Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Is it blasphemous on March 11, the day of the restoration of Lithuanian Independence, deluge Polish supermarkets on the other side of the border for cheaper groceries instead of celebrating the holiday?
As hundreds of Lithuanians, living from hand to mouth, swarmed Polish stores that day, Irena Degutienė, one of the signatories of the Independence Act and a stalwart of the Lithuanian Conservative Party (TS-LKD) lashed out at the shoppers.
MP remarks drew hostile reactions
«I left extremely excited and bewildered that so many our people –in full busses and shuttle buses- went on that day to Suwalki (the Polish region bordering Lithuania-L.J.) for groceries. The people «celebrated» March 11 that way. Here’s the main question: why? Don’t they love Lithuania? Don’t they want to celebrate the great holiday? Or is too hard for them to live in a free Lithuania? Is not the incumbent Government to blame for what is happening?» Degutienė lashed out at the shoppers and the Social Democratic Government in the sitting of the Council of TS-LKD last Saturday.
The exasperation by the signatory of the Independence Act has reverberated through social media and in online comments for the most of the week. But the reactions were overwhelmingly hostile to the MP.
In Delfi.lt, the most popular website in Lithuania, the article with the Degutienė remarks has amassed a whopping 4426 comments and 256 of them came from registered users, i.e. identifiable comment posters.
Online commentators thumbed down influential Conservative
Nijolė Senkuvienė, one of the commentators, a teacher by profession, said: «We can go on with the politicizing endlessly. But I do justify Lithuanians who take care of their families and look for ways how to make ends meet. No one can be given nice posters for food…What kind of dignity and respect can we talk about when the separate caste of «Politicians» lives at the expense of others, as if a republic in the republic of Lithuania? They teach and scold us although they do not accept criticism and live under protection. I do not respect those who live off the other people out there, who are hard-working, honest, but still struggling to get through.»
Her post has garnered 55 «likes» and a single «dislike».
Other commentators also thumbed down the prominent Lithuanian Conservative.
«It feels so sad that I even do not want to comment anything. Those who sit with their hands on power do not usually read comments. They are not interested in what the nation thinks and how it lives. They have their own agenda, now they are showcasing some hocus-focus how to trick voters again and clinch the parliamentary seat anew. I won’t vote for any party that receives state subsidies,» Regina Jasilionienė, another article reader vented out her anger online.
Did TS-LKD learn mockery from Donald Trump?
In the TS-LKD Council sitting, Council members, many of whom are the signatories of the Independence Restoration Act, have unleashed a slew of mockery against the ruling Social Democrats that could surpass that of Donald Trump in the US presidential primary.
Andrius Kubilius, the former head of Government and ex-chairman of the Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) was calling the opponents «retarders» throughout the sitting, but quipped that «those handicapped» should be viewed with mercy.
«I am tired of the retarders’ government. I want to remind all that the word is a term used in engineering. In the bus, the retarder is a mechanism that helps to orderly stop the bus,» explained Kubilius. Meanwhile, Gabrielius Landsbergis, the TS-LKD chairman and the grandson of Vytautas Landsbergis, the architect of the modern state of Lithuania, was calling some prominent Social Democrats «peoples’ commissars», a reference to the Stalin-era high-level state officials.
Known for his propensity to highlight the country’s education issues, the Conservatives honcho excoriated the Social Democrats, too: «Are we tackling social issues that many Lithuanians deal with? I think that not. Are we moving towards better education? I don’t think so. But the ruling coalition thinks otherwise perhaps. I think what it does could be depicted by the English term «white washing»- making dirty things (they do) look clean.»
Who is to blame?
Landsbergis junior also lambasted the ruling Social Democrats for unrelenting emigration and record-high suicide rates in the country.
«The statistics is more than telling. Each day, 1000 people get on the planes and leave Lithuania…Imagine those three compatriots who, every day, end their life with their own hands. Imagine the teenager who, every week, departs from the world by committing suicide…There are nearly 80,000 people who killed themselves in alcohol abuse-related incidents,» the Conservatives leader depicted the dire plight in the country before adding: «The 80,000 are as many as all those killed during the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Can we afford to allow the Government to continue being in power another four years?»
The TS-LKD leader lamented that the time has come when Lithuania has to think of catching up not with Estonia, but with neighbouring Latvia, which has been showing stable economic results lately.
Perhaps because of the gloomy picture the Conservatives described the situation in the country, media hurried to dub the TS-LKD sitting as «black».
Degutienė softened her position on March 11 shoppers
But not for the first time, the Social Democrats have seemingly brushed off all the accusations unscathed. Meanwhile, amid the deluge of anti-Degutienė and anti-TS-LKD comments on social media and in comment sections, Degutienė, who is also the deputy of the TS-LKD chairman, hastened to defuse the heated online atmosphere issuing a «clarification» of her remarks on the March 11 Lithuanian Suwalki shoppers.
«Not the people but the authority that has not lived up to its promises is to be blamed (for shopping in the Polish region). I was not criticizing people who, in a free Lithuania, can go wherever and whenever they want, but the problems which make them act so even during the period of national holidays,» Degutienė explained in a statement.
She, however, reiterated the idea that the economic wellbeing of most Lithuanians is deteriorating and, again, accused the Government of inactiveness.
«I clearly see how the Government’s electoral promised and the reality differs. A whopping 40 percent of the pensioners receive 258 euro pension which is only 17 euro more than the official level of poverty. And the unemployment rate has not still reached the pre-crisis level, meanwhile, the threat of poverty has risen for many social groups, not only for our pensioners,» the deputy chairman of Lithuanian Conservatives Party emphasized.
Conservatives need to face aftermaths of their decisions
But in the realm of internet, readers did not buy her arguments, chastising the Conservatives for curtailed pensions in 2009.
«If we were to speak of Latvia, it has not cut pensions, even during the downturn of 2008-2010, although the country was seemingly in a direr plight than Lithuania. So, Conservatives, get your life and cough up some new ideas if you want to secure some support in the coming elections,» a man going by the name «Jonas» said in a comment online.
Perhaps thinking of the election, Loreta Graužinienė, the speaker of Lithuanian Parliament, has also come in defence of March 11grocery buyers.
«We cannot blame our people for something that we, politicians, may have not done. The Conservatives are angry now, although, during the term of their governance, they passed such decisions which have drastically boosted food prices and hiked the value added tax for key food products. They oughtn’t to be angry now, but ought to try to correct the aftermaths of the ruling,» the speaker emphasized.
TS-LKD «bites» will not do harm to Social Democrats
Asked to weigh in on the Conservatives’ criticism towards the Social Democrats, Tomas Janeliūnas, a political analyst and lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, told BNN that the critique is insufficient to crack up the Social Democrats’ solid credibility in the public’s eyes.
«All the snarky remarks are tantamount to small bites but that’s it. They will hardly dent the big trust the Social Democrats enjoy. Lithuanian Conservatives need to find new ideas and come up with a very strong electoral strategy if they want to turn things around. The rejuvenation of the TS-LKD leadership and attraction of younger faces on the electoral list have not produced big wonders for the party,» Janeliūnas told.