Samoškaitė: How did the Freedom Party indirectly organise the Family Defence March?

Family 'on the beach' in Vilnius during quarantine by Adas Vasiliauskas

If you think that the article’s title could be interpreted as something of a provocation, you are partly right because the Freedom Party and its supporters were definitely not intentionally seeking to contribute to the organisation of the Family Defence March. However, the Freedom Party members working in the ruling coalition seemingly decided to do everything to not accomplish the tasks they promised their voters and to incite as great as possible resistance from so-called traditional value defenders, Eglė Samoškaitė writes in

This way, they will be able to say that they couldn’t accomplish the tasks outlined in the party’s programme because the entire surrounding world prevented them. Usually, this is what a planned-out long-term electoral strategy looks like and not an earnest desire to resolve the pains that have beset our society.

A portrait of Lithuanian society

We should probably start off by saying that Lithuanian society’s values in personal morals could be described as moderately conservative, though liberal trends are gradually emerging over time. Studies show that there has been an increase in people who can justify such matters as divorce, abortions, non-marital relationships or homosexuality.

Such processes are mostly tied to changes in generations – reduced conservativism is typical of younger, more educated citizens who are not tied down by family commitments, who are not married or who are divorced, while older, more religious, married and less educated individuals are typically more conservative.

This trend was confirmed in Lithuania by a European value study. It also explained well why for the first time, it was the Freedom Party, which clearly and unambiguously supports the legalisation of gender-neutral partnership, decriminalisation of small quantities of narcotics and similar matters that emerged rather than a typical centrist-moderate liberal party.

However, it would be naïve to expect that the conservative part of society will not declare its opinion, especially when talking about personal morals. Such questions are close to the heart of every person, almost every citizen has their opinion, unlike cases where foreign policy, energy or healthcare are in discussion. So, what happened that the Freedom Party’s politicians incited traditionalists to come together?

When successful reform is sought, one acts differently

Usually, almost all political parties are fiercer in their outlook prior to elections, they propose more radical solutions than after elections. This isn’t because politicians would be inherent liars, but because after elections, it is always necessary to form ruling coalitions and it would be impossible to achieve any decent consensus if everyone maintained their strict pre-electoral positions. This is one reason why it sometimes might appear that politicians betray their values after elections.

The second reason is more tied to the fragmentation of public outlook. In order to successfully implement any reform or pass a key piece of legislation, consultations are usually held through NGOs with various groups of society or institutions. Do believe that when the Free Market Institute, Lithuanian Parents’ Forum, the Lithuanian Women’s Rights Association, Gelbėkit Vaikus and other organisations known for diverging views gather in a single hall, there can be friction, raised voices. In successful cases, they are able to negotiate laws or reforms, which are unappealing to all, but because everyone is discontent, they are also more or less calm because despite you not winning, the other side didn’t win either.

This is what is done when the aim really is to implement a successful reform or successfully pass a crucial law. However, by choosing this path, you will not win broad public support, will not rally your electorate. You will face criticism from both your own voters and your opponents, being called a lukewarm politician, disappointment will be declared. In other words, there is almost no benefit to politicians from successfully implemented reforms or approving legislation that touches upon value questions. Only high moral maturity politicians resolve to this, coming to terms with a temporary or constant decline in popularity.

Unfortunately, sometimes there is no effort exerted to achieve a successful result. There are cases where parties seek to polarise public opinion, rally their voters, develop public relations, be in the spotlight, visible in the news media, garner attention. Usually, such political parties collect all the advantages of public attention and explain away the unfulfilled reforms and promises by way or external obstacles: obtrusive coalition partners, other political parties in parliament. Sometimes, they leave the ruling coalition right before the elections and run on the side of the opposition during them. It could be that this is what the Freedom Party has planned.

The Freedom Party’s proposals rally the traditionalists

In the face of a pandemic, the Freedom Party’s politicians have proposed numerous initiatives, the perceptions of which depend on the onlookers’ views.

The proposal has been made to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which seeks to reduce domestic violence against women; to legalise gender-neutral partnership; decriminalise the possession of small quantities of narcotics without the intent of distribution; facilitate punishments for hate speech; legalise bilingualism in regions predominantly inhabited by ethnic minorities. Some of the proposals have already even been left behind.

Each one of these questions is important and relevant. Lithuania still hasn’t resolved the problems of violence against women and children. According to data from the Department of Statistics, in 2020, 58.5 thousand reports of domestic violence were registered with the police. In total, 7,332 individuals were victimised and 29 lives were lost.

The partnership institute is relevant to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. It is needed in order to regulate non-married couples’ civic relations. The possession of small quantities of narcotics without the intent to distribute should also not be a life sentence in a democratic country. It is rational to also consider means of reducing the incidence of hate speech.

However, such a “bombardment” of a fairly conservative society with one’s proposals in one go and also in the context of pandemic exhaustion is akin to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s attempts to modernise Turkey following World War I.

Every compressed spring has a tendency to recoil, every action has a counteraction. The Freedom Party’s attempts to “bombard” with proposals are appealing to this party’s electorate but concurrently rally all those against and this reduces the odds of resolving even one of the aforementioned problems.

Those opposed or protesting are naturally joined by the “professional protesters” – those who protest over anything. Groups that are hostile to the state also join in with the goal of inciting public polarisation, increasing hostility, encouraging violence. This cocktail could have negative consequences for the functioning of state institutions and democratic quality, it could increase antagonism and bring to the surface non-establishment political powers. In such a case, all establishment political parties would lose out, including the Freedom Party itself.

In the end, the way reforms are implemented is just as important as their content.

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