Social Democrats turn against the flow: what this will result in

LSDP board meeting
DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

The Lithuanian Social Democrat Party (LSDP) is the only of the major political powers represented in Seimas to not sign the agreement on defence. This step has been met with controversy – criticism has poured in from both the president and from opponents. However, the Social Democrats’ motives may be acceptable to a part of the public, writes.

The parliamentary parties signed an agreement on the country’s defence policy up to 2030. One of the most important aspects of it is politicians committing to reach 2,5% of GDP in defence spending over the coming dozen years, reaching around 0.5% higher than now.

Starting this year, the country belongs to a limited number of NATO member states, who designate at least 2% of GDP to defence spending based on the Alliance’s unwritten rule. According to the Social Democrats, this is sufficient for now. Aparently economic welfare should be directed not to increase military power, but also to resolve social problems because a public without the will to resist cannot be saved by modern weaponry.

This LSDP stance angered President Dalia Grybauskaitė. She stated that political powers comparing defence and social needs are acting irresponsibly. The Social Democrats also received rebukes from the Conservatives. Member of Seimas Arvydas Anušauskas reminded on Facebook yesterday that this week, Russia is performing military exercises in Siberia, which according to their leader are not directed against anyone. “G. Paluckas would also add that the manoeuvres are ongoing far away from Lithuania and we have more serious problems than worrying over our security,” he reproached LSDP leader Gintautas Paluckas.

Dominant European leftist position

Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) Department of Politics docent Andžejus Pukšto believes the LSDP should have signed the political parties’ agreement on defence policy. This way, the Social Democrats could have displayed that in the most important questions on Lithuanian security and national defence there is no marked difference between them and other political parties. “Sometimes it is actually worth for parties to display solidarity and step over their ambitions. They also likely could have presented their complaints on the financing of other areas and initiated a discussion on state expenses priorities, presented their vision,” the political scientist said.

The position that the Social Democrats hold over national defence, is according to A. Pukšto dominant in the European Union, especially in Western countries’, left political wing. For example, the Spanish far left Podemos has been talking about how NATO is unnecessary and it could even consider the country stepping out of NATO. “However, our reality is somewhat different than that of South or West Europe. We must after all look at the realities we have here and now. On the other hand, knowing the specific individuals, especially Juozas Olekas, his actions in the post of minister of national defence, one must say that he certainly contributed a great deal to strengthening national security and the military. If there are any further discussions, I think that they will nevertheless support initiatives to strengthen the military and raise defence expenditures,” he mused.

At the same time, A. Pukšto reminded that certain politicians, who signed the defence agreement, are demonstrating the opposite intent via their actions and initiatives. For example Order and Justice Party chairman Remigijus Žemaitaitis, who intends to sign, has in a recent interview to a Russian publication spoken against Europe’s supposedly anti-Russian sanctions. Sometimes doubts arise over the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union position on Russia.

A. Pukšto explains that for now it is hard to say, what influence this LSDP stance will have on the party’s popularity and performance over the upcoming three elections (municipal, presidential and European Parliament). However, he does not believe that this could be decisive. “Voters look at different segments. Some care most about major politics, security, foreign policy. There are those, who limit themselves to social issues. There is no single answer to this question,” he pointed out.

Standing by their principles

VDU Department of Region Studies professor Mindaugas Jurkynas said that every party has a certain political stance. The LSDP is no exception, strongly emphasising social problems. “On one hand, the Social Democrats signed a prior political party agreement on defence in 2014. It outlined a gradual increase in defence funding. They agreed to it. Now it’s natural that upon reaching it, they believe that it is necessary to uphold this formal agreement and it is enough, while the remaining funds should be used for social needs. No doubt, the elections dictate their own logic. On the other hand, as I mentioned, the Social Democrats always emphasise the social aspect and stand by their principles,” the political scientist stated.

Whether this Social Democrat stance will impact the party’s popularity will depend on the people’s opinion. And it varies. A part of society believes that Lithuania is already funding defence sufficiently. Others are convinced that under such a volatile geopolitical situation, we should invest more into our defence. “Which argument will be more convincing for Social Democrat voters, that’s an open question. However, I believe that they are standing by their stance on principles and also agreements with partners. They fit both criteria. However, those who dislike the Social Democrats and their principles may think otherwise,” he mused.

Alternative to government policy

Vilnius University (VU) docent Lidija Šabajevaitė believes that the Social Democrats’ decision to not sign the new agreement on defence was both influenced by their ideology and the nearing elections. According to her, the LSDP proposed a somewhat more sober view to the one sided policies of the government in this regard. It apparently needs more balance. “I think the Social Democrats are standing by it in this case. If they all sing in one voice, it won’t be the best outcome. We’ve had it in history before, not only in Lithuania, but elsewhere, when there would be a sole opinion,” the political scientist emphasised.

According to her, geopolitical and arms races are ongoing. “The raising of these tensions (on both sides) is primarily the interest of those producing weaponry, profiting from arms production. Respectively there exist links of this business (and it is very broad, taking up various areas) and politicians. Here, as you understand, we go beyond the confines of Lithuania. It is simply a general trend in the world right now,” she said.

L. Šabajevaitė did not dismiss the possibility that the LSDP position on defence financing could earn extra votes in the nearing elections. However, it is early to say for certain. Most citizens, the scientist believes, are unfamiliar with political ideologies, what values are represented and what various political powers stand for. Thus, they are more oriented not to political ideologies, but to who expresses them – the specific person, their authority, also how important and relevant the matters at hand are to them. “Thus, it is very difficult to predict, who the majority may vote for. With the clashes ongoing in Seimas, it is difficult to say, whether for example the “Farmers” will earn a majority in the municipal elections. It will depend on who manages to lay low who,” the political scientist mused.

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