Lithuania | Freedom House

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As Lithuania’s economy continued to worsen in 2009, concerns about the government’s economic austerity measures led to antigovernment demonstrations in January in which nearly 40 people were injured and 150 arrested. In May, independent candidate Dalia Grybauskaite was elected the country’s first female president.

Lithuania became independent at the end of World War I, but it 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 Soviet Union in 1991, and it joined NATO and the European Union in April and May 2004, respectively.
Also in April 2004, President Rolandas Paksas was impeached on charges of corruption and of violating his oath of office and the constitution. Arturas Paulauskas, the speaker of Parliament, took over as acting president until elections were held in June. Valdas Adamkus defeated Kazimiera Prunskiene, the leader of the Union of Farmers and New Democracy(VNDS), in a tight runoff contest and was sworn in as president in July.
A right-wing coalition of the Homeland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives (HU) and the Liberal and Center Union (LCS) captured 43 seats in the October 2004 parliamentary elections. After negotiations between left- and right-wing parties broke down, a ruling center-left coalition emerged in November, consisting of the Labor Party, VNDS, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP), and New Union (Social Liberals).
Following the withdrawal of the Labor Party and New Union (Social Liberals) from the government in 2006, a new ruling coalition was organized in July, consisting of the LSDP, LCS, National Farmers’ Union (formerly the VNDS), and the new Civic Democracy Party, which had formed following a split within the Labor Party. The four parties together held fewer than 60 seats in Parliament, marking the first time since independence that the country had a minority government. Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas of the LSDP was chosen as the new prime minister.
The New Union (Social Liberals) rejoined the ruling coalition in February 2008; the expanded coalition held a slim 72-seat majority in the 141-seat legislature. In the run-up to the October 12 parliamentary elections, the creation of new parties further fragmented the country’s political scene. The Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), an alliance of right-wing parties, was formed in May, as was the National Resurrection Party (TPP), which was created by a group of celebrities but did not espouse any particular ideology. Following a runoff vote on October 26, the TS-LKD emerged with 45 seats, followed by the LSDP, whose popularity had declined with the weakening economy, with 25 seats. The TPP captured 16 seats; Order and Justice (TT) party, 15 seats; Liberal Union (LRLS), 11 seats; the Labor Party, 10 seats; and the LCS, 8 seats. Smaller parties and independent candidates won the remaining 11 seats. A four-party, center-right majority coalition was formed in December consisting of the TS-LKD, TPP, LRLS, and LCS. Former prime minister Andrius Kubilius (1999-2000) was selected as the new premier.
As the country’s economy continued to worsen—with rising unemployment and marked slowdowns in GDP growth—the ruling coalition came under growing public pressure over its economic austerity measures. On January 16, some 7,000 people gathered in Vilnius to protest tax increases and cuts in social spending. The peaceful demonstration turned violent when a small group began throwing bottles and stones and tried to storm the Parliament building; nearly 40 people were injured and some 150 arrested in the riots that lasted a few hours.

Independent candidate Dalia Grybauskaite, who was supported by the TS-LKD, won the May presidential election with almost 70 percent of the vote, becoming the first woman ever to hold that office in Lithuania. She defeated her closest rival Algirdas Butkevicius of the LSDP, who captured less than 12 percent of the vote. European Parliament elections the following month saw TS-LKD candidates secure the largest number of seats, in contrast to anti-incumbent results in other European countries. Meanwhile, a split in the TPP in mid-2009 resulted in some members of the party withdrawing from the ruling coalition, which was left with 71 members at year’s end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Lithuania is an electoral democracy. The 1992 constitution established a unicameral, 141-seat Parliament (Seimas), with 71 members elected in single-mandate constituencies and 70 chosen by proportional representation, all for four-year terms. The prime minister is selected by Parliament, and the president is directly elected for a five-year term. While the 2008 parliamentary elections were largely free and fair, there were reports of irregularities, including alleged bribery and forged ballots. Three members of ethnic minorities hold seats in Parliament. Lithuania’s many political parties operate freely, but the Communist Party is banned.
Corruption remains a problem in Lithuania, with a number of government officials under investigation, facing trial, or convicted of corrupt practices in 2009. Former economy minister and Labor Party leader Viktor Uspaskich was arrested in September 2007 as he returned to Lithuania from his native Russia, where he had fled the previous year to escape charges of tax and electoral fraud. He was granted immunity from prosecution after being elected to Parliament in October 2008. Parliament waived his immunity in December, but it was restored in June 2009 after he was elected to the European Parliament. Vilnius city council member and former mayor Arturas Zuokas was convicted in March 2008 of a 2003 bribery attempt, but a court in Vilnius vacated his conviction in November 2009. According to a 2009 report by Transparency International (TI) Lithuania, more than half of the people surveyed believed that corruption in the country had increased during the last five years. Lithuania was ranked 52 out of 180 countries surveyed in TI’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government generally respects freedom of speech and the press. Privately owned newspapers, as well as independent broadcast media outlets, express a wide variety of views. However, according to a 2009 TI Lithuania study, the Lithuanian press suffers from a lack of written codes of conduct or adequate standards for transparency of ownership. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law and largely upheld in practice. However, so-called traditional religious communities enjoy certain government benefits, including annual government subsidies, not granted to other groups. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which received official government recognition in 2008, and the Evangelical Baptists are the only state-recognized nontraditional religious groups; they are entitled to some state privileges, including the right to perform marriages. Academic freedom is respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are generally observed. There are no serious obstacles to the registration of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and human rights groups operate without restrictions. Workers have the right to form and join trade unions, to strike, and to engage in collective bargaining, though there have been reports of employees being punished for attempting to organize. About 10 percent of the country’s workforce is unionized.
The constitution guarantees judicial independence, which is respected in practice. Defendants generally enjoy due process rights, including the presumption of innocence and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, though lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem. A July 2009 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported allegations of police officers mistreating detainees, particularly juveniles, and judges and prosecutors failing to respond adequately to claims of such mistreatment. Prisons continue to suffer from overcrowding and inadequate access to health care.
The rights of ethnic minorities, who constitute approximately 15 percent of the population, are legally protected. However, according to a February 2009 report by Lithuania’s Department of Ethnic Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad, 23 percent of Russians, 19 percent of Poles, and 29 percent of members of other ethnic groups reported job discrimination, with Roma facing the greatest ethnic intolerance. Amendments adopted in 2008 to the Law on Equal Rights added prohibitions against discrimination based on age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity; the amendments do not apply to religious schools. However, in July 2009, parliament overrode a presidential veto and passed amendments to the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, limiting or banning a wide range of public information considered harmful to young people, including materials promoting homosexual, bisexual, and polygamous relations among minors. Following criticisms by domestic and foreign human rights activists, parliament in December replaced the prohibition with reportedly less controversial language. The granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol is legally protected.
Although men and women enjoy the same legal rights, women earn lower average wages than men for the same work and remain underrepresented in management positions. In 2009, Irena Degutiene became the first woman chosen to be speaker of parliament and Dalia Grybauskaite was elected the first female president of Lithuania. About 20 percent of the members of parliament are women. Domestic violence remains a serious problem. Lithuania is a source, transit point, and destination for the trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of prostitution.