Chapter 4

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS IN INDEPENDENT LITHUANIA

The newly independent Lithuania had severed her enforced connection with the Soviet Union and now fulfilled her ambition to rejoin the community of European states. However, she could 'return to Europe' in the fullest sense only if she met the conditions of membership of the various European and Euro-Atlantic organizations, such as the European Union. Acceptance by the community of states meant adopting democratic forms of government and protecting human and minority rights. Accordingly Lithuania approved a democratic Constitution in 1992 and established very liberal citizenship and minorities legislation. External bodies concerned with the protection of human rights such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) gave their seal of approval. Nevertheless, the politics of the post-independence period often reveal a divergence between law and practice. The political class mouthed the vocabulary of democracy but sometimes their actions showed either that they did not understand the meaning of the term, or cynically ignored it. The election of President Adamkus in 1997, in a sense an outsider who had spent almost all his adult life in the United States, epitomized the contrast between two political cultures, each using the same vocabulary but differing radically in their understanding of the words. Adamkus's call for a kind of revolution in the political culture may represent a significant turning point in the politics of post-independence Lithuania. At the least it may help to restore confidence between the people and their political representatives who, at the time of his election, were generally mistrusted and unpopular. 1

Critics of the practice of Lithuanian politics since independence are open to the charge of failing to recognize the enormity of the challenges faced by the new state. They were too impatient with the stumbling steps of the tyro democrats, and ignored the influence of history on the Lithuanian mentality since 1918, particularly the impact of Soviet rule on attitudes and values and the absence of lengthy periods of democracy to act as a model for contemporary politicians. 2 In the absence of democratic practice for all but four or five years since the first restoration of independence in 1918, it is not surprising that operating a

LITHUANIA: STEPPING WESTWARD

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