Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
The rise of Donald Trump to power of the mightiest country in the world, United States, as well as the surge of populists in the European Union, including Lithuania, stirred the pot most in 2016, agree all Lithuanian analysts that BNN spoke to before the end of the year.
«Undoubtedly, the election results in the United Sates have caught many people off guard in the world and the fallout is yet to unravel, with the year of 2017 being a year to watch,» says Lauras Bielinis, associate professor at Kaunas Magnus University. «Eastern Europe, including our region, will have to reaffirm its alliance with the U.S., proving it that Eastern Europe can be trusted as a trustworthy partner.»
Meanwhile, in Lithuania, the landslide victory of the Peasants and Greens Union in the parliamentary election in early October, stood out among all the other events in Lithuania this year, believes the analyst.
«The new make-up of Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) raises many doubts and unease as to what to expect from it. I believe Lithuanians will feel tangible aftermaths from the «Peasants’» ruling for long,» predicted Bielinis.
Asked whether he sees in the behaviour of the new ruling Coalition any signs that make him anxious, the analyst admitted there are quite a few of them that he finds disturbing.
«Some of the first decisions, like the vote on law on artificial insemination, far-reaching initiatives on curbing booze consumption and even the idea of giving the national costume to every primary school child, as well as some others non-essential decisions, signal that the Coalition is reluctant to discuss things in a broader context, leave alone, the parliamentary opposition,» Bielinis underlined.
With some cautioning that Lithuania may be politically drifting to a hard-hand ruling similar to that in Poland, where the people have hit the streets this year in protest of the authority, Bielinis, however, believes the apprehensions are too premature.
«The moods that are lingering here are quite different from those over the border, let’s admit it clearly. Besides, the so-called protest culture in embedded deeply in the Polish society and it is very weak in Lithuania,» he noted. «However, I’d not be surprised if we start seeing a flare-up of sporadic protests in our urban cities at some point next year. Especially, if there’re attempts to foist clericalism in the civil and social life. If it happened, the resemblance would be clear.»
Asked to predict what 2017 will bring to all, Bielinis dismissed the popular belief that the new year will be tumultuous.
«I really do not think that we will see any significant changes in Lithuanian in 2017. Sure, we are part of the global processes, but I believe we will manage sail through the rifts safely,» the analyst said.
Speaking to BNN, Dainius Radzevičius, chairman of Lithuanian journalists union, summed up the elapsing year tersely: «The triumph of Trump and collapse of Putin have been distinctive and, sure, the most memorable events in 2016.»
Asked to explain, he reasoned that, with the U.S. presidency, Trump has become an invincible «trump card» in the global politics.
«For the past four or so years, Putin has been pretty close to it for his role internationally, especially because of his involvement in Syria. But now his card is beaten,» argued Radzevičius. «With Trump awaiting inauguration, the majority of analysts try to downplay his pre-election rhetoric, but I am sure the world will see the ferocity of his words-turned-into-actions very soon. I reckon Putin will look like a fuzz compared to Trump.»
In Radzevičius’ opinion, the U.S. president-elect is kind of a leader that no one ever, including Putin, dreamt of.
«Whether you love or hate him, Putin embodies what the so-called realpolitics is all about: pragmatism and prognostication. That kind of leader detects others’ weaknesses very well and takes advantage of them. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, whom I call Terminator 5, is yet an unseen character in politics – very unpredictable, to say the least,» the chief journalist said.
The situation now is such that, in 2017, Russia can be more predictable than the United States with Donald Trump at the helm and the European Union, which in 2016 was swept by a wave of political populists with the political uncertainties rolling into the New Year.
Yet a more predictable Putin is to encounter a very tricky situation in 2017, believes the chairman of Lithuanian journalists: an off-kilter Trump in the United States and a shaken-up European Union past UK’s Brexit and other populist votes.
«The European Union will be particularly hard to predict, I believe. But I reckon this is good in some way, as Putin cannot foresee what to expect from the new leaders, who may not necessarily embrace him,» Radzevičius contemplated.
He did not rule out a possibility that Russia, sooner or later, will come to an understanding that it needs to find a new leader, too.
«In any way, the next presidential election in Russia (to be held in 2018) will mean the inception of Putin’s political demise,» Radzevičius is convinced. «Grasping its importance, Putin will do whatever he can to stave off the worst scenario he can potentially face.»
Although Europe has been through some rough and tough times in 2016, the 27-member bloc will cope with the challenges and will rise as the winner in a course of five or so years, the analyst believes.
Meanwhile, Russia will hardly go through any change in the next couple of years, he predicts.
«And this is a bad omen for it. Look, the United States has changed and the European Union is changing,» Radzevičius said.
Asked what Lithuanian journalists can expect from the new, «Peasants» and Greens-led ruling Coalition, which has already passed some ambiguous decisions since the swear-in in early December, Radzevičius maintained that Lithuania’s democratic principles have been so deep that any attempt to undermine them will trigger a severe backlash from the public and NGOs.
«The best example for that is the initiative to amend the Civil Codex. If passed, the amendments would have put in jeopardy journalists’ possibilities to criticize politicians. But the Coalition’s attempt to proceed with them has met big resistance and the contentious proposals were crossed out swiftly. I believe that in 2017 we will be hearing a new term – countries of new democracy – and Lithuania is part of the group,» Radzevičius said.
Just five years ago, he paid attention, Lithuania was ridiculed by many for its caveats on Russia’s informational warfare, but now all want to hear from Lithuania how to deal with it.
«In that sense, we are a flagship,» Radzevičius summed up.
Approached Ignas Zokas, director of Spinter Tyrimai, a market research and polling company, predicted that the year of 2017 will mark a year of fallout from Brexit and the Donald Trump presidency.
«This year has been a year of the rise of untraditional politicians, both in the United States and Europe, and the trend is likely to continue in 2017. It can mean both good and bad, but the liberal ideas have suffered a blow already,» Zokas told BNN.
Disagreeing with the wide-spread notion that Trump means sinister things for Europe, the pollster noted that the tensions in Eastern Europe have not gone anywhere with Barrack Obama as the president of the United States, too.
«The veneer was nice from the first glance but the tensions did not go away during the Obama presidency,» Zokas underlined. He predicted that, in 2017, populists and traditionalists will be making more gains throughout the European Union.
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis sees the October parliamentary elections, which changed the country’s political map, as the most important 2016 event in the country, noting that the terrorist attacks in Europe were the most important worldwide.
«In my opinion, the election to the Seimas was one of the major events, as it led to certain changes, rather radical ones, some parties did not win mandates. One of the memorable events is the cases of political corruption, which showed that our country’s law-enforcement has the potential and the determination to bring more transparency to our political life, that it has a spine and the potential to show who really has the power in the country – first of all the people and the society,» Skvernelis told Žinių Radijas news radio.
Speaking about the key events worldwide, Skvernelis listed the terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. presidential elections that were victorious for Donald Trump.
«The challenge we faced in connection to terrorism, the painful events that shocked Europe, the world and the public, showing that the 21st century includes a major and, in a sense, invisible enemy, therefore, our attitudes must change. We used to absolutise certain human rights, which is very important, and stated that any possible restrictions and storage of information was an infringement of personal privacy, the events that occurred across Europe forced us to open our eyes and gave push to some highly needed legal acts in connection to international cooperation and efforts against potential threats and challenges,» the prime minister said about global events.