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2020.10.09 08:00

US election divides Lithuanian diaspora: 'intolerance visible on both sides'

Karolina Marcinkevičiūtė, LRT.lt2020.10.09 08:00

The divisive presidential election in the United States has also exposed differences among the Lithuanian diaspora in the county, according to the Lithuanian American Community.

The Lithuanian diaspora is deeply split into two camps over the upcoming presidential election on November 3, where Democrat Joe Biden will run against Republican incumbent Donald Trump, according to Arvydas Urbonavičius, the chairman of the Lithuanian American Community.

“It is sad because we are the Lithuanian community and we have to work for Lithuania,” Urbonavičius said. “It is [painful] to see politics dividing people. Intolerance is visible on both sides. It is a shame.”

The Lithuanian American Community, established in 1951, is a non-profit organisation that recognises people’s freedom to vote, according to Urbanavičius. However, people still think negatively of those who hold different political views, he adds.

Urbonavičius says he has sent out letters to Lithuanians in the US encouraging them to respect each other’s choices.

Read more: Over 40,000 expatriates register to vote in Lithuania's elections

Meanwhile, members of the Lithuanian community are not showing much interest in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lithuania. According to Urbonavičius, many people do not see much point in electing parliament in a country where they do not live anymore.

Constituency for expats

In Lithuania's October 11 election, the country's expats are able for the first time to vote in a constituency set up to represent the diaspora.

The Lithuanian community in the US is also using personal connections to encourage people to vote in the parliamentary election. Volunteers attend events and church services where they remind Lithuanians about the opportunity to register and vote. They also call people personally to explain the importance of voting.

“Some people need reminding. Personal connection and sometimes a single call to talk about the procedures are very effective,” Urbonavičius says.

Read more: Confusion mars voting for Lithuanian expats at home

Covid-19 impact

According to Urbonavičius, the general mood in the US is filled with confusion and uncertainty because of the Covid-19 crisis.

“It is difficult to predict anything. People seem angry and distrustful, they do not know what is coming next because things change every day,” says Urbonavičius.

Read more: How Lithuania’s mixed election system works – explainer

The Lithuanian community has tried to help their compatriots affected by the coronavirus pandemic. They have created a website to share information and contacts for getting help if necessary.

So far, only a few Lithuanians have used the available assistance, but the community will continue offering help.

“Many Lithuanians have lost their jobs because of Covid-19. We have decided to expand the provision of assistance. If people need it, we will help,” the chairman says.

Read more: Who's who in Lithuania's 2020 parliamentary election – explainer