Lithuania

Consolidated Democracy
78
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 77.98 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 5.68 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
77 100 Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2021

  • National Democratic Governance rating improved from 5.25 to 5.50 due to the resilience of Lithuania’s democratic institutions in the face of the pandemic and the government’s fulsome support of the prodemocracy movement in neighboring Belarus.

As a result, Lithuania’s Democracy Score improved from 5.64 to 5.68.

header2 Executive Summary

By Ieva Petronytė-Urbonavičienė

Lithuania’s government-functions, civil society, and relationships between all main political and societal actors were highly influenced in 2020 by two major forces: the COVID-19 pandemic and the parliamentary elections in October. Both brought uncertainty and tensions to Lithuania, yet the democratic trajectory of the country remained firmly in place.

The government’s relatively successful control of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring was helped by the declaration of a strict quarantine early in March, the gradual release of restrictions and, perhaps most importantly, public cohesion. This crisis management pulled Lithuania’s semi-parliamentary power center toward the government, with the prime minister and health minister taking the main decisions and rising in visibility and popularity,1 while the parliament initially fell silent2 and the president almost vanished from the public sphere, especially during the first weeks of the quarantine.3 The public appeared to be generally supportive of the government measures, including the temporary restrictions on free movement and right of assembly.4

As the spread of coronavirus subsided and the fall parliamentary elections approached, the power balance began to level off in the summer. The president got back onstage, and the government focused more on wrapping up its term. More critical voices were heard during the pandemic’s second wave, and just weeks before the elections in October, the government was loudly accused of not taking sufficient precautions during the summer.5 Perhaps sensing pandemic fatigue in the society,6 the government took longer to declare stricter restraints despite the faster spread of infection, and it failed to announce the second quarantine until November, two weeks after the elections.7 Due to contributing factors, like increased indecisiveness during the change of government and decreasing citizen compliance,8 Lithuania handled the second wave of the virus significantly worse, even taking the lead in the European Union (EU)/European Economic Area (EEA) coronavirus infection rate in December.9 Meanwhile, inter-institutional relations within the country’s governance seemed to be returning to normal.

The October elections to the Seimas—Lithuania’s 141-seat, unicameral parliament—although competitive and unpredictable until the very end, nevertheless did not hinder the country’s democratic trajectory. The winning Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) party started building the governing coalition with a strong emphasis on freedom of speech, rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom of the press, among other stated democratic values.10 Its two liberal coalition partners—Liberal Movement of the Republic of Lithuania (LRLS) and, in especially, Freedom Party (LP)—also brought hope for more legislative attention to the country’s “forgotten” human rights issues, such as the legal status of same-sex couples, the pending ratification of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, and the prohibition on using non-Lithuanian language characters to officially write citizens’ surnames, among other issues. Although changes in this sphere are likely to face resistance, not only from the largest opposition party, LVŽS (Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union), but possibly from the more conservative wing of TS-LKD, they are more probable than before, especially since supportive voices can also be expected from such opposition parties as LSDP (Lithuanian Social Democratic Party).11

The elections highlighted several other trends in the political system as well as societal preferences. LVŽS, though “punished” for an incumbent party, finally came in second with a considerable number of mandates. The COVID-19 crisis may have had an impact on that outcome by slightly raising the party’s popularity, providing LVŽS with media attention and public visibility, as well as diminishing the space for other, especially newer parties and disadvantaging opponents by the short election campaign. As a result, LVŽS appeared to establish itself as the main left-wing actor on the political spectrum, pushing out LSDP.12 Although the largest and one of the oldest Lithuanian parties, LSDP has struggled to survive since its 2012–16 governing term and the 2017 separation of the LSDDP (Lithuanian Social Democratic Labor Party), attempting to renew and crystalize its program in the mold of a more consistent, Western-style left-wing party.

The Lithuanian tendency to vote for new parties was limited in the 2020 elections. LP, considered new and showing strong results, nevertheless came in fifth in the multi-member constituency. New or older parties representing the radical right were neither more united13 nor more popular, with CPT (Lithuanian Center Party–Nationalists) and NS (National Alliance) receiving the most support (2.28 percent and 2.14 percent of the vote, respectively), while KS (Christian Union) and KSSSL (Union of Intergenerational Solidarity–Cohesion for Lithuania) got less than 1 percent each. All the same, the parliament remained manifold with 10 parties represented and 6 forming their factions, hence no visible signs of significant reduction in the party system’s fragmentation.

The 2020 elections also broke the relatively successful electoral trend of LLRA-KŠS (Lithuanian Poles Electoral Action–Union of Christian Families), a party nominally representing the Lithuanian Polish (and, on the electoral list, Russian) minority. The party failed to pass the 5-percent electoral threshold, as it did in 2012 and 2016. Consequently, party leader Valdemar Tomaševski declared this setback an attack on Christian values, possibly funded by George Soros, and assigned blame to the anti-advertising action initiated by prominent journalist and influencer Andrius Tapinas.14  Tapinas organized a harsh campaign, “Viso gero, Voldemortai” (“Goodbye, Voldemort”), on social networks and his Laisvės TV channel, attacking LLRA-KŠS as being involved in cronyism, corruption scandals, and “anti-stateness,” repeatedly emphasizing that the party does not represent the interests of Lithuanian Poles and that his hostility did not have ethnic grounds.15 The confrontation escalated when LLRA-KŠS accused Tapinas of ethnic hatred16 and later sought to annul the election results, however unsuccessfully.17

During the COVID-19 crisis, especially in the spring, Lithuanian civil society bloomed with generous and creative actions of solidarity. Starting by recruiting supplies for medics and assisting vulnerable groups, the initiatives expanded to wider circles of individuals and organizations sharing materials and professional advice pro bono and maintaining a positive, communal attitude.18 Local businesses and municipalities often complemented these initiatives, setting the stage for stronger interconnections and cooperation in the future. However, the durability of this cohesion is unclear since the pandemic created organizational and financial challenges for key actors, that is, civil society organizations (CSOs). Still, ongoing developments in state support for CSO sustainability showed favorable signs, and the programs of the new coalition partners19 set positive expectations for the sector.

The crisis of the pandemic also caused financial pressure for media and local governments. Although encouraged by the enhanced cooperation with local populations, municipalities still lacked and advocated for greater independence from the central government. Local authorities were bolstered by the president’s support on the issue and a memorandum signed by all parliamentary parties, which strengthened their position yet with no real changes by year’s end.

Since its election in 2016, LVŽS has continually attempted to narrow media freedom, though with little success in 2020. Open confrontation also involved LVŽS parliamentarians, the prime minister, and the Constitutional Court chairman.20 Following the 2019 “judges’ corruption” scandal, the judiciary itself has suffered low public trust and allegations of insufficient anticorruption preparedness. Nevertheless,  judicial efficiency has continued to improve. The weak spot for media investigations and anticorruption initiatives remained the public’s limited access to state data, and observers remarked on the excessive application of the EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) for data on politicians.

However, in the sphere of corruption prevention, a long-awaited achievement was reached: after a scandalous detention of two important unregistered lobbyists, amendments to the law on lobbying were adopted, although their implementation and efficacy are still uncertain. Other scandals in 2020 revolved around the conflict-of-interest violations of Minister of Transport and Communications Jaroslav Narkevič and Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, the government’s pandemic-related public purchases, and even the State Security Department (VSD) and Special Investigation Service (STT). Yet, given the tendency in previous years for scandals to erupt just before elections, the atmosphere was relatively quiet during the year.

Based on the results of the parliamentary elections, Lithuania’s democratic trajectory is firmly set, its orientation is toward the West, and good relations are expected with the European Union (EU) and the United States.21 However, parliamentary confrontations, as opposed to politicians’ initial conciliatory speeches, can also be expected; the opposition is large, although disorganized, and major opponents (TS-LKD and LVŽS) have a history of mutual hostility since 2016. This dynamic could further complicate the country’s already difficult situation, as managing the COVID-19 crisis continues to raise significant challenges both socially and economically.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 5.506 7.007
  • Despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and contentious parliamentary elections, the state of Lithuania’s national democratic governance did not suffer in 2020. The year started with the president and the governing coalition vying for the power center as President Gitanas Nausėda continued to push Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis to submit for dismissal the compromised Minister of Transport and Communications, Jaroslav Narkevič (LLRA-KŠS), with blowback from the PM and party leaders of LVŽS and LLRA-KŠS.1 Although the general atmosphere of cooperation prevailed,2 signs of tension were visible, especially when the president refused to appoint the PM’s adviser as Minister of Economy and Innovation3 and the parliament rejected the president’s nominations to the Constitutional Court (KT) and Supreme Court (LAT).4 The public viewed these moves as political tit for tat,5 but the retributory tactics left the ministerial position vacant for seven months6 and the courts without permanent chairpersons.
  • After ceding the stage to the government at the beginning of the pandemic, President Nausėda “returned” in the summer with higher visibility and stronger initiatives. By the fall, he had taken leadership in ensuring continued crisis management during the change in the governing majority after the parliamentary elections,7 despite the outgoing government’s disinterest.8 Finding consensus on key priorities,9 Nausėda’s relationship with the new governing coalition began as warm and promising. Nonetheless, signs of symbolic power-setting were also apparent in the president’s evaluation of the ministerial candidates. After prolonging the process, Nausėda did not approve all of the proposed candidates yet managed to avoid a sharp confrontation with the PM designate.10
  • The governing coalition continued to face challenges in securing a majority11 and disciplined votes,12 which sometimes forced the leading LVŽS to overlook controversial actions by its coalition partners.13 At the end of the term, 3 governing parties had only 68 mandates out of the total 141.14 Yet any other governing constellation seemed hardly possible. Hence, PM Skvernelis’s government, although transformed from a “professional government” to a more typical political body, lasted the whole term, making it only the third such government (and third in a row) out of 17 since 1990.15
  • In the context of constant hostility between the governing and opposition parties, especially LVŽS and TS-LKD, certain examples stood out, such as the PM’s refusal to answer questions from the opposition in parliament,16 or the conclusions reached by the parliamentary investigation of the 2009–10 economic crisis that assigned blame to the TS-LKD government.17 The hostile mood naturally spilled over into the election campaign, which was also marked by the blackening of opponents.18 Notably, this relationship appeared to be largely unchanged in the new parliament, with the opposition complaining about the governing coalition’s dictates.19
  • Despite politicians’ preelection behavior, the campaign itself was rather passive20 and extremely short (political parties presented their candidates and programs in September, only one month before the elections21) as well as overshadowed by the pandemic and the political unrest in neighboring Belarus.22 Among the campaign topics raised by the main parties, socioeconomic (especially the welfare state), educational, healthcare, good governance, cultural, and green economy issues were foremost.23 Somewhat unusual, liberal positions on controversial social issues (like same-sex marriage) were also boldly promoted and defended, especially by the new political player LP.24
  • After the parliamentary elections in October, TS-LKD, LRLS, and LP received just enough votes to form a center-right coalition (74 out of 141 mandates). The coalition, despite some disagreements on policy,25 formed rather quickly and was almost ideally gender balanced (in sharp contrast to the previous government); a government with Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė (TS-LKD) was appointed in December.26 Both LVŽS and LSDP separately declared their intentions to form “shadow governments,”27 thus failing to establish a united parliamentary opposition until the end of the year.28
  • The COVID-19 pandemic extinguished the State Security Department (VSD) scandal at the beginning of the year when, after a leak, the institution was accused of interference in domestic policy by unlawfully collecting information on President Nausėda’s supporters during the 2019 election campaign.29 The scandal, as well as the president’s proposal to strengthen the powers of the VSD,30 raised questions and calls in September for tighter oversight of the department.31
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 6.256 7.007
  • The 2020 elections to the Seimas—Lithuania’s 141-seat, unicameral parliament—further demonstrated the free and fair nature of Lithuania’s democratic electoral process.1 Responding to COVID-19, voters in self-isolation were also extended the right to vote (although the runoff went smoother than the first round of voting).2 Police initiated nine investigations, while the independent watchdog White Gloves noted that such tactics as vote buying had become virtually extinct and most violations were related to local electoral commissions or transparency in advertising.3 In one district in the Panerių-Grigiškių constituency, though an exception, 10 percent of votes were found to be mistakenly counted after the Central Electoral Commission (VRK) examined and recounted votes.4 However, after examinations and recounting of both this case and another in the Utena constituency, where the first counting produced an equal number of votes for two candidates,5 the results were confirmed and an LLRA-KŠS request to cancel them was denied.6
  • The parliamentary elections also came with much public interest and anticipation. The preelection debates gradually evolved, both in quantity and quality,7 and despite the pandemic situation, 47.8 percent of voters came out to the polls in the first round on October 11 (slightly lower than in 2016 with 50.61 percent), and 39.24 percent turned out for the runoff on October 25 (even higher than in 2016 with 38.10 percent).8 Established in 2019, the newly formed constituency of “World Lithuanians,” designed exclusively for citizens living abroad, was very active with more than 36,000 voters turning out in the first round.
  • Under Lithuania’s mixed electoral system, 70 members of parliament (MPs) are elected according to a proportional system and 71 are elected in single-member constituencies. Six parties entered the parliament in the multi-member constituency. The two main political rivals—the largest oppositional party, TS-LKD, and the governing LVŽS—collected 24.86 and 17.43 percent of the vote, respectively. DP (Labor Party) came in third with 9.43 percent, reviving itself after failing to pass the electoral threshold in 2016. LRLS collected 6.79 percent of the vote. The two biggest surprises of the elections were the unexpectedly good performance of the new Freedom Party (LP), with its genuinely liberal positions on both social and economic issues (collecting 9.11 percent of the vote and passing the electoral threshold even in smaller towns and the countryside), and the modest results for the oldest party with the largest membership,9 LSDP (9.25 percent).10 The following parties also gained mandates in single-member districts: TS-LKD won 27; LVŽS, 16; LRLS, 7; LSDP, 5; LP, LLRA-KŠS, and LSDDP won 3 each; and DP, PLT (Freedom and Justice), and LŽP (Lithuanian Green Party) won 1 mandate each. Independent candidates gained 4 mandates.11
  • In the multi-member constituency, 19.62 percent of votes went to 11 parties that did not pass the electoral threshold.12 Among them, the governing coalition partners LLRA and LSDDP also did not receive enough support to pass, collecting 4.80 and 3.17 percent of the vote, respectively (however, three candidates from each party won in single-member constituencies).13 It should be noted that these results, and the overall makeup of the new parliament, would have looked very different if the 2019 amendment to lower the electoral threshold to 3 percent had been in effect. However, after public criticism, the change was vetoed by President Nausėda in January, who argued that the amendment was hasty and undiscussed, and that the lower threshold would lead to even greater parliamentary fragmentation, difficulties in forming a ruling coalition, and strain on government stability.14
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 6.006 7.007
  • During the first months of the spring quarantine, Lithuanian civil society flourished by engaging in various civic initiatives, promoting civic unity, and raising community spirits. Citizens donated materials to safeguard medics, organized actions to boost morale, and helped support the most vulnerable groups by providing essential goods, sewing, donating 3D-printed personal protective equipment (PPE), and assisting public institutions where the workload had increased significantly.1 Cooperation between individual citizens, civil society organizations (CSOs), private businesses, local municipalities, and state institutions also increased,2 mostly in providing services. In addition, CSOs continuously sought out more involvement in governmental decision-making processes.3
  • The dramatic spread of the pandemic and quarantine restrictions raised both challenges and opportunities for Lithuanian CSOs. For most, there was a clear need to increase the scope of their activities; for example, the Lithuanian Food Bank reported a growing number of applicants for assistance,4 and organizations providing mental health services logged many additional hours of talk therapy.5 At the same time, as surveys showed, canceled or suspended activities were the most pressing issue for most CSOs, followed by the disruption of financial support, lack of PPE, and the challenges posed by remote work.6 Umbrella nongovernmental organizations and scientists also sought to draw government attention to the urgent need for CSOs themselves in this time of crisis.7 In response, government subsidies were granted in an initiative to increase CSO sustainability and improve their resilience.8
  • In addition to the thousands of marches honoring dates of state importance—such as Freedom Defenders Day (January 13) and State Restoration Day (March 11)9—a variety of demonstrations for social,10 economic,11 and environmental12 causes took place in 2020. Demonstrations supporting the cause of prodemocracy protesters in neighboring Belarus were numerous and widely covered.13 Illiberal rallies and counter-protests were also organized, but they drew scant popular support.14
  • After several years of “frozen ground” on legislation for LGBT+ rights,15 expectations were raised in 2020 as two liberal parties entered the government coalition in November. In their electoral campaigns, both parties prioritized introducing legal status for same-sex partnership or (in the case of LP) marriage. However, opposition to these moves should be expected, especially from LVŽS and the more conservative wing of TS-LKD.16
  • An international survey found that, among EU nations, the LGBT+ community in Lithuania felt the most downhearted or depressed (43 percent), discriminated against at work (32 percent), and most frequently hid their LGBT+ identity (60 percent).17 In 2020, the situation was described as improving but still poor,18 and the country reported a high incidence of hate speech.19 However, in January, after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Lithuanian institutions guilty of discrimination in refusing to investigate hate speech against two gay men on social media,20 institutions were pushed to change their practices and heed recommendations for legal updates.21
  • Hate speech became the focus of two other widely covered cases. In February, Faina Kukliansky, president of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, reported being targeted by hate speech during a public event at the Seimas,22 and in October, Arūnas Valinskas, a prominent entertainment figure and former speaker of the Seimas, commented that Valdemar Tomaševski, leader of LLRA-KŠS, “should be shot dead.”23 In both cases, prosecutors launched investigations, and in the second instance, state institutions and public figures condemned the statement.24
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 5.756 7.007
  • Although media freedom in Lithuania continued to be evaluated as fairly strong in 2020,1 researchers drew attention to some negative trends, such as concentration of media ownership and editorial pressure from political and business interests.2 To illustrate, data analysis from 2015–18 revealed that three out of five municipalities had financed media companies related to politicians, which together received a fifth of all publicity funds.3 The largest portion of this funding went to a media company with two shareholders who are LLRA-KŠS MPs,4 a fact that was widely and harshly publicized before the 2020 elections.5
  • In the pandemic context, citizens appreciated the media’s efforts to inform the public.6 However, authorities, like the health minister, were tempted to limit this information for the sake of “society’s calm.”7 The extraordinary crisis also brought back tensions between national security priorities and the right of citizens to criticize authorities; for instance, in March, the VSD head declared the need to track “all negative statements or attempts to induce doubts on the state and authorities’ decisions.” Facing public criticism, he later clarified his statement to say he was referring to foreign attacks of disinformation.8 Indeed, the amount of disinformation was reportedly on the rise, particularly related to COVID-19 and, later, the Belarusian elections and political unrest as well as the Lithuanian elections.9 The Lithuanian Armed Forces monitored the information sphere and drew the public’s attention to the dominant disinformation campaigns, while CSOs and various media fact-checking initiatives successfully debunked a number of false narratives.10 Meanwhile, experts stressed the need to increase society’s critical-thinking skills.11
  • The COVID-19 crisis, especially at the beginning of the quarantine, also caused a decline in media revenue with less advertising and the closing of newsstands.12 Top officials declared a need to support media,13 yet the measures taken were late, insufficient, and, in some cases, controversial, such as the government’s simplified communications procurements (deemed as “support for media” by the prime minister), which were widely criticized for lack of transparency.14
  • In January, a new model of state media support was discussed both in the parliament and publicly. The opposition, media experts, journalists’ unions, and even the STT criticized the idea of creating new, state-dependent funding as posing a risk of censorship, destroying the principle of self-regulation, and strengthening commercial interests. Ultimately, the proposal did not advance beyond parliamentary committee discussions.15
  • Tensions between LVŽS and the media, especially the public broadcaster Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT), continued in 2020. In July, the Supreme Administrative Court (LVAT) ruled that the government had violated LRT journalists’ rights to receive, collect, and disseminate information when, in 2018, it refused to provide (and even deleted) ministers’ meeting records.16 After all the related controversy, a new LRT law was finally approved in May, though in a much-less reformed version,17 which satisfied LRT since substantial changes in public broadcaster governance were abandoned and the law only strengthened the LRT council’s powers and created the position of an ethics ombudsman.18 LVŽS nevertheless appealed to the KT regarding financing of LRT,19 and, reflecting the growing conflict between LRT and commercial media, some commercial outlets similarly appealed to the European Commission. LRT assessed these moves as political pressure.20 In addition, in January, PM Skvernelis accused LRT of slander,21 and in June, LVŽS accused LRT of a double standard in coverage.22 Analysts also observed a new government trend of attempting to silence critical media, not directly but by creating inconveniences through subordinate institutions. For example, in August, the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority decided that a media outlet had violated the Law on Advertising when it used the PM’s name without consent in a publication on the results of a journalist’s investigation.23
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 5.756 7.007
  • Lithuanian self-government remains highly centralized, both financially and in decision-making. The borrowing rules for municipalities are among the strictest in the EU, and the ability of municipalities to collect local taxes and dispose of state land is limited. Additionally, local governments cannot keep and use saved budget funds, and state grants, although insufficient, dominate the revenue structure.1 In 2020, the trend toward greater financial dependence was even more pronounced as municipal funding for state delegated functions increased while income for independent functions decreased.2
  • Responding to the situation, President Nausėda initiated a memorandum on “closer partnership between the central and local governments in strengthening the independence and responsibility of Lithuanian self-government.” This involved an agreement to review the distribution of functions, expand municipalities’ influence in regional politics, and greater independence in financing. The document was signed in September by 12 political parties, including all from the outgoing and incoming parliaments.3
  • However, already in October, disagreements arose over the establishment of mandatory elderships (seniūnijos), the lowest level of self-government. This project was proposed as an attempt to bring self-government closer to the people, but it was criticized by the opposition and the association of municipalities as limiting their autonomy to decide on their structure while also failing to deal with the essential problems of self-government.4 President Nausėda vetoed the bill;5 notably, his predecessor, former president Dalia Grybauskaitė, also vetoed the same proposal on the same grounds in 2019.6
  • COVID-19 had negative financial impacts on local self-government since the main source of municipal revenues—income tax—decreased significantly, causing budget shortfalls by the end of the year.7 At the same time, these challenges spurred local self-governments to become more cooperative (see “Civil Society”) and more responsive to their communities,8 which produced greater public trust in return.9
  • Although the central government demonstrated concern and its intention to cover the local expenses of managing the emergency situation,10 a general atmosphere of distrust and disagreement over responsibilities prevailed during the year.11 This was especially visible in the constant clashes between the Cabinet of Ministers and the Vilnius municipality over crisis management.12 In the summer, this disagreement over competences even spilled over to the Seimas, where MPs urgently adopted a law on the memorial status of Lukiškės Square and its management, and even discussed taking over the square in reaction to the city government’s conversion of one of the capital’s main public spaces into a temporary, beach-like environment during the summer season.13 As Lukiškės Square is strongly tied to the country’s historical memory and national resistance struggles, the “beach” also provoked a harsh public confrontation between traditional and liberal values, which became the most-debated issue at the national level for several weeks.
  • Social and economic inequalities between municipalities in Lithuania are extreme.14 The need for regional development reform is widely recognized; however, the specific approach to take is a source of continual disagreement, preventing the adoption of any substantial changes. In June, MPs discussed a controversial proposal to restructure the current 10 districts into 5 urban-partnership-based regions. One side of the debate perceived the proposal as encouraging cooperation and the coordination of investments and infrastructure in order to diminish regional inequalities; the other side, however, feared that the proposed change would increase citizens’ distance from public services, allow domination by the largest municipalities, and, indeed, further sharpen differences between regions.15
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 6.006 7.007
  • In 2020, Lithuania’s judiciary saw continuing positive developments in court efficiency.1 The country became one of the EU’s quickest in resolving cases, as well as a leader in using IT technologies for court e-services, providing information to the general public, and promoting alternative methods for dispute resolution.2 Yet, although the rule of law is respected and embedded in Lithuanian statutes,3 its implementation occasionally meets obstacles.
  • The most notable during the year was the sharp confrontation between the governing LVŽS and the Constitutional Court (KT). In June, the KT ruled that the LVŽS-initiated formation of a parliamentary investigative commission4 was unconstitutional.5 Immediately after, the commission chair, Agnė Širinskienė (LVŽS), accused TS-LKD and the KT chair, Dainius Žalimas, of a close relationship and improperly discussing KT cases6 and appealed to the Venice Commission.7 LVŽS also appealed to President Nausėda and publicly questioned the legitimacy of Žalimas’s position since the KT chairman’s term had ended in March.8 Žalimas himself assessed these actions as direct political pressure on the KT,9 and the president remarked that, by raising doubts, LVŽS was “irresponsibly pushing the country into a constitutional crisis.”10
  • On the other side, friction between LVŽS and President Nausėda caused the KT and the Supreme Court (LAT) to work without permanent chairpersons for most of 2020.11 In April, a proposed KT appointment failed,12 and aspects of the appointment process were ruled unconstitutional.13 The issue of the courts’ composition was frequently raised in public, although the president's office claimed it had no impact on the functioning of the judiciary.14 Following legislative amendments to improve transparency, in September, the selection of an LAT chair was announced, but the president’s handling of the appointment process was criticized by members of the legal community, who pointed to the general trend of politicians taking a perfunctory approach to the judiciary.15
  • The 2019 “judges’ corruption” scandal16 continued to influence the justice system in 2020. Public trust in the courts, although improved slightly since the sharp fall in 2019, still remained low with 25 percent of the population trusting and 27 percent distrusting in September.17 In March, the KT’s explanation of the limits to judge immunity opened the way for the parliament’s amendment on banning perks related to judges’ homes and workplaces. The decision was important for ongoing corruption cases18 and welcomed as establishing equality before the law; however, some MPs voiced concern about pressure on judges.19
  • The legal community also raised other case-related questions. In May, after the parliamentary Ombudsman stated the practice contradicts human rights, the Ministry of Justice renounced the use of handcuffs in unnecessary cases when convoying detainees.20 Following public indignation (caused by 12 judges who were accused in the "judges' corruption" case had been removed, but 4 others connected to the matter remained in the justice system), judges openly questioned the “special witness” status as an oft-used instrument for blackmail.21 Reacting to resonant cases, lawyers also criticized the actions of pretrial investigative officers, claiming they violated the presumption of innocence, demeaned judges and their independence, and fueled society’s distrust in the judiciary.22
  • In September, for the first time in the history of Lithuanian courts, the LVAT applied to the ECtHR for an advisory opinion in the case of Neringa Venckienė.23 The VRK failed to register her as a candidate in the 2020 parliamentary elections based on her formal removal by impeachment from the Seimas in 2014.24 This raised an old, pending issue related to a 2011 ECtHR decision where the court had ruled that Lithuania disproportionately prevented candidacy for life after impeachment.25 However, the Lithuanian constitution has yet to be changed in order to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on this matter.
  • The number of convicts and detainees continued to decline in the country as a result of earlier reforms.26 Yet moves to optimize correctional infrastructure were controversial: CSOs criticized the government’s decision to merge the Kaunas interrogation isolator with one designated for juveniles as irresponsible and in contradiction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, among other concerns.27
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 4.505 7.007
  • Public perceptions of the prevalence of corruption in Lithuania register as among the highest in the EU;1 however, this general belief notwithstanding, evaluations of corruption at institutions as well as individuals’ direct experiences of corruption have been on the decline.2 After the 2019 “judges’ corruption” scandal, courts were viewed as the second-most corrupt institution in the country (after healthcare),3 and the STT criticized the court system for its lack of cooperation and effective preventive action.4
  • In June, the long-awaited and much-discussed amendments to the law on lobbying were quickly approved after the arrests of the presidents of two of Lithuania’s major business and bank associations on suspicions of large-scale bribery, influence peddling, and document forgery.5 These arrests pointed to the blurred line between legal and illegal lobbying under the old law.6 The amendments broadened the definition of a lobbyist and established cross-declaration of lobbying activities. However, they were criticized for their rushed passage and for still leaving some room for a “gray area” in lobbying.7 Also noteworthy was the adoption of the Law on Civil Property Confiscation, presented as an attempt to counter corruption.8
  • While public data can be important tools in the fight against corruption by enabling a culture of transparency and accountability,9 Lithuanian institutions have made only slow, gradual progress in the complicated process of providing open data. In 2020, the OECD ranked Lithuania last and the European Commission ranked it among the less-mature countries in terms of data openness.10 According to experts, more active political leadership on this issue is needed since individual institutions lack motivation and the open data provided so far have been insignificant or unfriendly to analysis.11 Moreover, decisions from previous years to restrict access to the Register Center’s data and to limit politicians’ declarations on conflicts of interest raised public concerns in 2020, and they revealed the growing tendency of politicians to excessively apply the EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).12 However, other actions, like the bill to conceal candidate data for up to 10 years after an election, were stopped.13
  • In January, a new procedure for officials to declare their public and private interests came into force, although it continued to cause controversy: critics noted the data reduction, and hence lack of transparency, while proponents discovered less “information noise” and more personal responsibility.14
  • In 2020, after four years of proceedings, the court finally sentenced former PTT (Order and Justice Party) leader Rolandas Paksas and Lietuvos rytas editor Gedvydas Vainauskas for influence peddling.15 The courts were still hearing such cases related to MG Baltic group16 and PTT at the end of the year.17
  • In addition to the lobbying case mentioned above, the year was marked by several potential corruption scandals related to the COVID-19 crisis. Most notably, PM Skvernelis’s team was investigated for questionable government purchases of coronavirus rapid tests.18 Skvernelis reacted hotly, dismissing the investigation as preelection politicization.19 Questions about the transparent use of emergency funds were also raised in municipalities.20 Before the elections, the scandal, not yet in full swing, also touched TS-LKD since the company owned by the party chair’s wife was publicly suspected of a questionable deal.21 Nevertheless, by year’s end, public attention was trained on other corruption-related stories, including the paving of a road near the prime minister’s house as well as continued interest in the various scandals surrounding the controversial minister Jaroslav Narkevič.22

Author: Ieva Petronytė-Urbonavičienė, PhD, is an Assistant Professor and Researcher at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University, and Director of Civil Society Institute, Lithuania.

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