Volume 39, No.2 - Summer 1993
Editor of this issue: Robertas Vitas, Lithuanian Research & Studies Center 
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1993 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

PARTY FORMATION IN LITHUANIA Prospects for Multiparty Democracy 1

Romas Tauras Viesulas
Oxford University

The recent emergence of genuine political debate in Lithuania had, until the failed military coup of 19 August 1991, been largely subsumed under the question of national independence from the U.S.S.R. Lithuania's history of oppression and resistance - with its religious nationalism and dissent - along with memories of the much-idealized 1918-1940 interlude of independent statehood amplified grievances with the Soviet system that were prevalent throughout the former USSR. In addition to giving the Independence movement its tenor and intensity, historical attitudes have also largely determined the main source of domestic political dispute in Lithuania from 1989. Many, if not most, of the contemporary cleavages in both government and society have been formed around rival evaluations of Lithuanian history, particularly the past fifty years. It is these differences and their political manifestation in party structures since 11 March 1990 that will be examined in this article.


The "singing revolutions" and international contingencies of 1989 and 1990 made democratic statehood a possibility for the Baltic States. Arguably, though, the Lithuanian independence movement also prompted a misguided search for an unequivocal degree of national unity in which all differences are submerged in support of the government. Patriotism, when carried into the realm of everyday politics, has created a class of political aspirants who present themselves as epitomizing or embodying the nation's will, increasingly the preserve of select Sąjūdis members. Ironically, by defending the national idea, this group has made it an object of political manipulation, hiding the possibility of totalitarianism.

In most modern states nationhood is simply taken for granted, and does not require wordy declarations and demonstrations. When the very existence of a nation is at stake, however, as it was during the years of Soviet occupation, the national idea becomes the sole means of cultural survival and deeply etched in the nation's memory. The most important events of the past sixty years according to respondents in a recent sociological survey were - the rebirth of Lithuania (Lithuanians 41%, others 7%), World War II (11%, 14%), the annexation of 1940 (10%, 1%), Stalinist repressions (10%, 2%), Gorbachev's reforms (9%, 22%), the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (6%, 1%), collectivization (3%), and postwar partisan warfare (3%).2

Certainly politics now must deal with national feeling aroused by the dramatic and tragic experiences of the nation in the past sixty years, memories of which conjure up emotions that are not easily persuaded by cool reason. Lithuanian national independence was not only the aim but also a loss remembered. The repression of the national idea in the minds of Lithuanians over the past fifty years heightened this national sentiment, virtually sanctifying it in many peoples' minds to make it unconditional and unquestionable. The state or nation has seemingly been placed above the individual and requires the individual's sacrifice. Politicized, it has become the core of a new nationalist ideology. Communist totalitarianism is condemned for its intolerance and fanaticism, but that very condemnation forms the basis of a new nationalist absolutism. The right to choose in Lithuania has so far only been understood as the right to secede; no other meaningful choice has ever been presented to the people or the politicians. Consequently, there has been a confluence or conflation of national and political elements in society, leading to the politicization of all things national, exaggerating twentieth-century notions of national sovereignty and self-determination to the point where they become political weapons. This helps to explain the irrational tenor of contemporary Lithuanian politics. The nation is understood as the only true source of statehood, where in fact a well-ordered democratic state is more a precondition of national unity, a reconciliation of a naturally occurring plurality of views and interests. Is the creation of a stable democratic system in Lithuanian likely in the near future?

In the period from the declaration of sovereignty in May 1989 to the declaration of independence of 11 March 1990 the main political debate was about what type of sovereignty or independence should be pursued. What began as a drive for greater autonomy within the Soviet framework quickly became a full-scale secessionist movement as Sąjūdis, influenced by the extremist Lithuanian Freedom League, became more radical and superseded the breakaway Lithuanian Communist Party, under the leaderhip of Algirdas Brazauskas, as the driving force in Lithuanian politics. The elections of March 1989 and February 1990 confirmed its dominant position. With Sąjūdis and the LCP as the chief protagonists in this period, combatting for the center, the political landscape became roughly bipolar.

The terms of debate shifted after 11 March 1990 to the question of how best to achieve full scale independence with a secondary conflict over economic reform. Protagonists in this period were the successors of Sąjūdis and the LCP. On the one hand were the splinters of Sąjūdis, the groups of deputies that comprised the parliamentary right-wing majority. The renamed LCP on the other hand, called the Democratic Labor Party from December 1990, represented the ex-nomenklatura in the new left-wing government, the Council of Ministers. Again, the Sąjūdis contingent prevailed in this debate, with the uncompromising presumption that Lithuania is in fact an independent state. Though the situation became considerably more complex as greater differentiation was introduced and politics moved from the realm of demonstrations to a more formal parliamentary setting, the political landscape remained bipolar, with the CPL(CPSU) marginalized politically, exerting influence through extra-parliamentary means of military and police coercion.

I turn now to an investigation of the differentiation process during this period, one which has produced an apparently multiparty system on the Western European model. Firstly I examine the development of parties under the aegis of the popular front Sąjūdis as an umbrella organization. A closer look at the Lithuanian party system reveals that it operates at the level of elite rather than mass politics, something I attempt to illuminate using Lipset and Rokkan's model of party formation.

In part two I turn to the creation of frakcijos or "factions" to structure the vote in the Supreme Council or Parliament, following a bipolar pattern dictated by the evolution of Sąjūdis from a mass movement representing a broad consensus on national independence, to a much narrower political platform for right-wing political forces. The nature of "party" government in Lithuania, given the weakness of parties and the ideological distance between rial volitional blocs, is examined in part three. Without the unifying influence of Sąjūdis, continuing personalized parliamentary disputes exacerbate the gulf between the left-wing union or "opposition", comprised essentially of prior members of the nomenklatura, and the "hyper-nationalist"-nationalist right-wing government now firmly in charge of power, allegedly stifling political competition. This has lead some alarmists to even forecast a breakdown in democratic governance and a reversion to authoritarianism of a nationalist rather than socialist variety.

Current Constitutional reform proposals address governmental imperfections highlighted by the pressures of sudden de facto independence in an economically worsening environment. With parliamentary relations in disarray, impeding the effectiveness of socio-economic reforms, apathy and disillusionment with the inexperienced government grow. Many see a nationally-elected president with extensive executive powers as a possible solution to parliamentary delay. Others see in such proposals the threat of authoritarianism. The conclusion briefly considers whether the initial pseudo-parliamentary arrangement has the makings of a genuinely representative, democratic pluralist system capable of articulating and satisfying the needs of the Lithuanian nation.


Nominally, the Republic of Lithuania has a multiparty democratic system expressing the common will and interests of its people.3 As yet, though, parties operate ad hoc in imitation of Western systems, undisciplined, without political substantiation, and lacking the crucial representational link between parties and people. The party structure has been imposed from the "top" on an unprimed electorate by parliamentary elites. Yet the elites themselves were not formed according to any strictly partisan logic, as they were in Western Europe. Without effective channels for the representation of popular interests, party politics take place abstracted from a society insufficiently differentiated to make informed political decisions.

Contemporary Lithuanian politics seem to bear a striking resemblance, at least in appearance, to the multiparty systems of Western Europe, including the familiar Christian, social democratic, liberal and conservative party types. One is tempted at a quick glance, to liken the Lithuanian party system to those of Germany, Italy and France. The resemblance is strictly superficial, however, as Lithuanian parties lack the internal ideological or policy coherence that would give them the content of the European parties which they imitate. An analysis of their origin and development helps to bring this out.

On 7 December 1989, the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet in effect created the first multiparty system in the USSR by eliminating Article 6 of the Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR, which had guaranteed the Communist Party the leading role in the political life of the republic. Historically, parties are not a new phenomenon in Lithuanian politics. The first political organization, the Social Democratic party, was formed in 1896, while the most influential inter-war parties, the Christian Democrat, Populist, and Nationalist parties, have their origins in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Elementary political differentiation had existed since about 1988 in the form of such groups as the Lithuanian Freedom League, the Helsinki Group and the Greens, not to mention the spectrum of opinion within Sąjūdis itself, from the radical Kaunas chapter which made such a strong showing in the forthcoming elections to the moderate Vilnius wing. From the end of 1988 to 1991, however, we find in Lithuania the formation of embryonic parties, apparently independent of Sąjūdis, and the creation of rudimentary organizational structures to give them social support, ideological content and influence in the political system.4 Initial political groupings were thus formed along three lines of development: the re-establishment of inter-war parties, such as the Nationalist Union and the Democrat (DP), Christian Democrat (CDP) and Social Democrat (SDP) Parti; the official formation of new parties such as the Greens and the Humanist Party; and the split of the CPL into the independent LCP and the CPL(CPSU).

The elections to the Congress of Peoples' Deputies in March 1989 first gave Sąjūdis the opportunity to challenge established authority in the realm of political institutions, to compete for legislative influence.5 With the absence of any serious political organizations or parties in the Soviet-sponsored elections - the LFL, the Helsinki Group and the fledgling Democratic Party all boycotted - the contest was essentially between Sąjūdis and the CPL, with a resounding endorsement for the former: 82.5% of those eligible to vote took part, electing Sąjūdis candidates to 36 of the 42 Lithuanian seats in the Congress. Algirdas Brazauskas and and his second secretary were the only two Communist Party candidates to win election in the first round, in large part because Sąjūdis did not contest their seats.

It was only with the 1990 elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet, however, that the initial configuration of parties was tested, involving the DP, SDP, Greens, CDP and, of course, the two Communist platforms of the LCP and CPL(CPSU). Nevertheless, until the spring of 1989 sociological surveys in Lithuania did not even fix upon parties as an aspect of political life in the republic significant enough to be evaluated. None of the non-Communist parties operated as distinct or even well-defined political forces in the election campaign or the legislative activity which was to follow. Since the newly established non-Communist parties lacked the time, financial resources and expertise to organize a campaign, most decided not to compete against one another but rather run under the umbrella of Sąjūdis. From its establishment, Sąjūdis had an articulated restructuring program, a significant popular following and the prospect of challenging the CPL in the political arena, all of which qualified it as something of a catch-all party organized on cadre lines. Hence, as in March 1989, the elections of 24 February were a contest between the Communist and anti-Communist blocs.

In the first section of table 1 the category of "all candidates" includes those with Sąjūdis backing, who are presented as a subset of all candidates in the second section, giving the breakdown of Sąjūdis-backed candidates according to party affiliation. Note that the categories of Sajūdis and LCP candidates overlap.


i) All Candidates

Independent (no party affiliation)

LCP 210
CPL (CPSU)   78
Social Democrats   23
Democrats   17
Greens    4
Christian Democrats    3
Lithuanian Komsomol    2
     Total  476

ii) Sąjūdis Candidates
Independent   92
LCP   35
Social Democrats   11
Democrats    4
Greens    2
Christian Democrats    2
     Total 146

As the table indicates, the major contenders in the campaign were Sąjūdis, fielding 146 candidates and the LCP, fielding 210. The overriding importance of the independence question relative to other reform questions and the authority and sufficiency of Sąjūdis as a political force in articulating the demands of the populace mitigated against the use of partisan platforms in the elections of 1990. In the elections to the Supreme Soviet of 24 February, 1990, the great differences between the LCP and Sąjūdis which had existed in 1989 and gave the electorate a clear choice had been obscured. By this time the Party adopted much of Sąjūdis' program and there was considerable overlap between the two organizations; six Sąjūdis members were also in the LCP Bureau. The creation of the independent LCP with Sąjūdis leaders in its Buro made direct political confrontation difficult. Nevertheless, though the LCP fielded more candidates, it was Sąjūdis backing which proved critical in both the elections of March 1989 and February 1990 when Sąjūdis candidates won a majority of seats - 36 out of 42 and 88 out of 141, respectively. With the exception of the LCP candidates, for whom partisanship was actually a disadvantage and something many played down by presenting themselves as Sąjūdis candidates, party affiliation played an insignificant role in the elections. More than 50% of successful candidates in both elections had no party affiliation at the time and those that did were mostly the relatively unsuccessful LCP candidates. The outcome of the elections must be seen, then, as the expression of two kinds of political judgements by Lithuanian voters. One was a vote of "no confidence" in the old regime, a protest vote against Communism. Another was a vote of confidence in the individual candidates, most of whom ran on a non-party ticket.

Up to the declaration of independence of 11 March 1990 there were four parties newly registered under the statutes of the revised Article 6 of the old Soviet Constitution. This elementary multiparty system was formalized with the Law on Political Parties, securing the constitutional right of Lithuanian citizens to associate in political parties and participate in party activity. Under the terms of this law, a refinement of Article 5 of the Provisional Fundamental Law, political parties are those programmatic platforms with a territorial organizational structure (i.e. a charter, program and elected leadership) and at least 400 members, registered with the Ministry of Justice. "Political parties, their subdivisions and organizations of other countries may not be established and may not function on the territory of the Republic of Lithuania".7 Hence, the unregistered CPL(CPSU) was considered illegal.8 The remainder of the 11 existing parties - the Liberal (LLU) and Populist (LPU) Unions and the Independence (LIP) and Republican (LRP) Parties - were formed and registered under the new law in the period from March to October 1990. Compromised to a large extent by its associations with a Communist past, the LCP changed its name on 19 December 1990 to the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDLP) and adopted an essentially social-democratic platform.

From an overview of party programmes we can outline something of an ideological typology of Lithuanian parties.9 To the Right of the ideological spectrum we find: the Nationalists, advancing cultural and educational aims "for the edification of the citizens and patriots of the Lithuanian nation"; the Republicans, a marginal, disparate group emphasizing "patriotic family values"; the strange Independence Party, with "independence at all costs" as its aim; and the Christian Democrats, consciously emulating the German Christian Democrats. The line between Center and Left is a difficult one to draw, and it is more accurate to speak of a Center-Left configuration in both parties and parliamentary factions, one which encompasses the remaining parties: the Democrats, vaguely pursuing "all that is beneficial to the Lithuanian Republic"; the Liberals, almost a liberal-democratic intellectuals' club; the Social Democrats, supporting trades unions and idealizing the right to work; the Populists, a forum for the farming and agricultural constituencies; the Democratic Labor Party, essentially the party of the working classes and minorities; and the Greens and Humanist parties, advancing broad ecological and humanitarian aims.

The eleven parties' programs are inspired far more by a rejection of the past than by a coherent view of the future. All without exception supported the drive for Lithuanian independence, though they differed on the approach to its achievement. Concrete policy proposals beyond this, however, receive little mention in the very abstract party manifestos of all but the Christian Democrats, the Democratic Labor Party and the Social Democrats, which to some extent do address difficult socio-economic issues.10 The majority of the parties, particularly the Liberal Union, the Social Democrats, Democrats and Democratic Labor Party, express their commitment to multiparty democracy and the rule of law, though this is absent from the programs of the Populist Union (which also omits mention of human and civil rights) and the Humanist Party. Generally, the Independence Party, Nationalist Union and Republicans are characterized by an absolutist rather than a democratic orientation; the Nationalists, for example, omit freedom of speech from their manifesto, which would restrict civil liberties to the Lithuanian citizenry and states that "private schools run by ethnic or religious organizations must work in the interests of the Lithuanian nation and state". By contrast, the Liberals, Democrats, Christian Democrats and Social Democrats all unequivocally assert "the absolute worth of the individual". The Democratic Labor Party, for example, proclaims, in contradiction of its own ideological heritage, that "no individual may be sacrificed or subordinated for an idea or ideology". This liberal-minded group, in asserting the equal rights of all people also reject censorship and "the ideological monopoly of the state".

Where parties do outline an economic approach, unsurprisingly they come out in favor of private property and free market principles, the perceived panacea to the ills of the collapsing command-administrative system. In keeping with their social-democratic image, the Democratic Labor Party and Social Democrats favor limited market controls and national ownership. Privatization and land reform are acknowledged to be priorities, though few provisions are outlined for their implementation, other than to distinguish between radical all-or-nothing and moderate proposals. Considerable disagreement arises, however, over the scope of privatization and land reform: the Democrats, Independence Party, and Republicans all support unconditional return of wealth, including land, to pre-war owners and their heirs; the Christian Democrats and Nationalists want to restrict compensation to Lithuanian citizens; and the Populists want land to go only to experienced farmers.

More broadly, the Right emphasizes national unity and the delay of democratic reform in the interests of effective national statehood, supported by the resuscitation of traditional Catholic values. It advocates a restoration of property rights, the demonopolization of industry, and the decollectivization of farms, while at the same time upholding non-laissez faire interventionism and state controls on private enterprise. The contradiction is the result of the Right's attempt to keep the unstable economic situation under control and to stem the negative effects of the pervasive black market economy. Unproductive speculation and mafia racketeering have not only undermined manufacture vital to economic recovery but also encouraged crime.

From a political perspective, however, this stance is an attempt to limit the ex-Communist nomenklatura's economic influence. All the reforms of demokratizacija, though they eliminated the political monopoly of the Communist Party, left largely intact the economic and financial resources of the former Communist elite. Thus, on some accounts, a new Party hegemony is in place, a commercial ascendancy guaranteed by former Party wealth.11 This manifests itself not only in the private dachas of ex-Party members but in the superior political capital of the neo-Communist LDLP, which, in addition to a membership structure far more expansive than any of the other parties', enjoys the benefits of former Party office space, printing facilities and the like. After her resignation from the post of prime minister, Prunskienė re-oriented the most popular national newspaper Respublika, initially a Sąjūdis organ, to conform to her political standpoint with a generous "bequest", drawn from "private funds". In the eyes of Landsbergis supporters, this merely confirmed her Communist complicity, despite the fact that she had renounced her KGB and Party connections before taking office. By the time the "Law on Taking Over the Property of the CPL (CPSU) and the former Communist Organizations" was in place on 7 November 1991,12 ex-Party officials had already transferred many of their assets to private enterprises, capital, durable goods, and even to Swiss bank accounts, creating "mafia structures" which obstruct economic reforms.

The Right orients itself toward historically-discriminated values and is therefore ideologically opposed to left-wing views, as are the right-wing parties of the West. In contrast to the right-wing parties of Europe, however, it has not secured the support of the most economically and financially secure social groups, marking it off from many of its Western counterparts. Additionally, though, the ruling Right coalition has generally regarded centralizing anti-democratic and seemingly authoritarian measures, especially against the heirs of the Party, as the most expedient way of securing, as quickly as possible, the Lithuanian nation-state. That such an outlook has persisted beyond the de facto reestablishment of independent statehood after the August coup suggests that the right-wing coalition in Lithuania is committed to the elimination of neo-Communist elements as an influential political force, even if this requires un-democratic means.

The more secular Center-Left therefore finds itself in an embattled position. In addition to negotiations with the USSR and long-term economic ties, privatization, economic liberalization and social security, the parties of this rival grouping champion toleration and political pluralism, no doubt an effort to salvage some political influence against a government which they allege, with some justification, is trying not only to discredit them as potential government incumbents but even as a meaningful opposition by casting their criticisms of the ruling coalition (admittedly unconstructive at times) as unpatriotic or even subversive. As Brazauskas put it in an interview, despite the Democratic Labor Party's determination "to serve the people of Lithuania [meaning not Lithuanians alone], admitting and condemning mistakes of the past and creating a democratic independent state with their help...lately, extremist forces have loudly proclaimed their anti-Communist mottos and accused the LCP, later the Democratic Labor Party, of fictitious sins, seeking to eliminate it from the political life of the republic".13

Insofar as parties can be individually classified according to distinct policy proposals, they represent concrete attempts to emulate the economic and political traditions of Western liberal democracies. The doctrines borrowed from the West are seen very much as a magical formula. Yet all Lithuanian parties lack the internal ideological or policy coherence which would give them some content beyond the "designer" labels which they wear. Whether or not these labels have any consistency depends crucially on the intellectual resources, technical expertise and, above all, the personal predilections of its leadership. Thus, for example, the fact that the LLU is composed almost exclusively of academics, that the chairman of the LSDP is an economist, that the parties of the right include former dissidents and political detainees in their leadership all go a long way to explaining the particular configuration of opinion in Parliament, based as it is on personal political propensities and predispositions. This highlights an important feature of the party formation process in Lithuania as distinct from the development of Western European party systems which it superficially resembles.

The generally accepted account of party formation in Western Europe remains Lipset and Rokkan's analysis of cleavage structures, party systems and voter alignments. In his article "Towards a Generalized Concept of Verzuiling"14 S. Rokkan outlines the simplified historical process which has given rise to European full-suffrage party systems through both electoral and corporate structuring channels. Cleavage systems translate into constellations of political parties, a translation process in which one can distinguish six steps:

1. the generation of cleavage lines through socio-economic processes (such as industrialization, democratization and secularization),

2. the crystallization of cleavage lines into conflicts over public policy,

3. the emergence of an alliance of political entrepreneurs, actively engaged in the mobilization of support for one set of policies over another,

4. the choices of mobilization strategies made by entrepreneurs who either act through pre-established community networks or through the development of distinctive membership organizations,

5. the choice of arenas for the confrontation of mobilized resources either through the aggregation of votes in a territorial/electoral channel or via support and direct action such as demonstrations in the corporate channel,

6. the actual pay-offs of such concerted efforts on the part of the politicians.

In Lithuania this process of party formation is inverted, as it takes place not in a society of cross-cutting cleavages but in the socio-political vacuum created by the collapse of central Communist authority. In this milieu, the correct sequence of stages in Lithuania during this period might be something like 3, 2, 1, 4, 5, 6. Thus, we have, firstly, 3) the emergence of parliamentary cliques, whose policy disputes 2) create elementary lines of cleavage along which 1) popular opinion is patterned. Once popular cleavages are consolidated, the electorate becomes more politically articulate and mobilizable, enabling the further steps 4, 5 and 6 to take place, though it is really too early to tell whether they will occur in that order, or even whether they will occur at all in the same way.

A critical step in the development of party systems in Western Europe was the transition from cadre to mass party, from loosely based networks of like-minded individuals to tightly organized, popularly-financed organizations, a transition which Lithuanian politics has yet to undergo. Political choice developed into political identification as a result of party organization; in this sense the party systems themselves were consolidated. First, we find the creation of parliamentary groups, then the organization of electoral committees, and finally the establishment of permanent connections between these two elements. Parties in Lithuania are still at the very first stages of development.

Because of the lack of societal differentiation, new parties were formed not on the basis of socio-political cleavages as in Western Europe but on the basis of ideological issues such as the evaluation of the history of the republic and the tacit influence of Western ideas and doctrines on the party elites. Consequently, parties were formed by the elites from the top down, without specifiable links with concrete social strata. All Lithuanian parties have virtually identical policy program and only differ at the level of ideology. Policy issues concern economic and social crisis management, about which there is little scope for disagreement. Presently, there are few political or economic issues which may require party identification to clarify difficult or confusing political decisions; everyone agrees about the urgency of economic reform while interest groups such as the Tremtiniai organization of former exiles and prisoners of conscience, the LFL, the Jewish League, and others represent only small social groups, raising only one (overriding) political problem and not participating directly or indirectly via parties in the institutions of government. These may yet develop into political parties but generally, with the exception of the LFL, they involve themselves in politics only when their particular interest is at stake.

Indeed, the uniformity of opinion in post-Soviet society largely precludes the existence of all but narrow interest differentiation. Resources available for mobilization by the political entrepreneurs are only the ones afforded by the rejuvenation in national consciousness - general pro-independence and general anti-Communism. Finer social, economic and political differentiation in society has only just begun, largely in response to the crystallizing of policy conflict in the arena of politics. Alliances of politicians were formed in Parliament according to personal conviction, creating policy conflicts to which the populace has responded by assuming the posture of their favorite politicians and identifying political options with personalities.

The fact that there are no effective electoral or corporate channels means that politicians have no choice as far as the arena for the confrontation of mobilized resources is concerned - there simply does not exist as yet any effective arena for the discussion and resolution of specific issues other than the debating chambers of Parliament and the Cabinet. The elections of 1989 and 1990 were essentially votes of confidence, like referenda. They did little to structure or stratify the electorate and therefore failed to create the mechanisms of electoral accountability and choice we find in Europe. Candidates were chosen almost exclusively for their stance on the question of national independence and for personal characteristics. No complex choice between competing options was made available to the electorate, so no electoral organizations, which serve to clarify options and create loyalties in the West, were necessary. Deputies were elected individually, not on a party ticket. Sąjūdis, as what might be regarded the only corporate channel, subsumed options under its pro-independence mantle.

Organization in European democracies is crucial as the guarantor of democratic stability. To the extent that party organizations are remote from the everyday lives of the citizenry, the organizational preconditions of stability are eroded. In the absence of secure organizational ties, policy appeals, government performance and the attraction of particular leaders may help to ensure the maintenance of voter loyalty and democratic stability. In Lithuania, however, even the positive influence of these factors is undermined by the general inexperience of politicians, the breakdown of administrative and executive channels for the implementation of hastily formulated and often flawed legislation, and the gravity of the social and economic circumstances in which politics take place. The result is a widening gap between the world of politics and the world of everyday life.

Arguably, Sąjūdis still is the only organization which orients people politically, even as it changes. Even more, though, it is personalities which provide political orientation. Distinction between existing political parties presently functions mostly on the basis of the images of their leaders. The ability of the public to associate different viewpoints and policy positions to the various parties is very weak, and so remains at the level of concepts and stereotypes. Real differentiation of the public along decisive socio-economic lines is still in its formative stages. Thus, the social basis of existing parties is not yet developed and the ideological consistency of voter attitudes is low.

Whereas parties in Western liberal democracies seem to be in decline, giving way to interest groups and the demands of the post-materialist generation, Lithuanian parties are only just emerging as regular channels for the expression of formative, conflicting, essentially material interests. They are presently at a stage of development between parliamentary cliques and plebiscitary democracy. European parties, through their mass following "closed off the electoral market"15 and stabilized the party system, whereas Lithuanian parties remain aloof from their respective constituencies, and the electoral market remains wide and unfilled. More fundamentally, post-totalitarian politics do not lend themselves to elucidation by the metaphor of the market. The Lithuanian voter is still unused to using democratic currency. Votes are not understood as politically valuable incentives to the politician and therefore their value as bargaining chips for the voter is unappreciated. Voters are not used to being heard except by non-democratic means such as bribery, extortion and nepotistic money-making in the black market economy.

The current situation in Western democracies has been characterized as one "in which no irreducible political identity is at stake and political demands all become negotiable. Interest groups asking for specific policies are the main actors on the political scene whereas the political parties—tend to lose their programmatic and organizational identity", resulting in electoral destabilization.16 In contemporary Lithuania, by contrast, concrete political, social and economic issues are ideologized through their association with political personalities. Thus, irreducible political identities and non-negotiable political demands are the very currency of political debate, which takes place not among interest groups still in their formative stages, but among individual political actors. De-stabilization is present here too, but results from the virtual absence of party programmatic and organizational identity, with the consequence that the electorate is neither structured nor politically articulate. Politics, therefore, occurs at the level of personality, not party.


In their place, behind the facade of multipartism, we find the interplay of key political personalities acting, at best, on behalf of ad hoc coalitions of narrow elite constituencies within the Parliament.17 Today's new political elites include both the players and the pawns of yesterday's communist elite politics. However, in addition to the "old" pre-transition actors, the former nomenklatura now acting under the label of the Democratic Labor Party and the Lithuanian Forum for the Future (henceforth Forum - see below), the greater part of the ruling Lithuanian elite is made up of hitherto politically passive middle-class professionals and intellectuals, the backbone of Sąjūdis.

The emergence of genuine political debate in the wake of glasnost helped to politicize and recruit two elite constituencies that were previously silent and unrepresented - the young intellectuals (mainly university students) and the intelligentsia and professionals working in provincial cities, small towns and villages. The shared sense of powerlessness, alienation from local influence and growing self-awareness motivated their involvement in politics. Neither the existing nomenklatura system nor the bankrupt Communist structure of interest articulation could accommodate demands for political participation. Well-known writers, academic intellectuals, and non-conformist technocrats perceived themselves as a class as the country's morally uncompromised "natural leader". Since the reestablishment of independence, the notion of "morally compromised" has been employed by the Right as a politically exclusionary device against "closet Communists". Traditional local and regional non-political authority figures such as leading intellectuals, physicians, lawyers, teachers, technicians and other notables became community leaders widely perceived as authentic spokesmen for the interests of towns and villages against the regime's local Communist bureaucracy. It is these people that form the Supreme Council majority.

As a consequence there is virtually no such thing as the professional politician in Lithuania today. Aleksandras Abišala, prime minister has said: "I don't consider myself a politician. Practically speaking, there was no political class or group or stratum in Lithuania. We are all amateurs, inspired by an idea, some led by their convictions, others by personal ambition, which is no bad thing, I think. We are all learning". The majority of parliamentary deputies share his sentiment. Of the 141 deputies elected to the Supreme Council, only twelve have had any first-hand political experience. 27 are former engineers or technicians, 34 are lawyers or journalists, 18 are teachers or academics, and there are handfuls of doctors, writers, musicians and farm administrators, not to mention a bulldozer driver and a priest.18 What at first glance appears an arbitrary configuration of opinion in parliament follows a certain logic, the bipolar tendency outlined briefly in the introduction. It is the political extremes that have determined the tenor if not the content of parliamentary politics in this period, likened to the immobilisme of the French Third and Fourth Republics. The parliamentary majority, also called the "patriotic majority", relying on a one-sided evaluation of the past, has wanted the continuation of prewar traditions, while the other grouping has been inclined to take account of the developments of the past fifty years. These have become the "good guys and bad guys" in the contemporary political slang. That is how Romualdas Ozolas, deputy prime minister and member of the Center faction described the root of the dispute.19

Thus, personal predispositions have dictated rival coalitions of factions with limited ideological differentiation between themselves, but large ideological distance between rival coalition blocs. It is this ideological distance, to use Giovanni Sartori's phrase, which precludes compromise in many parliamentary debates and discussions. There are no coalitions between blocs of Right and Center-Left, and although the latter have sought reconciliation, they have been excluded as a Communist stumbling block to independent, democratic statehood. Ironically, their exclusion itself can be construed as an anti-democratic maneuver by the Right to hoard new-found political power.

Confrontation extended to the very institutions of government, leading to the disputes between the Center-Left Prunskienė government and the right-wing Supreme Council majority headed by the "apolitical" Landsbergis. Given the inadequacy of parties as moderating institutions and their low profile, parliamentary confrontation led to the identification by the public of the conflict not as between individual parties, nor even parliamentary factions, but between the Supreme Council and the government.

Parliament-government relations are still characterized by tension, even deadlock at times. Discussion and disagreement, even categorical position cross-cutting, is typical of democratic systems, but alien to Lithuanian politics, where the relics of authoritarian traditions of decision-making and political (non-) debate are still in place. With very few exceptions today's Lithuanian elites were either born or came of age, received their formal education and had their careers under Communist auspices. This helps to explain the apparent absence of tact and the political etiquette which results in a wider toleration of views in political debate. What created the breakdown between the Parliament and Cabinet in the "Constitutional Crisis" of January 1991 was not only disagreement over the division of responsibilities in government as such but the inability to pose and accept suggestions in a constructive manner, free from prejudice.


In this coalitional conflict, parties have played a subsidiary role to personalities and have not performed functions analogous to their Western counterparts. Coalitions exist de facto and not because of any explicit agreement among their constituent factions or parties. They are therefore heterogenous groupings of deputies in parliament. The absence of effective social and political party influence creates an air of authoritarianism: legislative decisions have been based on the perceived will of the whole of society and not particular interests; interest articulation and aggregation has been assumed by the Government which tends toward an authoritarianism accentuated by its monopoly in television and radio.

Parties have no control over the executive or the legislative (partly because these are not adequately defined), nor do they bring coherence to government policy. Coherence results instead from personal alignments in government essentially independent of party platforms and all but the crudest form of direct voter influence. They have not provided the legitimacy for government policy decisions which results from deputies being regarded as representatives of the people because only minimally have they articulated and aggregated interests, however narrow.

Much of the intra-elite competitive interaction now taking place, as well as the emergence of various interest groups making claims on the political incumbents, may be seen as partial evidence for the birth of a new context for societal interaction and enhanced political self-awareness in Lithuania, prerequisites for a stable democratic system. Certain groups in society can be identified at least as supporting particular political tendencies if not a political party or specific political position. Over the period covered by this paper these tendencies have become more finely differentiated and have involved increasingly complex socio-political and economic issues. Still, political participation amongst the populace, whether or not it takes place within the confines of the parties, has yet to become significant, while the training of politicians occurs in the broader framework of participation in the legislative and executive institutions.

Communication and watchdog roles vital for creating an informed electorate, one which is capable of participating meaningfully in the political process, have been taken over by the Lithuanian press, a very active and essential part of political life in Lithuania. Though they are largely partisan, the main daily newspapers do not exclusively toe the line of any particular party. Nevertheless, despite refusing to collaborate with pro-Soviet papers, they have been accused of being "red" and collaborating in the January and August coups not only by extremist groups like the LFL but even by the government's own newspaper, Lietuvos Aidas. A Citizen's Charter of the Lithuanian Republic was created on 2 July 1991 largely as a response to the Forum, declaring itself a movement of the intellectual Right to combat "disinformation and demagoguery" it feels is present in the independent press.

The rivalry between the government-sponsored media and the independent press reflects the ideological blocs in the Supreme Council, to which parties are almost incidental, illustrating the persistence of the anti-Communist/ ex-Communist political divide, the over-riding axis of political debate in Lithuania. Clearly, this extends beyond the bounds of government institutions to the heavily politicized press, to the trade unions, and numerous other organizations in which the Party was once influential. In fact, given the former pervasiveness of Party influence in all aspects of society, this cleavage can be said to permeate nearly all aspects of society. Both coalitional blocs and the forces which they represent are engaged in destructive, vengeful activities with their root in misunderstanding and misperception. The Right can be accused of tinkering with authoritarianism, but perhaps only to the extent that the Center-Left provoke it with their damaging and unhelpful criticism. Both Left and Right are guilty of splintering and agitating society through the media and the press. Interestingly, where in December 1989 53% of Lithuanians trusted the Lithuanian press completely and 42% partially, by March 1991 only 19% trusted the press completely, 68% partially.20

"In a monolithic polity citizens are not encouraged to distinguish between the system and current office-holders. The citizenry tends to identify the polity with the policies of particular leaders, and the power-holders habitually exploit the established national loyalties to rally support for themselves. In such societies any attack on the political leaders or on the dominant party tends to turn into an attack on the political system itself. Quarrels over particular policies or particular incumbencies immediately raise fundamental issues of system survival. In a competitive party system opponents of the current governing team may well be accused of weakening the state or betraying the traditions of the nation, but the continued existence of the political system is not in jeopardy".21

Lithuania resembles such a monolithic polity. The words written by J. Švoba about inter-war Lithuania are seemingly applicable to the contemporary situation: "In Lithuania democracy was manifest only in the elections to the Seimas [parliament]. Government itself was not democratic. Emergency war powers were used not only against the agents of foreign countries and anti-system elements, but also against well-meaning opposition, to silence it and its critical press".22 Ideological cleavage boundaries divide blocs of parties instead of individual parties, the right-wing bloc of those in power and the Center-Left of those in opposition cast as anti-system, as representing an extraneous ideology, even though all parties do in fact accept the legitimacy of the political system and abide by its rules. According to G. Sartori, an extraneous ideology is indicative of "a polity confronted with maximal ideological distance" and therefore highly emotive involvement in politics.23 Although Lithuanian parties are substantially different from the parties Sartori discusses, this is certainly true of the Lithuanian political scenario. Is Lithuanian democracy on the brink of collapse or dictatorship, as many of the alarmists of the Center-Left suggest?


With relatively weak parties and an ambiguous constitution, it seems as though the similarities between the inter-war Republic and contemporary Lithuania may go beyond mere appearances if the disorder in parliament is put to an end by an autocratic leadership. The constitution of 1922 was similar to Weimar Germany's in design, and therefore flawed in the same way - parliamentary excesses in turbulent socio-economic circumstances created conditions conducive to dictatorship after 1926. Is contemporary Lithuania reliving its past?

At present, the parliament is not responsible to any body, and deputies are immune to censure. What could bring them under electoral control? Party structures do in the West, but in Lithuania the deputies were elected as personalities who vowed to promote Lithuania's independence interests and little more. Though Sąjūdis membership was crucial, the platform made no concrete proposals and other party membership was seen as embellishment, but little more. Formal parliamentary procedures have been created in an ad hoc fashion, not following a strictly partisan logic. Moreover, there is no intricate balancing of the organs of government as there is in the United States, no veto power on either side. Neither is there the independent arbiter of the Court. Only the Supreme Council has the power to change the constitution, but no Supreme Court as yet exists to enforce it. The Temporary Provisional Fundamental Law does not guarantee the sovereignty of state law, and is changed according to need and circumstance, even whim. That is what enabled the Supreme Council to pass the constitutionally dubious "simple majority rule" for the no confidence vote that was used to oust Prunskienė in January 1991. In authoritarian regimes the constitution is so altered to suit the government in power. Socialist constitutions were merely declarative, used as tool by Party rather than a binding control on it. With Landsbergis having been firmly in charge of the Supreme Council majority, this parliamentary sovereignty was tantamount to dictatorship in some people's eyes.

In the February 1991 referendum the people of Lithuania expressed their unequivocal support for an independent and democratic Lithuanian Republic. Given the youth of the democratic system, it is hardly surprising that it is now precariously positioned. Yet as the polity matures, we can expect the system to stabilize, unless socio-economic pressures prove too much for it to bear. It seems that either ideological aggression will subside, or political differences once denied by socialist totalitarianism will be submerged in a new nationalist totalitarianism. Until totalitarianism is purged from the soul of the nation, says philosopher Albinas Lozuraitis, "democracy is an empty pretention" - having a democratic clause in the constitution only expresses an ideal which is yet far from realization. Lithuania now finds itself poised between East and West, between dictatorship and democracy, between Eastern collectivism and Western individualism. Lithuanian politicians are "Asian savages" hiding behind European masks.24

Parties are caught somewhere between factions and society - with no effective internal or external coordinating mechanisms and no private political sponsors to finance parties as there are in the West. Party activity in 1990 and 1991 was often regarded as secondary, indeed as distracting, to the work of the government, by both the public and some politicians. Parties are still viewed negatively as introducing unnecessary fragmentation and conflict to a society already beset with strife. What is more, party membership of any kind still carries with it associations of effectively compulsory Communist Party membership. There exists in Lithuania what is described as a post-Soviet "rule of non-partisanship".25 Authoritarian traditions of direct appeal to government officials, the obscuring of representative channels and belief in the omnipotence of government have all acted as a further brake on the development of political parties.

Factions, on the other hand, do not yet function properly because they have no party backup, program and extra-parliamentary support organizations. There are no pure party factions, nor are they even stable alliances like their Western counterparts. They are continually changing and lack the internal discipline which would ensure consistent voting and a degree of parliamentary predictability. Their own instability is therefore reflected in the activity of the parliament itself. Approximately 50 deputies have "migrated", that is, changed faction or became independent from the time that the Center faction was created to the time of writing.26 The amorphous-ness of factions and the absence of any clear boundaries between groups of deputies undermines both their effective functioning as voting guides for deputies and as political signposts for the electorate.

The gap between the parties' parliamentary caucuses and the political movements that put the delegates into Parliament has been growing and threatens to undermine what little organizational cohesion and political will the parties have, possibly making the system prone to autocratic breakdown as people demand a firm hand to deal with socio-economic chaos. Parties are out of touch with their constituents either through direct contact between deputies and electors or through local organizations as intermediaries. New platforms, single-issue groups and regional caucuses may be healthy signs of intra-party pluralism but are also indicative of political fragmentation, accentuating the extreme polarization and centrifugal competition which results from ideological discord. Sąjūdis had provided a unifying principle for national solidarity in crisis situations. As the external threat of military crackdown is now a more remote possibility than it was and Sąjūdis, increasingly short of funds, has narrowed its appeal, it no longer seems to be the agency capable of stemming political fragmentation. Increasingly, the figure of the president appears as the only viable solution to economic and social problems of crisis proportions.

This need not, however, reintroduce totalitarianism, irrespective of Lithuania's checkered democratic history. Landsbergis is not the hell-bent autocrat he is sometimes caricatured as. In his speech to the Third Saudi Congress he emphasized that "the sovereignty of Lithuania is its people". Certainly social tensions are high and many of the necessary reforms are hard for the people to swallow, but even where popular dissatisfaction with the government and the Supreme Council exists, it is not so profound as to threaten the survival of the new order, as some left-wing politicians would have the Lithuanian people and the Western world believe. Few people seem to think that their democratic rights are being infringed by a government with authoritarian tendencies.

However, widespread apathy may yet corrode emerging democratic structures, especially given the weakness of parties as linking mechanisms between government and society. In fact, many, if not most, seem to be weary of the continual bombardment of political messages, claims and counterclaims that they are exposed to daily. After the euphoric discussions in the newly liberalized atmosphere in 1988 and 1989, people today are characterized instead by an attitude of resignation or ignorance. Many questions regarding the nature of Lithuanian politics register no opinion at all.

Ironically, a president with extensive, democratically determined powers may, in fact, by making the situation less volatile, contribute to the evolution of genuine political pluralism. Economic normalization will hasten the formation of non-survival interests. Current stagflation is the result of an economic vacuum: the old command-administrative system has collapsed with only chaotic barter taking its place. There is as yet little enterprise, instead mostly the initiatives of middlemen with unproductive "get rich quick" attitudes. If economic reform can succeed in resuscitating production and rationalizing property, politics will become a less anxious business. There are strong arguments other than the Right's ideological preference to suggest that economic reform is more likely to succeed if the executive can be strengthened. By the same token, effective reform is most likely to instill confidence in the electorate and rouse it from its reversion to apathy. Once people are convinced that democratic government is more effective than the old order, seeing tangible results where rhetoric used to be, they will be encouraged to assert their interests. The way is then paved for parties to articulate and mobilize these interests. To do so, the parties must tighten their ranks and at the same time open up to the non-elites. This strategy will help broaden the parties' popular base at the local level, making them more effective democratic channels.

Until this happens, however, Lithuanian politics will remain the domain of mystical hyperbole, steeped in symbolic gestures, like the awarding of orders, medals and honors, the recreation of military groups, and demonstrations and rallies. It is the survival of the nation's memories which enabled the "reawakening" in 1989. Now, however, they impede the evolution of a democratic polity. In time, the outpouring of emotions accumulated over the last half century will cease and a more rational style of politics, more appropriate to the quietly determined spirit of the Lithuanian people, can take its place.


1. This article is based on published and unpublished Western and Lithuanian materials and interviews with party leaders and parliamentary deputies conducted in Vilnius and Kaunas between 12 July and 30 August 1991 and 21 December 1991 and 7 January 1992.
2. "The Historical Memory of Lithuanians - Empirical Characteristics" by V. Gaidys, D. Tureikytė and I. Sutinienė in Filosofija ir Sociologija, 1991 No. 1(4), pp. 77-88.
3. Article One of the Provisional Fundamental Law, issued March 11, 1990.
4. J. Šmulkstys, "Parties in Contemporary Lithuania", Metmenys, No. 61, 1991.
5. A. Krupavičius, "In search of Friends and Enemies: Parties in the Republic's Political Landscape", Politika 17 and 18, June 1991, pp. 6-8, 24-25 and pp. 6-9, 20-21 respectively.
6. Compiled from S. Grinius, "The Results of Lithuanian Supreme Soviet Elections", RE/RFL Report on the Baltics, RL 119/90, March 9, 1990, pp. 23-4.
7. Law on Political Parties, No. I-606, 25 September 1990, quoted from Selected Anthology of Institutional, Economic and Financial Legislation, Vilnius: State Publishing Center, 1991.
8. Indeed, for the purposes of this thesis, the CPL (CPSU) is regarded as a party external to the domestic political process in Lithuania at this time. Not only did it lack juridical standing under the new law, but in its policy and ideological stance it was possibly more extreme than the reactionary Party stalwarts in Moscow, representing the "rearguard" rather than the "vanguard" of political forces in the Republic. It attracted only marginal support from some Poles and Russians, and even this was withdrawn after the January crisis.
9. See G. Dominas, "A Closer Look at Lithuania's Parties" in Justitia, No. 6(17), November 1990.
10. See, for example, the declarations and statements of the various parties collected in Selection of Documents of the Supreme Council and Council of Ministers of the Republic of Lithuania, Vol. 2, Vilnius: Supreme Council of the Lithuanian Republic, 1991.
11. See, for example, V. Andriūnas, "The New Monopoly" in Lietuvos Aidas, 21 July 1991; G. Songaila, "Either - Or" in Lietuvos Aidas, 4 January 1992; and S. Sokolov, "Buyers of the Invisible Front: Investigators try to return to Russia currency hidden abroad by Party Mafia", in Komsomolskaya Pravda No. 282, 1991.
12. Declaring "all transactions from the moment of their authorization that would transfer the property of the CPL (CPSU), the LCP and the Komsomol to closed joint-stock companies or legal or natural entities" invalid. See S. Grinius, "Press Strike in Lithuania" in RE/RFL Report on the Baltics, RL 425/91, 12 December 1991, pp.26-9.
13. Interviews conducted with A. Sakalas, LSDP chairman; LDLP Secretary for Ideology G. Kirkilas; S. Pečeliūnas, LDP chairman; and V. Kazlauskas, LHP chairman also highlighted the "escalating rhetorical attacks of the government", as Sakalas put it, on Center-Left forces. Kirkilas spoke of "Brazauskasphobia" from those who regarded the independent LCP a greater internal threat than the CPL(CPSU). See also, for example, K. Antanavičius, "Enemies and Patriots" in Politika 7, March 1991, pp.5-7.
14. See Political Studies, 24/25, 1977, pp. 563-70.
15. S.M Lipset and S. Rokkan, "Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments: An Introduction" in Lipset and Rokkan (eds.), Party Systems and Voter Alignments, New York: Free Press, 1967.
16. A. Pizzorno, "Interests and Parties in Pluralism", in S. Berger (ed.), Organizing Interests in Western Europe: Pluralism, Capitalism and the Transformation of Politics, Cambridge: CUP, 1981.
17. There are considerable similarities between the periods of regime-building in Lithuania 1990 onwards and the process of "democratic revolution" which took place in Eastern European countries during 1989 and 1990. See, for example, R.L. Tokes, "Hungary's New Political Elites: Adaptation and Change, 1989-90" in Problems of Communism, November-December 1990.
18. From Kas Yra Kas Lietuvoje (Who's Who in Lithuania), Vilnius: Politika, 1990.
19. Tiesa, 9 August 1991.
20. From Survey Research Centre polls.
21. See S.M. Lipset et al., Union Democracy, New York: Free Press, 1956, pp.268-9.
22. J. Švoba, Seiminė ir Prezidentinė Lietuva (Parliamentary and Presidential Lithuania), Vilnius: Vaga, 1990.
23. C. Sartori, Parties and Party Systems: A framework for Analysis, Cambridge: CUP, 1976.
24. Krescencijus Stoškus and Albinas Lozuraitis from interviews in Politika 15, May 1991, pp. 16-21.
25. Šventas Nepartiškumas as G.Kirkilas, LDLP Secretary for Ideology and Minister without Portfolio, put it in my interview with him. R. Smetona, leader of the Nationalist Party said of parties that "people are alergic to the very word itself".
26. Linas Linkevičius, "Parliamentary Factions" in the LDLP newsletter Gairės, July 1991.

Additional Reading

Matulionis, A., Taljūnaitė, M., and Trinkūnienė, I. (eds.), Lietuva ir Sąjūdis (Lithuania and Sajudis), Vilnius: Viltis, 1990.
Šapoka, A. (ed.), Lietuvos Istorija, Kaunas, 1936, reprinted by Vilnius: Mokslas, 1990.
Senn, A.E., Lithuania Awakening, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Vardys, V.S. (ed.), Lithuania Under the Soviets, New York: F.A. Praeger, 1965.
Vardys, V.S., The Catholic Church, Dissent and Nationality in Soviet Lithuania, Boulder, CO, and New York: East European Quarterly/Columbia University Press, 1978.
Von Rauch, G., The Baltic States: Years of Independence 1917-1940, London: C. Hurst & Co., Ltd., 1974.