Consistency is not politicians’ strong point. The changing circumstances do have their impact, but the need and desire to please fickle electors play an equally large role, Kestutis Girnius wrote in Alfa.lt on 23 July.
Some U.S. politicians are said to not know their beliefs until they find out the latest survey results. In this respect, Lithuanian politicians have caught up with their Western colleagues.
In her annual speech, President Dalia Grybauskaitė emphasised the significance of continuity and expressed her regrets at the lack of it. She encouraged politicians to not stray from the course, sacrifice their fundamental principles for the sake of political battles, or impede the implementation of important tasks just because they were initiated under a different political flag. Not all the political parties heard the words of the president.
When giving a speech at the Seimas, Social Democrat Birutė Vėsaitė stated: “Today, we are discussing a matter that is vital to the Lithuanian residents and in terms of the competitiveness of Lithuania. I would think it is the main decision during our term of office… The respected representatives of the opposition insisted that we should not rush.
I want to say that not rushing is a crime, and I will explain why.” The Seimas member added that the articles appearing in the press and the doubts that are being voiced “are a way of certain capital groups to oppose this project. There are wishes of the gas-related people; there are intents for privatisation by other capital groups, etc. The actual decision to build a nuclear power plant makes their hopes void.”
This is how, and with great pathos, Vėsaitė welcomed, on 1 February 2008, the decision made by the then Seimas to form LEO LT. Just like the Lithuanian Communist Party used to state that “Lithuania without sovereignty is Lithuania without a future,” Vėsaitė argued that Lithuania without a nuclear power plant is Lithuania without a future.
At the special session held on 16 July, the Seimas member spoke differently. Now, building a power plant leads not to salvation, but to ruination. The future generations will be burdened with huge debts; people are concerned about the price of central heating, not electricity. “It seems to me that we should be mobilising Lithuanian society for the thermal insulation of tenement houses and transition to green energy rather than raving about the power plant that will pay off only after 20 years; and maybe it will not, as building such a big reactor is very dangerous while integrating into the Western European networks,” she said. According to Vėsaitė’s own logic, she somewhat gave in to the lures of the gas-related people or other capital groups.
Vėsaitė is not a white crow among the Social Democrats. It has already been a while that they have given their support for the construction of a nuclear power plant. The 2008 endorsement of having a nuclear plant was not short-term blindness caused by the infatuation with a three-headed dragon imposed by LEO LT. In 2010, the Social Democrats together with members of the Labour Party and Order and Justice approved the Wide Coalition Programme that was intended as a counterbalance and an alternative to the programme of the sitting government. It clearly says that “the construction of a new nuclear power plant should begin as soon as possible.”
The parties can change their opinion, but they need to explain why they are doing it. After the Fukushima accident, the Christian Democrats in Germany, who had previously supported nuclear energy, decided to close down all the nuclear plants in the country because they are, purportedly, too hazardous. This decision was met with criticism; the Christian Democrats were reproached for overdoing it in order to adapt to the views of the electors.
The Social Democrats are trying to explain as to why they decided in favour of organising a referendum on building a nuclear plant. Algirdas Butkevičius, the chairman of the party, complained about the lack of information. Professedly, society does not have ‘complete information’, but neither do the Social Democrats. Thus, the attempts will be made to find out whether other Baltic countries are taking part in the project, how the programme will be sponsored, how much paving the road will cost, etc. He assured that “we will certainly not engage in populism.”
Česlovas Juršėnas, a heavyweight of the party, spoke similarly. The Social Democrats “do not oppose nuclear power as such, but rather this particular project, because the government does not bother elucidating many things.” Juršėnas said that “we still support the idea of having a nuclear power plant, but the essential thing is what kind of a nuclear plant it will be.” Like Butkevičius, he complained about the lack of information, price of the project, and growing debts of the state. Juršėnas claimed that, at the referendum, he would vote against the construction of a nuclear power plant; this will probably be the position of the entire party. Nonetheless, he said that, at first, the Lithuanian Social Democrat Party will only invite people to come to the referendum and have their say on this matter.
However, what is the matter that they will be encouraged to have a say on? Butkevičius explicates that the Social Democrats are mostly discontent with the lack of information and inability or unwillingness of the government to speak openly about all the issues related to the construction of a nuclear power plant. Juršėnas says that the current project is faulty and it has to be abandoned.
If the main obstacle is the lack of knowledge, and the government does not provide it, the following statement should be presented at the referendum: “The government should provide full information about the construction and price of a nuclear power plant”; and the electors could vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. It is altogether strange that people are asked to give their opinion on a matter of which they have insufficient knowledge. It would be more logical to ask the electors after the necessary information becomes available.
If the current project is deemed inappropriate, the electors should be asked whether they approve of the new nuclear power plant construction project. However, it is unreservedly asked at the referendum whether people agree with the construction of a nuclear power plant – thus, whether they generally agree or disagree to having a nuclear power plant. They are not asked whether they are satisfied with the current project. If they vote, just as Juršėnas encourages them to do, they will vote against nuclear power in general, and not just against this project.
Having voted at the referendum against the nuclear power plant, any government, especially one led by the Social Democrats, will find it hard to oppose the will expressed by the nation and build a new power plant. The Social Democrats understand this perfectly well, and so I doubt not only their consistency, but also their sincerity.