z. Vaigauskas’ shade and learning the art of survival from her boss.
It would appear she learned the main rule that one must talk about the winds, but you should not raise them and then you will last long. By shelving conclusions, which were unpleasant to Ramūnas Karbauskis, she demonstrated loyalty to the majority that appointed her. Unfortunately at the cost of publicity and transparency.
The commission is losing meaning, if remaining in the post becomes more important than safeguarding fair competition.
When the chief overseer of elections serves the political interests of the winners and not the law, the basis of democratic elections is undercut.
When breaches, which create an unfair advantage are tolerated, unfair influence on voters is also tolerated – some handed out free sausage, luring through the stomach, others disguise themselves and enter TV shows. Ones tolerated by Z. Vaigauskas, others – by his successor.
Could it have been otherwise?
The continuity of the old style was ensured by voting for the deputy, thus there is nothing to be surprised by. The student did not supersede the master or perhaps it is just the times that are changing, perhaps new winds are blowing?