V. Laučius. S. Skvernelis’ wings – the flight of the police state eagle

Vladimiras Laučius
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

While there is still a year and a half to the presidential elections, already three key matters are surfacing. Firstly – among the publically identified candidates there is a firm lead for the representative of the uniformed mentality and rubber baton Saulius Skvernelis. It would appear that the mass of voters who once voted for the winged president-eagle Rolandas Paksas feels a new chance and now loves the minister of the interior he once delegated – not grown to a president yet, but feathered by now little eagle, S. Skvernelis.

The second important matter – according to the newest Spinter survey commissioned by Delfi, the R. Paksas era political split into “two Lithuanias” is reviving. S. Skvernelis has 14.7% support, stemming from those of middle or lower education, middle or lower income, living in the regional centres and rural areas. Meanwhile for Gitanas Nausėda who is in third (10.5%), votes would stem from residents of the major cities, higher educated, higher income.

S. Skvernelis is supported by R. Paksas’ former electorate, G. Nausėda – the other side of the barricades. Between them you have Visvaldas Matijošaitis (second place, 11.9%; votes from Kaunas residents and residents of regional centres) who will likely not run for president, but S. Skvernelis can declare him the future prime minister and thus take a part of the Kaunas mayor’s popularity. In an interview with LRT.lt Ramūnas Karbauskis has said that if the “Farmers” did not raise their own candidate, V. Matijošaitis would be the most appealing for him.

Thus together with R. Karbauskis’ (in fifth; 6.7% support) supporters, S. Skvernelis has a fair amount of support and can confidently aim for the second round. However if G. Nausėda were to gain the support of the Conservatives-Christian Democrats, the votes of their potential candidates (Ingrida Šimonytė – 6.1%, Vygaudas Ušackas – 7.3%, Žygimantas Pavilionis – 3%) could help him become a serious rival to S. Skvernelis and “first Lithuania’s” candidate to enter the second round.

Third important matter is that S. Skvernelis would represent diametrically opposite interest groups than R. Paksas and a completely different vision of Lithuania. Behind R. Paksas were certain business interests and Jurijus Borisovas. A very different group clings tightly to S. Skvernelis, seeking the pinnacle of political power – law enforcement with all of its ammunition, which allows to not only seek justice, but also intimidate political opponents. Law enforcement which can, in S. Skvernelis’ words “stuff this person’s mouth” – any rival of S. Skvernelis or the “Farmers”.

The further, the less clear who it is that the Lithuanian institutions which have the capacities for individual monitoring and persecution serve. Certain pre-trial investigations and other activities long deserve journalist investigations and not extra budget assignations for the Lithuanian gendarmerie, incapable of protecting the public interest, but adept at manoeuvring through political waters. Speaking of the public interest – what did the famous Rubikonas story end with? Not with continued unpunished graft?

What of the recently announced Lithuanian Supreme Court ruling, completely acquitting former member Vitas Matuzas and lobbyist Andrius Romanovskis? Why is it possible in a state with the rule of law for Radviliškis Mayor Antanas Čeponis to be arrested for nothing, held in arrest for a month and then – woops, turns out he’s innocent? What are these failed attempts at George Orwell’s 1984?

When law enforcement institutions follow, intimidate, ruin political careers and create conditions to imprison innocent people, but remain powerless against major heating business opportunists, it is difficult to believe that they work for Lithuania, rather than playing their own political games. Why is detective Carrot [character in the children’s tale Adventures of Cipollino] who plays power games also supposed to be maintained by the budget, rather than tossed out? Who will compensate the Rubikon graft? Who will compensate the harm done to A. Čeponis, A. Romanovskis and V. Matuzas if it now has been decided they are innocent? Who will guarantee that tomorrow one of us won’t become the victim of rampaging gendarmerie?

Such law enforcement felt great under the wing of President D. Grybauskaitė, however it’s new dream political shelter may soon be S. Skvernelis’ wing. This promises nothing good for Lithuania as a country under the rule of law and a still free society.

A special investigation commission was founded in Seimas, headed by the chairman of the Committee of National Security and Defence Vytautas Bakas, who is known to be the prime minister’s minion. It appears it will turn into the link between law enforcement actions and S. Skvernelis’ political goals. Under the cover of investigating business and politicians’ connections, the Seimas now has a tool of political intimidation and coercion. A tool which, as you understand, will take interest in certainly not the potential links of S. Skvernelis and Tautvydas Barštys or the Senukai boys.

So what we have today: S. Skvernelis is the most popular and increasingly so candidate to the post of president; the “two Lithuanias” political dichotomy is returning; politicians with epaulets and their allies in law enforcement structures are creating a power pyramid, the top of which could well become a president with epaulets. What could the consequences of these three trends be for Lithuania?

The current ratings of S. Skvernelis are “prime minister-y”, not “presidential” and prime ministers are traditionally popular in Lithuania off crisis times (except Andrius Kubilius). If the presidential vote was held today, S. Skvernelis’ “prime minister-y” ratings would likely not convert “one to one” and the results would likely not be all that great for him as survey data suggests.

S. Skvernelis’ political style is akin to that of R. Paksas and D. Grybauskaitė. The latter was noted for a fairly strict tone and actions, did not try to unite the political class and took little interest in it, even cultivating mindless servitude, not intellect in her entourage, was not inclined to compromise and avoided public idea leadership, adhering to the simpler levers of power. R. Paksas maintaind something of a dream of governing by decrees and demonstrated by words, actions and martyr mimicry, just how tough and hated by the elite he is. D. Grybauskaitė and R. Paksas have some sort of similarity to their styles: chopped phrases, the image of a loner surrounded by enemies, quick action, and aggression.

S. Skvernelis is as if the two combined. Just as fast and furious, just also with epaulets. Some political scientist call his rough behaviour regarding political opponents (typical statement – “stuff this person’s mouth”) and discontented civic groups a “policeman style”. Many would say today that he also thinks and communicates that way, perhaps even swims policeman style, rather than the front crawl or dog paddle. There is no such chapter in the Kamasutra, but if it was intended for the relations of society and head of state, the Lithuanian policeman style would likely appear in it after 2019.

Perhaps this is the style people need today, it’s hard to say. Furthermore, there is still much time to the elections and perhaps Saulius will become Paulius, just like the famous apostle – being a policeman and persecuting Christians before turning. But few would vote for Paulius.

Meanwhile the sharpening “two Lithuanias” trend which is visible from the newest Spinter surveys may not be as favourable to the currently most popular “second Lithuania” candidate as it once was for R. Paksas. S. Skvernelis’ cards may be shuffled here by politicians such as Naglis Puteikis or the well-known and frequent presidential candidate in the second half of the 20th century or early 21st Vytenis Andriukaitis. He first ran for office when Princess Diana was still alive and his persistence may after all these years break through the generational, as if a forefather decree or beer-making tradition, voters’ will to oppose V. Andriukaitis’ election to president.

Both N. Puteikis and V. Andriukaitis may split up a fair portion of the “second Lithuania” vote and the more leftist voters who appear to be contributing to the prime ministers current high ratings will likely have more favoured candidates. And then S. Skvernelis may find it more difficult to enter the second round than appears today.

The final of the three mentioned matters – the mobilisation of law enforcement as an interest group under S. Skvernelis’ wing and manipulation via secret commissions and leaking classified information. Will this serve to aid the prime minister’s popularity and victory or will it precisely scare off potential allies and voters? This question will likely become crucial in the coming months, if not years.

Whatever the answer, it is already clear that almost all the “Farmer” partisan rivals are laid flat or wavering, well battered by the selective baton of “transparency” and the only to avoid significant trauma so far are the Conservatives-Christian Democrats, though only for now, most likely. The many years of turning politics into a legal scandal arena where there no longer is a struggle about ideas and only a “struggle for transparency” with constant suspicion, investigation, secrecy, leaking, prosecuting, making transparent and speaking through all media channels only about what is investigated, suspected, prosecuted and leaked – this has ended up with parties and politicians laying the foundation themselves upon which the crafty “Farmers” with S. Skvernelis at their head now build their police state.

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