Read the third text of our article series on the far-right forces in the Baltic States.
Source: Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Licence;
modifications: Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat, Sanja Jelic
In 2013, extreme right parties from the three countries signed a declaration in Bauska (Southern Latvia) on cooperation in combating "cultural Marxism", multiculturalism, globalization, and Russian imperialist ambitions. Among the signatories to the Bauska declaration, representatives of Lithuania play the smallest role in their country’s political life. Re-established in 1990, the Lithuanian Nationalist and Republican Union (LTS or tautinnikai, nationalists) continues the traditions of pre-war organizations that served as the base for the authoritarian rule of Antanas Smetona from 1926 to 1940. However, it played a significant role on the national political scene only in the first years of Lithuania independence. While in 1992 it managed to win seats in parliament for four representatives, it was represented in the next election by only one deputy, and since 2000 has won no more parliamentary seats. In the years 2008-2011 the party remained in an actual union with the largest Lithuanian conservative formation – the Patriotic Union and the Union of Christian Democrats. This manoeuvre allowed two activists of the LTS to enter parliament, albeit on someone else's list. Ultimately however, the alliance with the Patriotic Union did not survive and since 2011, the tautinnikai are again independently active, though rather unsuccessfully. Similarly, extremist groups on the margins of Lithuanian politics, such as the Lithuanian National Union and the Young Lithuania Party remaine or still remain illegal. These all combined extreme glorification of the Lithuanian nation and anti-communism with praise of Nazism, maintained contacts with foreign neo-fascist groups, mainly Scandinavian and British, and have also tried to block the LGBT movement in Lithuania, blocking the March of Equality in Vilnius at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century.
The reasons why Lithuanian nationalism, unlike Latvian nationalism, has not become a significant independent force on the national political scene are twofold. First of all, there was no basis in Lithuania for igniting and heating up nationalist conflicts. Ethnic minorities account for only a few percent of the population of this homogeneous state, are clearly concentrated in specific cities and regions, and are much better integrated with the Lithuanian majority, so the narrative blaming them entirely for Lithuania's internal problems never had any real chance of success after 1991.
On the other hand, some nationalist contentions were taken up quite early by 'moderate' right-wing parties and ceased to be the distinguishing feature of right-wing radicals. Again, even more so than in the Latvian case, the area in which nationalists have achieved lasting success is historical politics. In Lithuania, memories of the post-war anti-communist underground (simply called "partisans") is the generally accepted basis of the nation’s collective identity. Any undermining of the sense of the partisans' struggle or their heroism, or even bringing up the subject of the underground’s civilian victims and the progressive demoralization of the forest units may end in public infamy. The works of historians such as Mindaugas Pocius, who tried to present a more multifaceted image of the underground, are known and discussed in specialist circles, but the image of the partisans as flawless heroes dominates popular discourse. There is no chance for either discussions about the sense of armed struggle after 1945 (some units remained in the woods as long as the early 1950s), or for discussing such issues as the participation of many later anti-communist fighters in crimes against Lithuanian Jews in previous years. Likewise the existence of Lithuanian formations collaborating with the Nazis or the participation of Lithuanians in the Holocaust, although that is no longer – as it was just a few years ago – a completely taboo subject, are issues that continue to cause controversy. As demonstrated by the famous issue in August 2019 concerning a commemorative plaque in honour of Jonas Noreika and the Vilnius street named after Kazys Skirpa, the Lithuanian right invariably holds to the position that in the case of heroes involved in the fight for Lithuania's independence, their extremely anti-Semitic views, or contributing to the crimes against Jews or even participation in them and taking advantage of them are not circumstances that would require them to be abandoned. Among politicians who regularly defend Lithuanian national activists who are also anti-Semites or apologists for the Third Reich, mention may be made of the honorary chairman of the Vytautas Landbergis Patriotic Union. He is not the only activist of that party who uses fierce anti-communist and anti-Russian rhetoric. Nationalist slogans are also found in the propaganda repertoire of the eclectic Order and Justice Party, which in its time was inspired by, among others, the French National Front. In such a situation, historical themes and promotion of "Lithuania for Lithuanians" are already ensconced in the mainstream and so cannot constitute a lever for the success of the far right.
This situation does not seem likely to change in the coming years – while in matters of historical memory the Lithuanian nationalist right has achieved unquestioned success, in the most recent parliamentary and presidential elections voters were decidedly aroused by other issues. Both the Union of Farmers and Greens, which won the last parliamentary elections in 2016, and Gintanas Nauseda, the winner of this year's presidential election, gained support rather by building their image as caring hosts, ready to strengthen the pro-social involvement of the state, level out inequalities between regions, and mitigate the effect of the neoliberal reforms of previous years. None of the typical subjects raised by the far right – the threat of immigrants or minorities, the need to "strengthen the nation" – have played a leading role in political campaigns.
In Lithuania, the renaissance of local nationalism has been rather discounted by the more moderate right wing compared to the other Baltic States, and the remaining slogans and issues from the extreme right’s repertoire fail to trigger emotions. This also illustrates the differences between those countries.
This article series was first published in Nasze Argumenty 1/2019, the magazine of the Naprzód Foundation.
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Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat, The extreme right in the Baltic States: Latvia
Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat, The Extreme Right in the Baltic States: Estonia