News2023.05.02 13:31

Tracing populism in Lithuania – interview

LRT RADIO, 2023.05.02 13:31

What are the historical and contemporary cases of populism in Lithuania? Sociologist Karolis Jonutis explains.

A turning point in Lithuanian politics was the 2004 impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas, who also ran on a populist platform. According to Jonutis, it helped the country to avoid the emergence of radical populist currents.

"If there had been no impeachment of Paksas, we could have had a situation similar to Hungary or Poland. It was a populist force with a very high potential to mobilise people", says Jonutis.

Referring to the Lithuanian Seimas elections, the sociologist mentions that a "kaleidoscopic" situation is repeating itself. "Four years in power, then almost all of those politicians are out. I don't know if we have ever had the same party win twice in a row," says Jonutis.

Speaking about the municipal elections, he sees populist promises in the campaigns of the parties that ran for power in the capital.

"As a citizen of Vilnius, I found it funny that the main theme of the elections in Vilnius was the narrowing of the streets," he says. "I missed the politicians' attempt to involve the citizens of Vilnius in the city's activities, to make them feel that they are the real masters of the city."

Meanwhile, populism is not an entirely negative phenomenon, according to Jonutis, who links it to the "renewal" of stale politics.

The phenomenon is used as a means of mobilising people, but "when the populist narrative becomes very convincing, it can destroy the democratic system", he adds.

"Practically all political parties in a democratic system are at least partly populist. They try to simplify their ideological narrative to attract people. It's about the enemy, the ruling party or the opposition," he says.

When asked about prominent examples of populism in Lithuania, the scholar recalled the case of the Drąsos Kelias party and the reverberations caused by the Family Movement in the country.

Drąsos Kelias came into being following an alleged paedophilia scandal that had rocked the country, while the Family Movement mobilised amid the Istanbul Convention controversy and Covid-19 restrictions.

According to Jonutis, the Drąsos Kelias party was an archetypal example of populism.

"You can see how this party has faded and disappeared from our political field. It is difficult for pure populist parties to talk about systemic oligarchies once they are in power," he says.

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