Lithuania | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Lithuania

Lithuania

Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2
Ratings Change: 


Lithuania's political rights rating declined from 1 to 2 due to circumstances surrounding the impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas, including the findings of parliament that he was under the influence of foreign security service and organized crime elements while president, as well as a series of official raids on the offices of parties supporting Paksas' replacement, Valdas Adamkus.

Overview: 


Lithuania became a member of the European Union (EU) on May 1, 2004, and joined NATO the month before. However, these accomplishments were marred by a series of high-profile political corruption scandals, including the impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas. In June, Lithuanians voted in the country's first election to the European Parliament and elected former president Valdas Adamkus to replace Paksas. Parliamentary elections in October resulted in a left-wing ruling coalition including the newly formed Labor Party and its leader, Russian-born Viktor Uspaskich. Lithuania's relations with Russia deteriorated in 2004.

Lithuania merged with Poland in the sixteenth century and was subsequently absorbed by Russia in the eighteenth century. After gaining its independence at the end of World War I, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 under a secret protocol of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. The country regained its independence with the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Parliamentary elections held in October 2000 resulted in a resounding defeat for the ruling Homeland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives (TS), apparently because of the public's dissatisfaction over the government's economic austerity policies. While the Social Democratic Coalition secured the most votes, the informal New Policy electoral bloc, composed of an ideologically diverse cohort of right- and left-wing parties, bypassed the Social Democratic Coalition to form a bare-majority centrist government. Rolandas Paksas was chosen to be prime minister for the second time since 1998.

After only eight months in power, this unstable ruling coalition collapsed following disagreements over the budget and privatization plans for the country's energy sector. Paksas was replaced in July by Algirdas Brazauskas, the chairman of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP). The more ideologically compatible LSDP and New Union (Social Liberals) subsequently formed a new ruling coalition government.

In presidential elections held on December 22, 2002, Adamkus, the incumbent, received 35 percent of the vote, not enough for a first-round victory, which requires a candidate to receive more than 50 percent. Adamkus faced Paksas, the second-place winner with 20 percent of the vote, in a January 5, 2003, runoff election. Surprisingly, Paksas defeated Adamkus, who had successfully secured Lithuania invitations to both the EU and NATO. In May 2003, Lithuanians voted overwhelmingly to join the EU in a national referendum. Lithuania became a member of NATO in April 2004 and the EU the following month.

Paksas was impeached by parliament in April on three charges of violating the Lithuanian constitution, becoming the first European head of state to be successfully impeached. Paksas's troubles began in October 2003 with the leaking of a security services report alleging that the main financial backer in his presidential campaign, a Russian named Jurijus Borisovas, sold illegal arms to Sudan and that Borisovas, along with some of Paksas's close advisors, was linked with organized crime and foreign intelligence services. Subsequently, Paksas was charged with illegally granting Borisovas Lithuanian citizenship.

The parliamentary committee investigating Paksas confirmed the allegations in December and ruled Paksas vulnerable to criminal interests and a threat to state security; in February 2004, the committee found Paksas guilty of six charges of violating the constitution. The following month, the Constitutional Court deemed Paksas guilty of three of these charges (unlawfully granting citizenship, leaking classified information, and meddling in private business affairs), clearing the way for the decisive parliamentary impeachment vote. Arturas Paulauskas, the parliamentary chairman, took over as acting president following the impeachment. While Paskas was barred from running in another presidential election in May, a Lithuanian court later cleared him of the charge of leaking state secrets to Borisovas. In October, Paksas filed suit against his country at the European Court of Human Rights, alleging his rights to a fair trial and defense during the impeachment proceedings were violated.

In June, 48 percent of voters turned out for Lithuania's first elections to the European Parliament. The new populist Labor Party, led by Russian-born millionaire Viktor Upaskich, topped all parties by garnering 5 of Lithuania's 13 seats with 30.4 percent of the vote. The right-leaning Liberal and Center Union and TS won 2 seats each, as did the left-leaning LSDP. The Liberal Democrats and the Union of Farmers and New Democracy (VNDPS) each earned a seat in the European Parliament. Lithuania became the first country to ratify the new EU constitution when the parliament approved the text in October.

Elections to select a new president were held simultaneously with the European Parliament vote. Adamkus defeated Kazimira Prunskiene, the leader of the Union of Farmers' and New Democracy parties, in a tight run-off contest later that month by winning 52.1 percent of the vote and was sworn in as president in July.

Parliamentary elections were conducted in October over two rounds, with the second round limited to single-mandate constituencies where no candidate won 50 percent of the vote in the first round. The second-round election was inaugurated in 2004 and pushed through parliament by the governing SDP and New Union (Social Liberals) parties, a development the Economic Intelligence Unit attributed to the rise of the Labor Party in opinion polls. After both rounds, a right-wing coalition of the TS and the Liberal and Center Union won 43 seats (25 for TS and 18 for the Liberal and Center Union), Labor won 39 seats, the ruling leftist coalition of LSDP and New Union (Social Liberals) won 31 seats (20 seats and 11 seats, respectively), the VNDPS won 10 seats, and the Election Action of Lithuania's Poles won 2 seats. After negotiations between left- and right-wing parties broke down, a ruling center-left coalition emerged in November, with the Labor Party joining the LSDP and New Union (Social Liberals).

Relations with Russia became tenser in 2004. In February, Lithuania expelled three Russian diplomats for spying and claimed they posed a threat not only to Lithuania but also to the EU and NATO. Russia warned Lithuania it viewed the expulsions as an "unfriendly act" and retaliated a month later by expelling three Lithuania diplomats. In addition, the Lithuanian parliament adopted a resolution backing an Estonian call for compensation from Russia for almost 50 years of Soviet occupation. The two countries also clashed over the Russian proposal to establish a "free transit corridor" between Russia and Kaliningrad via Lithuanian soil.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Lithuanians can change their government democratically. The 1992 constitution established a 141-member parliament (Seimas), in which 71 seats are selected in single-mandate constituencies and 70 seats are chosen by proportional representation, all for four-year terms. The president is directly elected for a five-year term. All permanent residents are allowed to run for office and vote in local government elections, while only citizens can participate in national elections. In 2004, the national legislative election, presidential election, and election to the European Parliament were all conducted freely and fairly.

Corruption scandals continued to haunt Lithuanian politics in 2004, the most prominent being the April impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas for violating the constitution. In June, anticorruption authorities from the Special Investigation Service (STT) raided the office of four main political parties [Liberal and Center Union, New Union (Social Liberals), TS and LSDP] a few days before the presidential runoff election. The raids aroused the suspicion of political motivation, as all four parties supported Paksas's impeachment and three of the four were supporting Adamkus in the presidential election. (In September, STT chief Valentinas Junokas resigned amidst allegations that the raids and subsequent actions were attempts to influence the country's political process.)

Also, in July, prosecutors accused three members of parliament of taking bribes from the Rubicon energy company. While the parliament deemed the evidence insufficient to strip the accused of their immunity from prosecution, Deputy Speaker Vytenis Andriukatis (LSDP), Vytautas Kvietkauskas [New Union (Social Liberals)], and Arvydas Vidziunas (TS) had all resigned their mandates by the end of the month and agreed to cooperate with investigators. In October, another MP, Virginijus Martisauskas, resigned amidst allegations of corruption. Lithuania was ranked 44 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The government generally respects freedom of speech and of the press. There is a wide variety of privately owned newspapers, and several independent, as well as state-run, television and radio stations broadcast throughout the country. In February, a LNK television reporter was stripped of his credentials by the President's Office after reporting critically on events at the office, a move decried by the opposition party LCS and the LNK news service. In September, Lithuania shut down the pro-Chechen rebel Web site Kavkaz-Center, hosted on a Lithuanian server, a decision which had been stalled by a September 2003 Vilnius court ruling. The closure of the site was spurred by repeated complaints from Moscow, an influence that elicited sharp criticism from the opposition party TS.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law and largely enjoyed in practice in this predominantly Roman Catholic country. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedom of assembly and association is generally respected. Workers have the right to form and join trade unions, to strike, and to engage in collective bargaining. According to the U.S. State Department's 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, approximately 10 percent of the workforce is unionized.

The judiciary is largely independent of the executive branch, and the recently revised Law of Courts has fortified its autonomy. However, the lack of qualified judges and lawyers often undermines the right to a fair trial. In November, an ad hoc commission charged with investigating the June SST raids (and some related cases of wiretapping) concluded that authorities had acted unlawfully by failing to secure the appropriate court orders; the Seimas accepted these conclusions. There have been credible reports of police abuse of suspects and detainees. Prison overcrowding and prolonged pretrial detention remain serious problems. New legislation, including a Criminal Procedures Code, has led to an improvement in prison conditions, and in May the government approved a program for the Renovation and Humanization of Prisons aimed at bringing Lithuanian prisons in line with EU standards.

The rights of the country's ethnic minorities are protected in practice. In 1992, Lithuania extended citizenship to all those born within its borders, and more than 90 percent of nonethnic Lithuanians, mostly Russians and Poles, became citizens. In October 2003, the Seimas ratified Protocol 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, abolishing capital punishment in all cases. Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in Lithuania.

Women are underrepresented in upper-level management positions and earn lower average wages than men for the same work. However, party lists for the 2004 parliamentary elections included 2.5 times more female candidates than lists for the 2000 polls did. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and girls for purposes of prostitution, is a problem, and the government has taken steps to address it.