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Category: Lithuania

Decapitated in Kyiv, Lenin finds safety in the bosom of capitalism

The decapitation of the Lenin Statue in Kyiv on December 8th 2013 was a visible symbol of the current tensions in Ukraine, where young pro-EU protestors continue to demonstrate against the recent decision of President Yanukovych  to abandon an Association Agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia.

However, it might equally be asked how this relic of the Soviet era lasted for so long.  There are few more tangible representations of the transition away from communism than the removal of Soviet-era statues. Kyiv’s protestors argue that Lenin has long been squatting, given that former President Yushchenko signed a decree ordering the removal of the statue in 2009.

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Protestors in Kyiv decapitate the Lenin Statue on Shevchenko Boulevard

Ukrainians are far from the first in the former Soviet sphere to face dilemmas over the fate of Soviet-era statues.  The Estonian have shown little appetite for keeping souvenirs of this difficult period in their history.  Monuments to Lenin, Stalin and Stakhanovite ‘comrades’ were quietly rounded up and unceremoniously dumped in the back garden of the Estonian History Museum.  There they lie, forgotten and unloved, reflecting the sentiment of a country that is so keen to forget about its long occupation that it won’t even organise a formal disposal for Lenin and his cronies.

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Soviet-era statues abandoned in the back garden of the Estonian History Museum in Tallinn

However, the transition away from communism also heralded the beginning of a period of vigorous capitalism.  In Lithuania, one canny entrepreneur realised that, while the local population would rather forget about the Soviet-era, there was money to be made from curious tourists.  The statues were collected and displayed in a theme park, where tourists can gawp for a charging a basic entry fee for 20 litas (€5).  A further 26 litas buys an audio guide,

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Lenin sits comfortably in the Grūto Parkas, Druskininkai, Lithuania

While protestors in Kyiv continue to hack away at a statue that has out-stayed its welcome, it is ironic that Lenin’s safest and most comfortable resting place has been within the very bosom of capitalism.

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Lithuania’s Semi-Presidential Stand Off Reaches its Endgame

Almost exactly a month after the second round of the October 2012 parliamentary elections, Lithuania is in the final stages of appointing a new government. As predicted prior to the election, the two centre-left parties, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats (LSDP), gained enough votes to form a coalition with a third party, the populist Order and Justice.  The Conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, who led the country through the financial crisis, performed better than expected, but were left in second place with no obvious coalition partners.

Given the pre-election maneuvering that had already taken place, the formation of a centre-left coalition should have been straightforward. But it was not to be. The second round of the constituency campaigns was marred by allegations of vote-buying, particularly in prisons, aimed primarily at the Labour Party, which already had a reputation for corruption.  The complaints were referred to the Constitutional Court for adjudication, and Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, refused to approve any government that contained the Labour Party.

The result was a classic semi-presidential stand-off, with President Grybauskaite and the would-be Prime Minister, the LSDP’s Algirdas Butkevicius, locked in a battle of wills.  Meanwhile, the Conservative leader, Andrius Kubilius, continued to run the country.  The deadlock was finally broken when Butkevicius recruited an additional coalition partner, Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, a small party representing the country’s Polish minority.  This gave the coalition a three-fifths majority in Parliament, sufficient to over-ride any presidential veto.

President Grybaukaite backed down, but not before making two demands.  Firstly, she has asked that the immunity of the MPs implicated in criminal dealings be revoked (Lithuanian MPs have immunity from prosecution).  Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, the President requested a personal meeting with each proposed minister to confirm their fluency in at least one of the EU’s languages, English, French or German.  President Grybauskaite is a former EU commissioner, and Lithuania will hold the EU Presidency from July to December 2013.  However, the President’s gesture was only partially inspired by respect for Lithuania’s international partners.  Its primary purpose was to exclude certain individuals, viewed by the President as corrupt, from ministerial office.

This month’s stand-off may be healthy for Lithuania’s democracy in the long term. Most significantly, the prosecution of electoral violations is an important step in tackling corruption.  Even better if immunity from criminal prosecution is lifted, since the guarantee of such immunity tends to attract the wrong sorts of candidates to politics.

Although an extra coalition partner can make disagreements more likely, the inclusion of Lithuania’s long-marginalised Polish minority in the governmental process is arguably long overdue.  Lithuania’s relations with Poland have been poor in recent years, largely as a result of disputes over the treatment of this minority.

Therefore, despite the unexpected drama, Lithuania’s 2012 elections have provided an opportunity to tackle problems that have persisted since its transition to democracy twenty years ago.