- August 24, 2012
Radczenko: the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and the Lithuanian People’s Party- a marriage of convenience?
The EAPL will run for election not only with the twin Russian organisation- the Alliance of Russians, but also with the Lithuanian People’s Party (the only party in Lithuania that signed last year the agreement of cooperation with Putin’s United Russia). It is hard to call it a ‘dream coalition’ but on the other hand it was a thoughtful decision. The cooperation with a party accused of having a pro- Moscow attitude will certainly strengthen the position of its opponents who perceive the EAPL as a ‘Kremlin’s project’ but this decision is perfectly understandable and pragmatic after all.
The accusation of having a ‘pro- Russian’ attitude is usually made by political scientists and right- wing politics but it is not what the electorate is bothered with (see: electoral success of Rolandas Paksas and Wiktor Uspaskich). The leader of the Electoral Action is aware that his electorate has pro- Russian political sympathies so his coalition with Prunskus will not cause him any problems in the Vilnius Region or in Visaginas. What is more, it may help him gain a couple of thousand of priceless Lithuanian votes which are crucial to reach the threshold level.
Despite providing the reassurances that in October they will get 7% or even 10% of votes, the leaders of the EAPL are aware that the amount of Polish votes which they haven’t obtained yet is small (around 1/3 of Poles are not voting for the EAPL but taking into account the protests after amending the bill on education, gaining their votes seems to be impossible) and it will not help them to reach the threshold level for sure.
On the other hand, the Russian- speaking electorate is extremely unstable. During the parliamentary elections, the Lithuanian Russians repose hope in the country- wide parties, such as the social democrats and Wiktor Uspaskich’s Labour Party. But even if the EAPL will mobilise the electorate, it still lacks 0,5%- 1% of votes to reach the 5% electoral threshold and the leader of the party plans to collect them among the dissatisfied Lithuanian people. This strategy worked in Slovakia and Latvia.
For years the problem of the ethnic minority of Hungarians in Slovakia has been casting a shadow on relations between Slovakia and Hungary, which are one of the worst in the European Union. In the regions of Slovakia inhabited strictly by Hungarians ruled the Slovakian version of the EAPL- the Party of the Hungarian Coalition. Since 2007, after changing the leadership and under the influence of the nationalistic policy of the government in Slovakia, the PHC has been radicalizing their approach. A close cooperation was started with Viktor Orbán’s right- wing Fidesz for the reason that back then it seemed that obtaining Budapest’s support was their only hope. The attitude of Hungary was getting more strict and the situation of Hungarians in Slovakia was getting worse.
And then something unexpected happened- there was a break- up in the PHC and a part of Hungarian activists and the Slovaks created a new party uniting the 2 nations- the Most- Hid which called for reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation. At the beginning, during the escalation of the Slovakian- Hungarian conflict, the Most- Hid was underestimated but the support gained by it in 2010 was beyond any expectations. This party received 8,12% of votes, 14 mandates and become an important part of a new Slovakian coalition. Meanwhile, the radical PHC supported by Budapest and Victor Orban did not reach the threshold level.
A similar situation has been developing in Latvia. It is known that nearly 40% of inhabitants of this country belong to the ethnic minorities, mostly Russians whom rights are extremely limited. Those who moved to Latvia after 1940 and what to obtain a citizenship have to pass the exam testing both the knowledge about the constitution the ability to speak Latvian. Due to this situation, emerged a group of non- citizens living in a post- Soviet environment, following the Russian media and seeking Moscow’s help whenever they feel victimised and those Russians who obtained the Latvian citizenship usually voted for the Russian- speaking parties.
In 1998 a huge electoral success was achieved by the Russian- speaking political party (supported by Moscow) called ‘For Human Rights in United Latvia’ (ЗаПЧЕЛ) who gained 16 mandates in the Latvian Parliament. In 2002, the party achieved even greater success- 25 mandates, but in 2006- only 6 mandates and in 2011 and 2012 the party did not reach the threshold level. Why? Since the beginning, ЗаПЧЕЛ wanted to confront the Latvians. They demanded that every person living in Latvia should be granted a Latvian citizenship and Russian should become a second official language in the country. What is more, they called for creating autonomous areas. Soon the Russian- speaking electorate discovered that the electoral successes of ЗаПЧЕЛ does not mean that their situation would be improved.
During each new elections, ЗаПЧЕЛ remained outside the government, without having any impact on the political situation. In 2005 there was a break- up in the party and some activists joined forces with small Latvian parties and created the Harmony Centre- a new centre- left party which did not focus only on the Russian- speaking electorate. This party did not support ЗаПЧЕЛ’s most radical postulates and in 2006 the elections showed that they have a great future ahead. The Harmony Centre obtained 18 mandates, in 2010- 29 mandates and in 2011 31 mandates (over 30% of all mandates in the Latvian Parliament)!
Waldemar Tomaszewki who did not want to share the fate of the PHC or ЗаПЧЕЛ decided to drastically change the EAPL and on its basis create a new country- wide party uniting the dissatisfied: the ethnic minorities and the Lithuanian people. Tomaszewski resigned from highlighting the problems of ethnic minorities, developed a populist approach and created a coalition with the Lithuanian People’s Party. He even quietly mentions the possibility of changing the party’s name.
In April 2012 during the 7th Party’s Congress, the leader of the EAPL devoted only 2 small paragraphs in his speech to the ethnic minorities’ problems. What is more, he is now reassuring : ‘Economic and social issues are crucial to us. I think that the problems of ethnic minorities will be solved after all. We will not discuss them widely’. It seems that Tomaszewski is ready to take a risk and obtain the missing votes. There is only one unknown- are his estimates correct?
The EAPL is not Most- Hid and the majority of the Lithuanian people respond negatively to him (for years he has been viewed as one of the three most unpopular politicians in Lithuania- next to Kubilius and Valinskas). In Lithuania a great number of voters coming from ethnic minorities vote for the country- wide parties. Not so many Lithuanian people support small parties and the EAPL, despite changing their approach and resigning from radicalism, is still perceived as one of them. It is doubtful that the coalition with the Lithuanian People’s Party would change the voters’ attitude.
During the last year’s state elections, the Lithuanian People’s Party obtained only 10,000 votes and 7 mandates (out of 1,500). After having a serious stroke, charismatic Kazimira Prunskienė passed the leadership to her son, and now the party’s support is way below the statistical error. But maybe in this ‘marriage of convenience’ not only the votes matter but also it is a way to show the Lithuanian voter and the establishment that the Polish people are ready to cooperate?
Tłumaczenie Kamila Jędrzejewska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Kamila Jędrzejewska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.