Lithuania

Background

Lithuanian history at a glance

Lithuania was under Polish dominion from the 13th century, but following the partition of Poland in 1795, most of today’s territory became part of the Russian Empire. The Russian Empire eliminated Polish influence on Lithuanians and introduced Russian social and political institutions. In 1915, after the outbreak of World War I, Lithuania was occupied by German troops. A ‘Lithuanian Conference’ was convened in September 1917, which demanded the re-establishment of an independent Lithuanian state and elected a ‘Lithuanian Council'. It proceeded to declare its independence on 16 February 1918. At the end of 1920, however, Poland annexed Lithuania's capital city and province of Vilnius, which it held until World War II. The rest of Lithuania was recognized as an independent state. Lithuania’s first constitution, which declared Lithuania a parliamentary democracy, was adopted in August 1922.

Four proportional representation elections with universal suffrage were held between 1920 and 1926 for the Constitutional Assembly and the unicameral Seimas (parliament). Christian Democratic coalitions dominated the democratic period. In 1926 a military coup d’état established an authoritarian rule under Antanas Smetova.

Under the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, Soviet troops occupied Lithuania and annexed it as a Soviet republic. When Germany invaded the USSR the following year, it also conquered Lithuania. Soviet forces returned in early Autumn 1944 and civil administration was handed to a republican committee of the Communist Party of the USSR, and non-competitive elections were held along Soviet lines. Lithuanian guerrilla forces resisted Soviet annexation until 1953. Soviet rule in Lithuania displayed well-known features of communist rule: The party had a monopoly on power, and the management of the economy was centralized. The regime collectivized agriculture from 1947 to 1951. Secret police terrorized the society and attempted to transfer Lithuanian nationalist loyalties to the communists, deportations to Siberia were resumed and religion was brutally suppressed.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy enabled Lithuanians to make explicit protests. In June 1988 the Lithuanian reform movement, Sajudis, was organized to demand fundamental political reform. The Lithuanian branch of the All-Union Communist Party then split: a majority, under Algirdas Brazauskas, advocated independence and democratic views. In December Brazauskas forced the Communist Party of Lithuania (CPL) to secede from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to give up its monopoly on power. None the less, Sajudis remained the dominant political force in the republic, and its supporters won an overall majority in the elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet in February–March 1990. This new, pro-independence parliament elected Vytautas Landsbergis, the chairman of Sajudis, to replace Brazauskas as its chairman (de facto president of Lithuania), and on March 11 declared the restoration of Lithuanian independence; Lithuania thus became the first of the Soviet republics to make such a declaration. The Supreme Council also restored the pre-1940 name of the country (the Republic of Lithuania) and suspended the USSR constitution on Lithuanian territory. Kazimiera Danute Prunskienė, a member of the CPL and hitherto a deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers, was appointed to be the first prime minister of the restored republic. The independence claim was, however, not recognized by the Soviet Union. In January 1991 Soviet forces sought to occupy public buildings in Vilnius, including the TV tower, which led to the killing of 14 Lithuanian civilians. Attempts at suppression failed and in a plebiscite in February 1991, 90,5 percent of the voters endorsed independence. Moscow finally recognized Lithuanian independence on September 6, 1991.

Politics in the new era

Politics of Lithuania takes place in a framework of a parliamentary republic, whereby the prime minister is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government, which is headed by the prime minister. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the unicameral Seimas (Lithuanian parliament). The president serves as the commander-in-chief and oversees foreign and security policy and further adresses political problems of foreign and domestic affairs, proclaims state of emergency, considers the laws adopted by the Seimas, and performs other duties specified in the constitution.

The Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP), successor to the Communist Party of Lithuania, emerged as the leading party in the 1992 elections to the Seimas , winning a total of 73 of the 141 seats. The defeat of Sajudis was largely attributed to popular disenchantment with its management of economic reform. In October a referendum approved a new constitution, which was adopted by the Seimas the following month. The new system of government became operative with the election of President Algirdas Brazauskas in February 1993. The Brazauskas LDDP government surprised many of its critics during 1994 by its continued commitment to rapid economic reform and to Lithuania's independence.

In May a new political organization, the Conservative Party of Lithuania, also known as the "Homeland Union" (Lithuanian Conservatives), was formed. Mainly comprising former members of Sajudis, and chaired by Landsbergis, the party rapidly established itself as the principal opposition party. Homeland Union won the general elections of 1996 and subsequently formed a coalition government with the Democratic Party of Lithuania (CDPL). Landsbergis was elected chairman of the Seimas at the assembly’s first sitting in late November, and shortly afterwards Vagnorius was appointed prime minister.

Brazauskas did not contest a further term in the presidential election held in December 1997, and in a second round of voting in January 1998, the second-placed candidate after the first round, Valdas Adamkus, was confirmed the winner. In October 1999 Adamkus nominated Andrius Kubilius prime minister. The legislative elections of October 2000 delivered a resounding defeat to the ruling Homeland Union coalition. The newly founded Liberal Union (LU), the New Union (Social Liberals), and several minor parties formed a new ruling coalition. Former prime minister Paksas, now leader of LU, became prime minister a second time. The coalition collapsed after less than a year, forcing Paksas to resign. He was replaced by Brazauskas, who had merged LDDP with the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) in January 2001. The enlarged party, which took LSDP's name, commanded more seats than any other party in the Seimas after the collapse of Paksas’s coalition.

President Adamkus was widely credited with guiding Lithuania to full membership in the EU and NATO. He was also at the helm of the economic policies that brought Lithuania economic growth accompanied by low unemployment. Scoring high in public approval ratings, Adamkus was widely expected to win a second term in the presidential elections, and he received a clear lead in the first round of voting in December 2002. In the runoff election in January 2003, however, former prime minister Paksas—the candidate of the newly formed Liberal Democratic Party—won an upset victory after waging an aggressive populist campaign.

Paksas held office for slightly more than a year. He was impeached and dismissed from office by Lithuania’s parliament in April 2004. The charges centered around his relationship with Yuri Borisov, a millionaire Russian businessman allegedly linked to organized crime in Russia who helped finance Paksas’s election campaign in 2003. 

In June 2004 Adamkus won the presidential race becoming president of Lithuania for a second time. Following the parliamentary elections of October 2004, a new government, led by Prime Minister Brazauskas, took office on December 14, 2004. On June 1, 2006, president Adamkus expressed no confidence in two of the ministers over ethical principles. Brazauskas decided to resign, and announced that he was finally retiring from politics.

Lithuania officially became a member of NATO in March 2004 and joined the European Union in May the same year.

Sources

Rose, R. and N. Munro (2003). Elections and Parties in New European Democracies . Washington DC: CQ Press.

Recent History (Lithuania), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Bergen. Retrieved 30 August 2006 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/lt.is.4

Country Studies Lithuania http://www.country-studies.com/lithuania/