V. Laučius: talks that a generation shift is ongoing in the Social Democrat Party are rather odd

Algirdas Butkevičius, Gintautas Paluckas
DELFI / Andrius Ufartas

Antagonising the older generation which should be on its way out and the younger that is just up and coming is discriminatory toward those of older age, LRT.lt chief editor Vladimiras Laučius told LRT Radio.

“The talks of some young politicians, perhaps including Gintautas Paluckas, that a generation shift is ongoing appear rather odd. When Dalia Grybauskaitė was elected president after Valdas Adamkus, we could say there a shift in genders. If the Polish group, which did not exist in Seimas prior, was elected to Seimas, we would have to exclaim that there’s a nationality shift in Seimas. It’s totally absurd,” the political scientist observes.

V. Laučius explains that while there is no lack of internal disputes within the Social Democrat Party to begin with, ones that are not revealed to the public, the party’s rivals benefit and encourage such public disputes. He points out that there are a number of dichotomies that surround the LSDP, these mask two fundamental issues for the party – ideological stances and power struggles. The dichotomies range from whether the party will remain in the coalition government or will leave it, to whether Gintautas Paluckas and Rasa Budbergytė are right in claiming that it is no longer possible to work with the “Farmers” or if the group veterans in Seimas are right supporting remaining.

Regarding ideological views the expert reminds that despite the party electing a new chairman, the party itself, just as its group in Seimas and branch members are the same – the LSDP has not experienced any monumental shift to the right, it remains as it was. “Tangible changes take more than one, two or perhaps even three years. As such I do not believe talks that the Social Democrats must leave the coalition because the party has completely renewed itself and is completely different. No, such talks are just propaganda,” he highlighted, also pointing out that the Social Democrats advocating for withdrawal due to ideological differences failed to make use of the discussion regarding VAT tariffs as an important distinction of their social sensitivity and the government’s drift to the right, allowing G. Landsbergis to make use of the opportunity.

Furthermore despite comments such as R. Budbergytė’s that the cabinet is increasingly right wing, which mandates leaving the coalition, V. Laučius is not convinced, pointing out that in the end the Social Democrats themselves are not displaying much commitment to leftist values, even if there is some truth to a shift right in the government. The ideological clash is nowhere to really be seen in the end.

In terms of power struggles, V. Laučius explains that the open letter from Algirdas Butkevičius, Gediminas Kirkilas and Česlovas Juršėnas is a part of the party’s internal power struggles between the supporters and detractors of the current chairman, with most of those in the latter group being in the Seimas group and wielding sizeable influence and leverage. The letter is intended to highlight that their opinion must be respected or else the repercussions to the party may be grave.

While many political scientists can only theorise about the internal workings of party structure, the expert notes he has worked in a party, rising from the rank and file to being a management member. He stresses that an important factor to remember is that every branch has a small core that is active and makes decisions, while beyond that there is no massive enthusiasm or democratic discourse of joint decision making.

Despite V. Laučius disparaging the claims of ideological confrontation, R. Budbergytė stresses that while the LSDP expected the “Farmers” to emphasise leftist policy as per what they declared during the electoral campaign, over the half year of work together it has become apparent that the “Farmer” policy is dominated by neoliberalism, particularly when it stems from the cabinet. She admits that the Social Democrats are seeking their identity and there is no universal perception of what it should be within the party.

R. Budbergytė explains that when they were entering the elections and coalition negotiations, the LSDP did not expect they would have to teach the inexperienced “Farmers”, while furthermore the question of trust had to be raised in the coalition, giving the example of the VAT exemption for heating, “It was definitely some sort of odd miscommunication between us and our partners. We spoke a number of times that we would register and remain with this exemption. But the promise that we would do it together that the “Farmers” gave us turned in a completely different direction,” she said. While she is one of the few LSDP group members to support withdrawing from the coalition government, she says she understands her colleagues’ calls to remain because work in the opposition allows less room for achieving results. She dismisses questions of group members simply seeking to retain their official positions through the coalition.

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the Lithuanian Farmer and Greens Union stresses that first and foremost the majority of Social Democrats in Seimas are not wavering in their support for working in the coalition, which was discussed in a Wednesday coalition meeting. The politician emphasises that, “We are certainly sitting in coalition meetings and discussing tasks, not fracturing or strengthening some sort of coalitions.”

Karbauskis does see leftist policy in the government, pointing to the 0.5 billion euro dedicated to reducing social segregation and expresses belief that what is happening in the LSDP right now is, to an extent, related to preparations for the municipal elections. Secondly he points out that the new chairman wishes to establish his authority and finally he believes that there is an unwillingness to understand that those elected to Seimas have commitments to their voters and the state, rather than cost benefit calculations that may be made in the branches.

The politician was dismissive of the impact events in the Social Democrat party may have on the coalition and its work, stating that if the Social Democrat group opposes the party if it were to vote to leave the coalition, they would simply continue working together, while if they do choose to withdraw, it would be necessary to rethink the government programme.

Karbauskis denied concrete decisions have been made regarding talks of alternative partners, but admitted that talks are constantly ongoing with all groups in Seimas in unofficial capacities. “These are just unofficial talks of what would be if things happened [if the Social Democrats left the coalition], but these are no negotiations because we will definitely not terminate the coalition agreement. We see no reason for it,” Karbauskis said.

He denied that the calls by him and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis for the Social Democrats to decide their future in the coalition by September 10 are an ultimatum, rather describing it as a request because it would be difficult to begin the new session without while unsure about the coalition’s future. He adds that the Social Democrat Party management is intentionally choosing such timing to escalate tensions and that the decision made in the LSDP party branches will be what is to serve the party in elections, rather than what would serve Lithuania.

The two parties have made a number of strides that the Seimas failed to accomplish for many years according to R. Karbauskis. He applauds the Seimas Social Democrat group, stressing that the work was done together as a team and because the new party chairman is not a member of Seimas himself, his view of work in Seimas and communication in the coalition is incorrect, thinking that there is little communication with the Social Democrat Party.

Regarding some political scientists musing that the Social Democrat Party is on the verge of failing, R. Karbauskis supports G. Paluckas’ words that the party is going through a generation shift. Karbauskis suggests that the age gap would not be an issue if there was a unifying idea within the party, but states that he finds actual discussions of content and differences between the coalition partners lacking within the party’s discourse. Overall he finds it to be a problem that the discussion being brought forth is not one of differences in ideas, but age and other such criteria.

Karbauskis once more emphasises that the two parties can certainly continue working together, stating that he does not believe the coalition could fall apart just because of forestry reform and state service reform disputes. He suggests that the issues the Social Democrats have with projects need to be pointed out specifically and discussed. The politician does not answer whether his party will wait for the Social Democrats to make their decision by September 20, only stating that they will work with the Social Democrat group and hope that responsibility to Lithuania and understanding what Seimas and Seimas groups are, how they should work, will win out against electoral considerations.

V. Laučius aggress with R. Karbauskis that it is a problem that G. Paluckas and some other young politicians describe current issues as a generation shift, quipping that, “When Dalia Grybauskaitė was elected president after Valdas Adamkus, we could say there a shift in genders. If the Polish group, which did not exist in Seimas prior, was elected to Seimas, we would have to exclaim that there’s a nationality shift in Seimas. It’s totally absurd.” The expert describes the distinction as discrimination against age, which he describes as comparable to discrimination based on gender, race or other matters. Overall he describes such talks unsuitable.

The political scientist points to a very important observation on the whole situation. He points out that firstly the members of the Seimas group were, in the end, approved by the party branches, who had the opportunity to choose their candidates. Neither the former party chairman, nor the current Seimas group appeared from nowhere and common party members had an influence in them reaching these positions. Laučius stresses that it would appear that a part of the branches refuse to take responsibility for the candidates they proposed to Seimas just half a year after doing so and now there’s no way back, the current members of Seimas will be there for the coming three and a half years.

Regarding the actions of the LSDP’s new chairman, V. Laučius points out that his actions may not be well measured in terms of his actual capacities, the new, more leftist policies he propagates will be incredibly difficult to establish. “Doing as he is now, appealing to the branches is, in my opinion, somewhat desperate because he has no other leverage to accomplish his ideas,” the expert pointed out.

Nevertheless he calls for empathising with G. Paluckas, stating that the latter has opposed a number of the party management’s decisions, actions and ideas for a long time, having spoken for more leftist, more social democratic policy. The party chairman should not be accused of simply attempting to fracture the party or seeking only personal gains or group interests. G. Paluckas already was a representative of the party’s more left inclined wing.

In the end V. Laučius explains that G. Paluckas should not be blamed for lacking leverage. Instead what is to blame is the party’s situation for the past 10 to 15 years where the Social Democrats have failed to nurture a new (not necessarily younger, but overall) generation of apt politicians.

“They do not have to be young or younger. Simply other people need to come to the party, it should not be the same people occupying the main posts all the time. Their abilities should be put to the test and those who do best should be granted higher positions where they become not only city mayors or vice mayors, but members of Seimas or cabinet. This is something that was lacking in the party so far,” V. Laučius concluded.

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