Political power for an “ethnic ghetto”: the case of Lithuania

Political power for an “ethnic ghetto”: the case of Lithuania

The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA) is a very specific power in the political landscape of Lithuania. Where are the origins of this party and what segments of the Lithuania’s society does it actually represent? These aspects are being discussed by our expert Dr. Viktor Denisenko.

The EAPL-CFA has quite a long history. The roots of the party date back to the Association of Poles in Lithuania. Initially it was a public organization of the Polish minority which was transformed into a political party in 1994. This was made in compliance with the legislative changes that allowed participation in elections to political parties only. Until May 2016, the official name of the party was the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. Christian Family Alliance, the second part of the party’s name, was added to emphasize its political orientation towards so-called “traditional values”.

The popularity of party was gradually increasing. For the first time the EAPL participated in the parliamentary election in 1996. It got 2.98 percent of the votes and failed to get any seats through the proportional representation in a nationwide constituency, as it did not meet a five percent threshold required by the Lithuanian legislation. However, only a half of Lithuanian MPs are elected by proportional representation, whilst another half compete in single-seat constituencies. Therefore, this system provides an additional opportunities for the representatives of political parties with strong electoral base in individual regions. However, the 1996 election was not too successful for the EAPL, as only one of its candidates (Gabriel Jan Mincevič) was elected to the Seimas.

At the 2000 election EAPL got 1.95 percent, in 2004 – 3.79 percent, and in 2008 – 4.79 percent of votes. Thus, each time it failed to meet the electoral threshold. Only in 2012 the party got more than five percent nationwide (5.83 per cent). The latest 2016 parliamentary election was also quite successful for the EAPL. It got 5.48 per cent of the votes in a nationwide constituency. Today in the 141-member Seimas, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance Political Group consists of eight MPs.

The EAPL-CFA is much more successful at the municipal level. In fact, this party rules in the districts of Vilnius and Šalčininkai. Its success is explained by the ethnic composition of these districts. In the Vilnius district the share of ethnic Poles is 52 percent, whilst in Šalčininkai this number is as high as 78 percent.[1] Together with the Russian Alliance, the EAPL-CFA is also represented in the city council of Vilnius. One should emphasize that the collaboration between the EAPL-CFA and the Russian Alliance (another “ethnic” party with the roots and quite strong position in the city of Klaipeda) is rather a new phenomenon. In 2012, the Russian Alliance representatives for the first time were invited to participate in the elections together with the EAPL as a part of the EAPL electoral list. This tactics of the EAPL-CFA was aimed to expand its electoral base and appeal to the votes of ethnic Russians. During the 2016 election, both the parties continued their cooperation in this format.

Since 1999, the EAPL is chaired by Valdemar Tomaševski. In fact, the EAPL-CFA claims its monopoly in the domain of ethnic minority protection in Lithuania. It is the key issue of their political message communicated to a wider public. Thus, according to the EAPL website “During the whole period of its existence the EAPL took part in many battles in defense of the interests of the Polish minority in Lithuania”[2]. The EAPL claims numerous successes and recalls its contribution to the organization of protests aimed at the protection of schools with Polish language of instruction. The EAPL website also mentions joint campaigns run together with the Association of Poles in Lithuania, the Association of Polish Schools, and the Polish Educational Society to collect signatures “for the projects of laws on education and national minorities favourable for Polish community”.[3]

On the other hand, the EAPL-CFA can be perceived as the party that looks not (only) at Warsaw, but also at Moscow. Although Lithuania commemorates the end of the Second World War on May 8, on May 9, 2014 the EAPL chairman Valdemar Tomaševski participated in the informal Victory Day celebration in Vilnius with the ribbon of Saint George pinned to the lapel of his jacket. Both Tomaševski and the EAPL officially try to follow quite cautious and neutral position towards Russia. It is quite a natural behavior for the EAPL-CFA. A significant part of its supporters lives in a sort of self-made ethnic ghetto combined with a Kremlin-made information bubble, as they watch mainly Russian TV through the available cable networks.

These preferences of the EAPL-CFA electorate could be illustrated by the following example. In January 2018, a public opinion poll was conducted in Lithuania. The respondents were asked whether Lithuania should reinforce closer the relations with Russia even if it would damage Lithuania’s security. 34.4 percent of the interviewed answered to this question positively. However, it is worth focusing on this situation from a somewhat different angle. The poll showed that the EAPL-CFA supporters demonstrated the highest support of relaunching of the relations with Russia “at all cost”, i.e. 72.2 percent of the representatives of this group answered “yes” to the aforementioned question.[4]

The conclusion here is very simple. On the one hand, an ethnic-oriented party is kind of atavism, as ethnic identity is not equal to the political ideology. However, on the other hand, the EAPL-CFA has found its own niche in Lithuania. This situation largely results from the fact that other nation-wide Lithuanian political parties for a long time have ignored the problems and demands of Lithuania’s ethnic minorities and thought that these issues are not particularly relevant for the country’s political agenda.


[1] All four language versions (English, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian) of the EAPL-CFA website suggest that the share of ethnic Poles in the districts of Vilnius and Šalčininkai is 63 and 80 percent respectively which complies with the data of 2001 national census.
[2] History, EAPL-CFA website, http://www.awpl.lt/?page_id=39&lang=en.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Saldžiūnas, Vaidas. Dėl santykių su Rusija lietuvių paklausė dar kartą: rezultatus keičia viena sąlyga, DELFI 08/02/2018, https://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/medijos-karas-propaganda/del-santykiu-su-rusija-lietuviu-paklause-dar-karta-rezultatus-keicia-viena-salyga.d?id=77114831.

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