- August 30, 2012
Wojniłło: People’s Party’s electoral initiative
Not long ago in Lithuanian press appeared a rumour that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (Akcja Wyborcza Polaków na Litwie, AWPL) is going to change its name. The group’s leader, who is also an MEP, refused to provide any details, waved his hand and muttered that maybe something will happen after the election. However, even the first pre-electoral actions show in which direction the Polish (at least in its name) party goes. With a “Unity is power” slogan, spreading around in wider and wider circles, it attempts to go beyond the electorate of national minorities and to convince the Lithuanians to vote for it.
During a press conference, that can be considered an informal beginning of the electoral autumn season of AWPL, Waldemar Tomaszewski was accompanied by his Russian-Lituanian allies. They are supposed to help the party to go beyond the 5% electoral threshold. It has never been done before, but this time leaders of the Polish party are sure they will make a hit.
It is the right wing- Irina Rozova from the Russian Alliance party is a well-known and well-proven during rallies and in local government partner, who helps AWPL move beyond the Vilnius region (she is active in Klaipeda) and gives the party Pan-Slavic dimension. For some people it is an obvious proof for the party’s collusion with the Eastern Big Brother, for others- natural partnership in a country, where basic divisions in cultural, mental and ethnical categories, as well as the everyday “familiar-strange” relation, divide the people into the Balts and the Slavs. The Baltic majority- the Lithuanians- usually calls the Slavic minority “kitataučiai”, which means “of different nationality”, or simply “slavai”, without differentiating them further into Poles, Belarusians, Russians or Ukrainian. For some, a differentiation like that could be difficult, because during the past half of a century those minorities have become so mixed that a name or even a last name does not always show clearly the nationality and their “native” language in most cases is Russian. They all read Russian “Respublika” and “Ekspres-niediela”, they watch Pierwyj Bałtijskij from Ostankino and listen to Russkoje Radio. Sometimes a few Poles show their pride and remind others that “they are not geese and they have their own language”, but it becomes increasingly rare and more difficult… Non-Slavs- the Jews, the Germans, the Tatars, the Karaites or the Latvians- are exotic and symbolic minority, and they make up less than 1% of all people in Lithuania.
Is the alliance with the Russians a strong support and does it have a justification in the fact that the votes will make up for the flaw on the Polish party’s image? Or maybe it is a flaw only according to the Lithuanians, Polish compatriots and all those who have some kind of Russian-phobia, and see agents from the Kremlin in all our Slavic brothers? AWPL’s politics point at good results in the last local and European parliamentary elections and they say that the success was possible because of the power that unity gives to minorities. The more malicious commentators remind them about the situation in Vilnius, where the Polish-Russian group, headed by Waldemar Tomaszewski, surprisingly ended up on the second place. It overtook all Lithuanian parties, and was only slightly defeated by mayor Artūras Zuokas’ coalition. It won 11 seats but immediately lost 2: representatives of the Russian Alliance quit. With 9 seats the Polish party got into the ruling coalition “through the back door” and it had to be satisfied with only a few posts. People in Vilnius are still waiting for visible signs of Polish influence in the capital government, for instance faster returning of land.
Alliance with “Amber Lady”
Polish-Russian alliance still causes controversy. Meanwhile, during a press conference of the left wing of the Lithuanian minorities’, their leader was accompanied by a new person. Many journalists have finally seen how Amber Lady’s son looks like. Kazimiera Danuta Prunskienė, granted with the title of a duchess in Russia was the first Prime Minister of the independent Lithuania. Unfortunately, a stroke and other serious health problems eliminated the legend of Lithuanian politics out of this year’s parliamentary election. However, party and the family’s political relay-race is now taken by her son, Vaidotas Prunskus, who, with a few more members of the Lithuanian People’s Party is a candidate for an MP from the AWPL’s list.
His mother has not had a strong position in Lithuanian politics lately. After leaving her old partners she tried to form her own parties, including first Lithuanian Women’s Party and then she was looking for ways of creating “new democracy”, and for allies among retired people and farmers. With her biggest Lithuanian grouping, connected with folk tradition, she went through her greatest rise (2004-2008) and fall, caused by inner conflicts with the farmers’ leaders. “Folklore” in the party’s name was not enough for individual success: Prunskienė’s party in 2008 did not exceed the electoral threshold and with 3.73% of votes it received even less support than AWPL that had 4.79% then. Similarly to the Poles, the populists got only three seats in single-member constituencies. The fact that Christian Democrat Valentinas Stundys defeated Amber Lady in malacko-święciański region was a proof of the twilight of her era. This defeat was painful for the Poles, too, because later Stundys became a co-author of the infamous education law, striking at the Polish schooling.
Prunskienė has already been connected with the Poles by a political familiarity: during the previous parliamentary term of office (2004-2008), when centre-left wing was the ruling group, the farmer-folk fraction was, next to the inexperienced winner- the Labour Party- main coalition partner in social-democrats’ ruling group. Eight years ago Kazimiera Danuta Prunskienė was doing well on the political stage: in 2004 she challenged Valdas Adamkus in presidential election and she lost in the run-off by only 70.000 votes (she received 46.6% of all votes). In the same year her Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union had much better results than AWPL (which had less than 3.8%) and with 6.6% of votes it exceeded the electoral threshold, gaining 5 seats. Another 5 came from single-member constituencies. Prunskienė defeated Stundys in malacko-święciański region by 5% then.
With only 10 seats and as an experienced politician she managed to attract a few other MPs and create a strong fraction. Among the “adopted” ones were also two MPs of AWPL- Waldemar Tomaszewski and Leokadia Poczykowska. By the by, Irina Rozova, who was an MP from Mrs. Prunskienė’s list, was also a member of this fraction. Relation between the Poles and the folk party were far from ideal, though: AWLP managed to negotiate with the Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and the Minister of Agriculture Kazimiera Prunskienė posts of Deputy Minister of International Affairs for Jarosław Niewierowicz, the PM’s advisor for Tadeusz Andrzejewski and the minister’s advisor for Beata Maluszycka, but there was a conflict about the post of Deputy Minister of Agriculture. The Minister did not like the AWPL’s candidates, the leader did not like the Minister’s candidate (Eryk Poczobut, a Pole from Eišiškės, but not from AWPL…)
Farewell to the parliament and the government must have cost Kazimiera Prunskienė a lot, but she did not give up. In 2009 she left the Lithuanian Peasant Popular Union, to take part in presidential election as an independent candidate. This time she lost even with Waldemar Tomaszewski (she had 3.9%, he-4.7% of votes). She decided to establish another party (Lithuanian People’s Movement) but initially she was refused when she tried to register the group and after some changes the party was registered in 2010 as Lithuanian People’s Party. It was a surprise for many then, that the founders of the new group had a pro-eastern attitude: they were speaking about “the need to be more opened to Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus”. It brought back the old accusations of cooperation with the Soviet KGB. In 1992 the Civil Collegium of the Lithuanian Supreme Court ruled that Kazimiera Prunskienė was knowingly cooperating with the Soviet agents but in 2003 Vilnius District Court invalidated the verdict.
However, the local governmental election in 2011 ended her career: Lithuanian People’s Party got only 7 seats, despite having almost 12.000 voters. In comparison, Waldemar Tomaszewski’s Group with 74.500 voters got 61 seats and farmers and populists, left by Prunskienė two years before, with 71.000 voters got 147 seats.
Can Waldemar Tomaszewski count on those 12.000 votes for himself, since he works now with Vaidotas Prunskas and his party in return? It is unlikely, but even one third of this electorate could prove useful in exceeding the threshold, and if the attendance rate is low, those votes could even give an extra seat. For whom? The beginning of the AWPL’s list (that has 141 people, as many as possible) looks as follows: 1. Tomaszewski (AWPL), 2. Rozova (Russian Alliance), 3. Mackiewicz (Association of Poles in Lithuania), 4. Prunskus (Lithuanian People’s Party), 5. Krawczonok (AWPL Vilnius). In the first ten there is also someone else from the Russian Alliance, populists are somewhere later. Will they get the seats- that depends on the voters and on ranking, but the last time AWLP did not encourage people to do ranking, because they did not want the voters to mess the leaders’ plans. It can be the reason why Irina Rozova fell from the third position to the fifth and, for instance, Marija Matusevič (Belarusian representative) from fifth to ten place. Leonard Talmont, although he was on the 141 position initially, finished on the eighth and eventually he replaced Tomaszewski after supplementary election.
Are the Poles worse?
Will the still valid associations of Kazimiera Prunskienė and the party prove another flaw on AWPL’s image, giving the opponents, who see Moscow’s influence in the party’s actions, more arguments? List of gains and losses of that move will be known in October, but even today it is visible that AWPL, following the populist path of “the defender of the oppressed ones” has done a major move towards becoming important beyond the Vilnius region. This year many will try to use the electorate, unhappy with the previous government, no matter if it was a left or right wing one, or liberal. If four years ago cabaret National Resurrection Party succeeded, and the situation has been only worse since then- why not? Looking at the unabated attacks on the Polish party in Lithuanian media it is difficult to expect many Lithuanians to be attracted by the AWPL. But gaining even a little support from the electorate, especially on the borders of the Vilnius region (Święciany, Malaty, Szyrwinty- areas once voting for Prunskienė, where many voters may still remember about their Polish roots) and becoming stronger in the Russian political environment (much can still be taken from social-democrats and Uspaskich) can be an important achievement. Surely, it will not guarantee that the young Poles in Lithuania will support the party, especially in Vilnius, where AWPL has still much to do. More and more Poles, not only the young ones, who have liberal attitude, begin to wonder if the Polish party wants to chase the rabbit or to catch it. To keep regulating or to regulate the old Polish issues. Another election, other successes, but he load of Polish problems is still stuck in one place and it is not moving forward, one could even say that he situation is worse, because now the time is against the Poles. In the new rhetoric of AWPL, Polish issues are not treated like a priority but like something “obvious and natural to deal with”. “Social and economic” matters are number one on the list of most important issues. Slogans like “anything for the people” have been long used by Paksas and Uspaskich, so are the Poles worse…?
Opening up towards the Lithuanian circles is undoubtedly a right choice, but the losses among the voters, who until now have voted for the Polish party and now cannot stand the new allies, cannot be undone. I suppose that many Poles would consider a coalition with Samogitians’ Party a better way of approaching the electorate. That would be an example of a progressive, free from any prejudices and stereotypes cooperation of two regions- Samogitia and the Vilnius region. So maybe Samogitians do not want us?
Tłumaczenie Emilia Zawieracz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Emilia Zawieracz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.