A welder from provincial Lithuania is our most trusted politician. Though this may sound as an insipid joke, it is a plain fact of our political life. Whether this is good or bad is not the theme of the present article. It is rather more important to raise a trickier question: Why? The answer might prove less complicated than expected, Jaunius Špakauskas wrote in delfi.lt on 2 October.
True, some may disagree with me and point out that the popularity of Viktor Uspaskich isn’t quite so high. After all, Uspaskich, according to the two-week-old Vilmorus survey, ranks second among those who ‘best represent the interests of our country’s population’. The first place, of course, is taken by Her Majesty; I beg your pardon – Her Excellency (how could I have made such an unfortunate blunder?).
According to the survey of another public opinion research company, Spinter Research, Lithuanians regard Uspaskich as the third-best candidate for the prime minister’s office. First is the Social Democratic Party’s leader Algirdas Butkevičius, Irena Degutienė from the Conservative Party comes second.
Whatever we would like to think, Uspaskich is one of the main figures on the Lithuanian political map and this fact cannot simply be ignored. Of course there is a lot of scepticism as well, especially from our public intellectuals; some go as far as to openly scorn the politician representing Lithuania on a pan European level in the EP.
Seemingly, our voters, whose memory span has never been particularly long on our soil, have already forgotten the macabre assaults against the same old Lithuania when Uspaskich, from his place of exile in Russia, called press conferences to narrate, with an overflowing pathos, a story about a god-forsaken country which not only has no place for this protector of eternal values but also cares neither for justice, nor for democracy.
But let us return to our question: What are the roots of Labour Party leader’s popularity? We talk about popularity not only among the voters from Kėdainiai, not only among pensioners or, say, the female electorate, but also among the youth. Hardly did anyone in Lithuanian take the time publicly to analyse the phenomenon, but the key to unravelling this mystery is of a shape much simpler than we might think: Mr Uspaskich is the prototype of a true Lithuanian. I must emphasise that I use the word ‘Lithuanian’ not in an ethnic but rather a civic sense, having in mind the vast majority of those less-than-three-million that make up our population.
Under the guise of eternal values
Our public opinion leader seems to embody all that is diametrically opposed to everything Lithuanians hold unquestionably sacred. In this respect, Uspaskich should be regarded as the greatest threat to not only the moral well-being of our society but also the national security.
The business man of Kėdainiai, with his dubious academic degrees, should be perceived as the new Bruno that has decided to take a leak in our woods (this is a metaphor). But something unexpected happens – there’s not any cudgel to knock him down. There’s no one to as much as shake fist at him; quite the contrary – he receives unlimited admiration.
And this is a mind-boggling paradox, the Lithuanian-type moral schizophrenia über alles – how can one sing praises of somebody who in his words, deeds and negligence tramples all that is sacred to a true Lithuanian?
On a second thought, there’s really no paradox here; only a pure, human honesty that not many of us can afford. But let us discuss all the sacred things one by one.
First, every Lithuanian who takes himself seriously considers the Lithuanian language most sacred. Our language, more than any other element of our cultural identity, seems to be the most important criterion of the true Lithuanian. So it is nearly paradoxical that Uspaskich, whose Lithuanian vocabulary amounts to roughly 500 words (not mentioning ‘nafik’ [a milder variety of a popular Russian swearword, - trans.], which he does not hesitate to make use of during live TV broadcasts), should be a public opinion leader. Similar vocabulary range is perhaps characteristic of many among Uspaskich’s voters as well as the ‘true Lithuanians’ that march down Gediminas Avenue every spring.
Second, there is nothing more sacred to a Lithuanian than his family. A true Lithuanian is always prepared to do everything to protect the traditional family and has no qualms in brushing aside everything and everyone that might stand in its way. Irrespectively of who they are, whether they carry crosses or rainbow wreaths, these prophets of decay, family destroyers and child molesters will be stopped at any cost.
But see the politician, so deeply trusted by the society that values family above all else, before eyes of us all – through the curtained window – wrecking Andželika Filipovič, a woman who single-handedly* made her career in the Ministry of Economy.
Furthermore, guardians of family values are not at all perplexed by a lifestyle TV programme, broadcasted several years ago, in which Uspaskich not only talks about his hard times of exile in Moscow but also shows his mobile contacts list jam-packed with Russian female names. ‘Better a womanizer than gay,’ a resolute voice dignifiedly concludes. And the audiences sigh with approval: ‘Well, yes… better indeed.’
Third, there is nothing more comforting to a Lithuanian than a cross around their neck and a bedtime prayer. This is proved yet again by the national census, according to which 77.3 per cent of Lithuanians consider themselves Roman Catholics.
Of course, you may consider yourself to be whatever you like, and I am sure that all 100 per cent of our population see themselves as ‘intelligent and honest people’, even if the statistical error might well reach 50 per cent.
Still, our analysis of Uspaskich bears no fruit again – the public opinion leader is not even a Catholic.
Fourth and finally, the greatest virtue of a politician, for a true Lithuanian, is honesty. However, this is again at odds with Uspaskich, a graduate of a university whose degrees come cheap. It is Uspaskich’s companies that used to pay salaries ‘in envelopes’. It is Uspaskich who had admitted to one of the President’s advisors (she later reported this conversation to me personally) that it is impossible to do business in Russia without bribes. The MEP shied away from mentioning Lithuania in this context, but his moral code, coming from his own lips so frankly, doesn’t leave much room for doubt.
Viktor alone is brave in this country of cowards
People tend to think better of themselves than they sometimes actually have a reason to. In a society where the self-respect of people often lies scattered among the fallen leaves or unsorted rubbish and whose vengeful moods bloom with large fragrant blossoms only in the form of anonymous internet comments, it is indeed nothing strange that people end up with too good a view of themselves.
Prof. Egidijus Aleksandravičius, one of my heroes, once said that a ‘post-colonial, post-soviet man desires only one thing: power and significance.’ You must be superior, you must call the shots and dominate; creating something new, according to Egidijus, becomes unimportant.
This is precisely the breeding ground of not only the undisguised attraction towards celebrities of all kinds, famous only for the reason of being famous, but also the unfathomable hatred for anyone who thinks or lives differently.
Upsaskich’s popularity in Lithuania is attributable to the fact that he embodies the true desires of an ordinary Lithuanian – most importantly, the courage to live as you wish, sneering at the pathetically declared values and refusing outright to adhere to them in practice. Once the robe of declarative Lithuanian values is thrown off, one may escape all personal qualms and live with almost a conservative view that things are such and cannot be otherwise.
After all, Uspaskich embodies precisely that wealthy, fun and licentious life which is so much desired by many an advocate of traditional values. By that very person who is a true Catholic only during funeral, baptism and ‘keturnedėlis’ (a Catholic Mass on the 30th day after someone’s death, – trans.) and whose conscience withdraws upon laying hands upon the cheap public money. By that very person whose loyalty to family values ends at the door of Irutė, called ‘openhearted’ at the office and ‘open-legged’ in the smoking room…
Upsaskich also embodies those who spin a yarn about lower levels of violence in Catholic families, drag their beaten wives to Sunday’s churches, repent by way of 50 litas donations placed in the little plate passed through everyone’s hands and assist to fainting old ladies who confess, with a deep sigh of nostalgia, that they have never known a taste of such an idyllic life.
And all those who recite catechism and, after knocking back a few drinks, sit behind the wheel to risk lives of each and every pedestrian, again and again… And all those who feel their greatness only by emphasising their ethnic roots, since only nationalism makes small people mighty.
In short, Uspaskich shows us our true face and we may sincerely thank him, without the slightest trace of irony, for laying bare the guises of our true values. The truth that they mask, although accessible only to cultivated people, is rather simple: each one of us is a sinner. The saints and the infallible are the most dangerous. More often than not, it is those same silhouettes whose fingers pointed at others pierce most painfully.
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