Lithuania Table of Contents

The new system of government became operative with the election of President Algirdas Brazauskas in February 1993. Brazauskas came from the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDLP), successor to the Communist Party of Lithuania. The Brazauskas government surprised many of its critics during 1994 by its continued commitment to rapid economic reform and to Lithuania's independence. Rural interests, which formed the bedrock of support for the LDLP, were unhappy with the failure to roll back implementation of the free market in agriculture and with the breakup of centralized state farms and cooperatives.

Since the declaration of independence, Lithuanian politics have been stormy, especially the struggle between the former Communist Party of Lithuania and the movement for independence, Sajudis. On its own, the Communist Party of Lithuania had won only twenty-three seats out of the 141 seats in the March 1990 parliamentary elections. Sajudis and other political parties that supported independence had won a majority. In addition, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) won nine seats; the Christian Democratic Party of Lithuania (CDPL), two; the Lithuanian Democratic Party (LDP), two; and the Lithuanian Green Party, four. Noncommunist parties were in their infancy--small and weak. Seventy members of parliament did not belong formally to any party, although virtually all of them were ideologically close to Sajudis.

Parliamentary organization was complicated by the numerous parliamentary factions, unrelated to party strength or differentiation in society. Parliamentary factions had no fixed constituencies to which they were accountable. In 1992 there were nine parliamentary factions and a nonfaction group consisting of twenty independent deputies. The largest was the Center faction (eighteen members), followed by the Moderates (sixteen), the LDLP (twelve), the Liberals (ten), the Poles (eight), and the Nationalists (nine). The United Sajudis faction had sixteen members, and the Santara faction of Sajudis had ten.

The weakness of the LDLP was deceptive. This group had lost adherents in the parliament, but in April 1990, while still known as the Communist Party of Lithuania, it won approximately 40 percent of the votes--and offices--in local elections. It was strong in small towns and rural areas. Later in 1990, these reformist communists adopted a new name and an essentially social democratic program, gaining a new lease on political life.

In this political landscape, the position of chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet (de facto president) was won in May 1990 by Vytautas Landsbergis, the president of Sajudis and a professor of musicology who had never been a member of the Communist Party of Lithuania. Landsbergis defeated the former leader, Brazauskas, by two-thirds of the vote. Brazauskas refused to accept the position of deputy chairman. Kazimiera Prunskiene, an economist, was chosen as prime minister, whereupon she immediately quit the Communist Party of Lithuania. Brazauskas agreed to serve as one of the deputy prime ministers. The other deputy prime minister was Romualdas Ozolas, a philosopher and former communist who eventually joined the Center faction in the parliament.

Soon, however, a conflict developed between Landsbergis and Prunskiene, primarily over Lithuania's response to the 1990 Soviet blockade. Landsbergis stood firm and defiant. Prunskiene, after visiting Western leaders, pursued compromise with the Soviet Union, as suggested by these leaders. In early 1991, Prunskiene took the first radical steps in economic reform, but the Sajudis forces used that action to unseat her. A fellow economist, Albertas Simenas, was chosen as her successor, but he temporarily disappeared during the turmoil created by the Soviet army, which staged a putsch against the Lithuanian government and on January 13, 1991, massacred un-armed civilians. Landsbergis summoned the people to defend the parliament. His heroic determination and leadership won him further domestic recognition as a national leader and a favorable international reputation abroad. For a moment, all political groups united against Soviet aggression. Lithuanians refused to participate in Gorbachev's referendum on the continuation of a federal union and instead held their own "national poll," which confirmed overwhelming support for independence. However, unity did not last long.

In Simenas's absence, Gediminas Vagnorius became prime minister. He initiated economic reforms and continued the political struggle against Brazauskas's party that Landsbergis had begun in the spring of 1990. Vagnorius's efforts frequently were frustrated by the parliament, and the LDLP formally declared opposition to the government in the fall of 1991. Reform measures, especially in agriculture, were not successful. His struggle with the leadership of the Bank of Lithuania over the introduction of a Lithuanian currency, the litas, was unsuccessful because neither the bank nor a majority in parliament supported his program.

In the meantime, the strength of the Sajudis group and of the coalition in parliament that supported Vagnorius was withering. The leadership of the independence movement, furthermore, was gradually shifting to more conservative nationalist positions after the third conference of the movement in December 1991. Anticommunist activities were facilitated by access to KGB archives, and past collaboration with the KGB was made a political issue. The atmosphere was not improved by the ultimately unsuccessful attempts by Sajudis to pass a law that would temporarily bar from public office certain categories of former officeholders in the communist party power structure. The attempt sharpened confrontation between the nationalist and former communist party forces. Landsbergis sought to strengthen the powers of the executive branch and his own position by establishing an executive presidency. But on May 23, 1992, his proposal failed in a referendum.

After several attempts in parliament to remove the unpopular prime minister in the summer of 1992, Vagnorius had to resign in July, and new parliamentary elections were agreed upon for October. Aleksandras Abisala, another Sajudis leader, took over from Vagnorius with the acquiescence of the opposition. However, neither his attempts to correct the economic situation nor his conciliatory politics improved Sajudis's chances in the upcoming elections of October 25, 1992.

Seventeen groups or coalitions ran candidates for the 141 seats of the new parliament, the Seimas, but some did not muster enough votes for the 4 percent threshold. Against everyone's expectations--and even to Brazauskas's own surprise--the LDLP and its satellites won an absolute majority of seventy-three seats (51 percent). Landsbergis's forces still hoped for a strong showing of their coalition, but the Sajudis-Santara coalition succeeded in winning only sixteen seats, including three contested ones. The Social Democratic representation de-creased to eight seats, the Christian Democrats increased to ten, and the Center barely squeaked through with two victories in single-member districts but did not meet the 4 percent threshold for seats elected by party lists. Three new groups entered the parliament--the Citizens Charter with ten seats; Political Prisoners and Exiles with twelve; and the Christian Democratic Association, a splinter of the Christian Democratic Party with one. One seat was won by an independent. The Polish minority, however, was able to win four seats because it was not required to reach the 4 percent threshold.

The significance of the parliamentary elections result was threefold: the nationalist forces of Landsbergis were crushed, the postcommunist politicians led by Brazauskas made an amazing comeback, and the political center in the parliament was destroyed. Neither the Center nor the Liberal faction met the 4 percent threshold for seats elected by party lists. Political polarization of the country was confirmed: there was a strong and well-organized left, and there was a weak, shattered, and splintered right.

The polarization was even more conspicuously demonstrated in the direct presidential election of February 14, 1993. The Lithuanian ambassador to the United States, Stasys Lozoraitis, lost to Brazauskas, who won majorities everywhere except in the urban district of Kaunas. The final vote was 61.1 percent for Brazauskas and 38.2 percent for Lozoraitis. Brazauskas was catapulted to office by the rural population. His majority was increased by the vote from urban districts with Polish or Russian majorities. Brazauskas won for the same reasons his party earlier captured the majority in the parliament: economic crisis, disappointment with Sajudis, dislike of the once very popular Landsbergis, and, most of all, the electorate's trust in Brazauskas as a well-known and popular candidate whose campaign succeeded in portraying the ambassador as a "foreigner" ignorant of Lithuania's concerns.

The Western press saw the election as a victory for former communist party members who would stop reform and return Lithuania to some sort of association with the former Soviet Union. However, the LDLP was no longer communist, and, although sympathetic to Russia, it was committed to Lithuania's independence. The new president stated repeatedly that he would preserve Lithuania's independence, although Landsbergis, now in the role of opposition leader, continued to warn of threats to Lithuania's status as an independent state. Brazauskas resigned as leader of the LDLP, as required by the constitution.

Shortly after the election, President Brazauskas appointed Raimundas Rajeckas, a distinguished economist with an academic background, as his special counsel. Rajeckas had been associated with Harvard and other Western universities and had served as Brazauskas's campaign manager. He functioned as a "deputy president." Brazauskas also accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Bronislovas Lubys and chose as his successor an economist, Adolfas Slezevicius, president of a private joint Lithuanian-Norwegian company and former deputy minister of agriculture for dairy and meat production. Slezevicius continued to implement Lithuania's political and economic reforms while pursuing an improved relationship with Russia.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress