Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
Retired from active politics, Vytautas Landsbergis, one of the architects of modern Lithuania, is nowadays busy with scribbling memoirs shedding light on the events that broke down the Soviet Union and shook the word.
Yet the name is still combustible like in the old days. This week, Lithuanian Parliament voted against rewarding Landsbergis Freedom Prize, an annual reward for outstanding achievements for state of Lithuania.
Nominee feels «pity» for Parliament
«I feel a pity for the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament-L.J),» 83-year-old Landsbergis told after the voting in which 53 lawmakers were for rewarding the Freedom Prize this year to Landsbergis, 13 disapproved the proposal and 48 abstained.
«The most has not yet obviously overcome political and historical grievances and continue blaming Landsbergis for the breakdown of kolkhozes (Soviet era collective farms-L.J),» Kęstutis Masiulis, a Conservative legislator, quipped when speaking to BNN.
Conservatives, Liberals and most MPs of Order and Justice Party were in favor of giving Landsbergis the Freedom Prize, while majority of the Labour, as well as nearly all the Social Democrats and MPs of the Electoral Action of Poles were against.
Asked on the way to the parliamentary hall, Loreta Graužinienė, the Speaker of Parliament, confessed she had not decided yet how she would vote.
«It’s really hard for me to make up my mind. I am afraid that voting for Landsbergis I will depreciate former president Valdas Adamkus, whose name was also on the list of candidates. And vice versa. I believe that they both should be acknowledged in a way,» the Speaker told Lithuanian media.
After the voting Graužinienė announced that the reward will not be granted this year and the draft resolution will be submitted for «improvement.»
Still more divisive than uniting
Those who voted against the Freedom Prize being given to Landsbergis explained their decision that the Conservatives’ founding father still is more of a divisive than uniting character, therefore the outcome.
«If we really want to signify Sąjūdis (Lithuania’s national movement for change in the late 1980s and early 1990s-.L.J) era and its processes, then an ordinary man from a block of apartments should have been suggested as the nominee. If the people had not been gathering then in the numbers reaching hundreds of thousands (of people) in the squares, Landsbergis or Kęstutis Masiulis would have done nothing alone. All of us have achieved it and all the people deserve the reward,» Linas Balsys, a parliamentarian, argued. He added: «When introducing the candidature, even Irena Degutienė (one of the stalwarts of the Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD)-L.J) admitted that some adore Landsbergis, but many others hate him. It means he is a man who splits up the nation, not consolidates it. The reward has to be given to somebody who does the latter.»
Introducing the nominee, Degutiene called Landsbergis «a symbol of Lithuanian freedom», which name is identical, both in Lithuania and abroad, to the restoration of Lithuania’s Independence in 1990, she emphasized.
Nominee picked up out of seven other candidates
The reward commission has picked up Landsbergis for the nomination out of seven other candidates. Degutiene stepped down from the Commission chair’s post after the vote unfavourable to Landsbergis.
Meanwhile, Vytautas Gapšys, one of the Labor Party leaders, scolded the reward commission for failing to «comprehend» that Landsbergis still garners very extreme opinions in Seimas, therefore his name should not have been on the list.
«I am not happy at all that the voting reached the Seimas Plenary Hall. Commission had to foresee different scenarios and also the one we saw happen. In order not to fail the idea of the Freedom Prize, we ought to pass certain amendments to the ordinance on the reward granting,» the Laborist said.
The Seimas opposition leader, Andrius Kubilius, lambasted Parliament for failing to pass «a test on respect for land’s history.”
«It shows your own problems, first of all,» Kubilius addressed the aisles of the ruling parties.
5000-euro prize up for grabs
Vytautas Landsbergis headed Lithuanian Sajudis and was chairman of the Reconstituent Seimas during 1990-1992. He was also at the helm during the Soviets’ economic blockade in the early 1990s and participated in drawing up Lithuanian Constitution.
The 5,000-euro Freedom Prize was established by Lithuanian Parliament in 2011. It is usually handed during the commemoration of Freedom Defenders Day celebrated on January 13. The first Freedom Prize was awarded in 2011 to Sergeij Kovaliov, a Russian human rights and democracy advocate. Among the other prize recipients were Antanas Terleckas, the founder of Lietuvos laisvės lyga (Lithuania’s League of Freedom), now a defunct anti-Soviet movement which was active throughout 1980s and 1990s. Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius also has gotten the price. Last year, it went for Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Who needed the sacrifice?
Remembering the bloody events of January 13, 1991, when the Soviet tanks near the Lithuanian TV Tower crushed its 13 defenders, Social Democrat Artūras Skardžius raised a question on the role of Landsbergis in the deaths.
«When the tanks started rolling towards us, for me, aware of the Soviet Army and the machinery, it was kind of weird to realize that no one had warned us about a possibility of such danger: we were drinking tea and eating sandwiches and sharing the ubiquitous great mood. Many of us were standing with bare sticks and cudgels in front of the tanks. That the Russian tanks will be rolling on us we learnt out later than the defenders of the Seimas (where heavily-guarded Landsbergis was-L.J). I feel sorrow for the people who were sacrificed there…Maybe somebody needed the bloody sacrifice,» the reasoning by Skardžius has drawn condemnations from right-wing lawmakers.
Lawmakers should be away from reward granting
«I am not surprised at all by some politicians’ resistance against Landsbergis. As they represent certain parties with their own agenda and interest, all the decisions they pass are based on the interests they have. We could not perhaps expect another outcome of the voting as the ruling majority is against the opposition Conservatives,» Lauras Bielinis, a political analyst, told BNN.
He says that rewarding should not be left up to Parliament.
«Let societal, non-governmental entities decide on that, not the parliamentarians,» he emphasized.
Landsbergis ignites political fireballs
Bielinis also notes that the Conservatives’ founding father, Landsbergis, has always been able to ignite fireballs in politics.
«Because he has a clear stance on all issues of life and politics,» Bielinis explained. «Certainly, he is often assertive and is known for his stingy vitriolic remarks, but that is what makes him. I am convinced that politicians have to be exactly like that- strong, with their clear positions and be able to defend them.»
The analyst says that the prominence of the grandfather does cast a considerable shadow on the grandson, Gabrielius Landsbergis, chairman of HU-LCD, the Conservatives.
«If he were not Landsbergis, but whoever else, he’d not be feeling the pressure of the name familiar nowto each household,» the analyst says.
Kęstutis Masiulis, a Conservative MP, believes the animosity to Landsbergis is rooted in the old days, when Lithuania broke away from the Soviet Union.
«Unfortunately, a lot of Lithuanians still feel nostalgia for the Soviet past. Not surprisingly to me, a recent poll shows that 30 percent of the respondents believe that the life during the Soviet era was better than now,» Masiulis paid attention.
«For many, directly and metaphorically, Landsbergis impersonates the destroyer of the Soviet system, thence the animosity or hatred against him. We want it or not, there are still hundreds of people retelling the stories how the Soviets would give for free a house or a flat to the newlyweds, how the-then health and education systems were free and accessible for all and so on. We need several more generations to pass to hear less of that kind of stories,» Masiulis told BNN.
Party defies poll results
He agrees that some of Landsbergis’ characteristics might be «irritating» to ordinary people.
«Obviously not all like intellect and the sarcasm that he is known for,» the MP says.
Besides, he adds, for many, Landsbergis, as the founder of Lithuania’s Conservatives, is still seen as a strong political figure, which is identified with what the party has strongest.
«This has played a role obviously, too, in the voting,» Masiulis told.
He, however, is optimistic about the party’s future under the leadership of Gabrielius Landsbergis.
«The image of the grandfather certainly dwarfs him, but it also serves as the sun, which emanates what Vytautas Landsbergis is famous for: visceral way of thinking, intelligence, ability to foresee several steps ahead and tenacity,» the legislator noted.
«Our party is known for beating pollsters’ forecasts and coming as winner. Our chances were ranked just fourth in the election of the European Parliament, but we have beaten odds coming on top. I expect to see that in the parliamentary elections next year, too,» Masiulis said.