BNN ANALYSES | Tensions grip Lithuania, but will they trigger rise of nationalists?

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Tensions are simmering in Lithuania. The migrant crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, divisions stemming from the rejection for a new massive protest march by the Lithuanian Family Movement (LFM) in Vilnius. And then Kaunas’ firm «no» to a first-ever LGBTQ march in the city on Saturday, September 4.
«The accumulation of tensions that we see now taking place in Lithuania at the same time is extreme, quite abnormal,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris University, told BNN.
He says, with tensions piling up, the divisions of the Lithuanian society will get just deeper and, for the Lithuanian authorities, more troublesome.
But will they lead to the rise of nationalists? Who will grab a sizeable chunk of municipal council seats in 2023? And, looking forward, in the 2024 Seimas, Lithuanian parliament, elections?
«But considering the context of what is happening now in the old democracies, like Western Europe or the United States, there is nothing extraordinary going in Lithuania,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas emphasised.
The LFM, commenced as a movement against ostensible LGBT propaganda and mandatory vaccination, is certainly stoking nationalistic tendencies in certain swaths of the population, he says, but doubts if the movement, as well as the other possible movements riding on the ticket against the vaccination and the minorities, can bring about «something very serious politically».
«They do not have big personalities. That’s first. Secondly, the Family movement did not shun violence in the August 10 protest at the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament). That does not resonate well with many others. But let’s admit that their hard take on the LGBT issue and the vaccination echoes well with many people in Lithuania,» the analyst said.
Some 5,000 people, invited by the LFM, gathered outside the parliament building on August 10 to protest against the liberal-conservative government’s plans to impose restrictions for people without coronavirus immunity or negative test results.
The rally turned violent in the evening, with some protested blocking exits from the parliament and throwing bottles and flares at police officers. The police used teargas against protesters. Several tens of people were detained.
In mid-May, the Family Movement staged a rally called «The Big Family Defense March» in Vilnius to protest against the Istanbul Convention and other initiatives «directed against the traditional family». Police estimated that up to 10,000 people participated in the event.
Obviously disappointed with the Vilnius decision to deny permit for the new rally, Raimondas Grinevičius, chief of the Lithuanian Family Movement, told BNN that the LFM is «weighing» all options now.
«We hope that the Constitutional right to organise marches will be respected. We’re expecting to hear from a court on our appeal later today,» Grinevičius said.
The organisers of the planned march have handed their list of demands to the ruling bloc. Among other demands, the organisers of the rally want the authorities to scrap the requirement for all school and university students, except primary graders, to wear facemasks during classes and other activities involving close contact in the new school year. The movement’s leaders also called on the Seimas not to adopt legislation allowing employers to suspend employees from their duties if they are not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
«Some of these expectations could be discussed,» Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, chairwoman of Seimas, said, adding that the demand to abandon a partnership law encompassing gay couples goes against the ruling coalition’s commitments to their voters.
Grinevičius says the LFM can «consider» «many things» proposed by the government, but the movement will «never” back down on their demand to «stop gay propaganda» in Lithuanian schools. «That is out of question. As well as partnerships for same-sex couples,» he underlined, denying that the movement will serve as a springboard for a nationalist party.
Read also: Vilnius protest claim of getting virus from tear gas joked about by Lithuanian police
As much as appealing the movement seems to some Lithuanians, Dumbliauskas believes that the majority of voters are not «keen» to support and vote for radical parties, promulgating nationalistic agendas.
«I really doubt if such a party would overcome the 5 percent threshold necessary to get into Seimas on party lists. Especially if the government will have handled the pandemic and the migrant crises well by the new parliamentary election in 2024,» Dumbliauskas said.
The analyst says it is the LGBT and the vaccinations issues that are splitting the public most. The Municipality of Kaunas has appealed an earlier court decision obliging the city to arrange a permit for an LGBTQ+ march scheduled this Saturday. The organisers expect a ruling in time for the event to take place.
Yet Dumbliauskas believes that, regardless of the verdicts of courts on the planned LFM and LGBT rallies, tensions in the country will not fade. «On the contrary, they will continue to rise. But that is also related to Brussels, the EP and the Commission – their bureaucracy-ridden technocrats are out of touch with what is going on in the EU member states,» the analyst said.
Andžej Pukšto, an associate professor at Vytautas Magnus University, told BNN he does not think that the political situation in Lithuania, albeit heated, could be described as «destabilised».
«I just do not see an alternative to the current government…Most of the protests are organised by non-parliamentary forces…I do not see conditions in the country which would lead to a major political earthquake, like a rise of Poland and Hungary-like radical right forces here. A lot however depends on how the government will cope with the migrant crisis and the coronavirus pandemic,» the analyst said.
But Naglis Puteikis, a former Lithuanian MP, has no doubt that Lithuanians will not «put up with» the government and its policies and are headed for a «variant» of the current Polish and Hungarian governments.
«With the breaches of the Constitution, the Lithuanian liberal-conservative government and the Vilnius authority are clearing moving towards Belarus. The dissatisfaction of the populace with its actions is growing every day. I am sure we will see a new political majority in the 2024-2028 Seimas. One consisting of political parties that will resemble Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and Hungary’s ruling Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance,» he said to BNN convinced.