Judging by the prelude to the election and voter duping methods that dominated it, post-election Lithuania should be one big circus arena. Its performers did a great job in manipulating human weaknesses of the Lithuanian nation. Alternatively, Lithuania could be seen as one big bazaar, since Uspaskich's Labour Party – as well as some of his competitors – has proven once again that anything can be bought and sold, including human dignity.
Such is the tone that the winning powers gave after the first round of elections.
Sugar on social wounds
PR specialists, hired by Viktor Uspaskich, employed a strategy as old as Earth: find out why the nation weeps and sprinkle some sugar on its wounds.
And that's what Viktor did. The Labour Party's multi-million-litas campaign repeated one simple message: time has come for a new leader who can put Lithuania back on its feet (the same message was echoed by the “courageous ones” who, fatally, have not got a clue how to run a state). Read: Kubilius was evil, he impoverished and oppressed the nation. Therefore you must elect someone who will bring money instead of austerity.
I do not mean to justify Andrius Kubilius' mistakes. It is strange, though, that even his media-savvy advisers failed to give an attractive wrapping to the Prime Minister's political clichés. In most cases, he could not explain his actions in a popular and accessible language. For many, austerity translated into “oppressing the nation” (a very Greek mentality).
Manipulative campaign and stroking old ladies
What could have been said more clearly by Mr Kubilius in the time when the euro zone was going downhill and cursing Germany for forcing everyone to save?
The biggest handicap that most of our politicians suffer from is dullness. People in suits and ties, no charisma. On top of that, half of them have had drink driving incidents or have been investigated by anti-corruption bodies.
Mr Uspaskich, on the other hand, turned his handicaps into an advantage in his quest for power. Besides, he agreed to play the good clown. One must admit that his campaign, manipulative as it was of voters' feelings, was ingenious. If one recalls, say, old commercials of [conservative leader] Landsbergis, they look nostalgically ridiculous now. Mr Uspaskich's videos, on the other hand, sent a shiver down the spine for those who could see what buttons they were pushing.
Take the scene where Uspaskich is stroking an old woman's hair. The image is a well-worn cliché used almost daily, yet one that is effective within our society (moreover, many remarked that the old woman's hairdo reminded of Yulia Tymoshenko's braid, thus reinforcing the desired effect).
And judging by our TV programming, you can sell just anything to Lithuanian viewers, so why wouldn't they be taken in by Viktor's show? The conclusion that begs itself is that, even after two decades of independence, the nations still hasn't learned how to resist straightforward manipulation. No need for grey technologies or promotional texts on the election day.
Austerity or greed?
But let us not forget Mr Kubilius and his good, yet badly-communicated ideas. He could have explained in a simple – i.e., Uspaskich-like – language why, say, nations like Germany were saving money. True, German pensioners are much better-off, they travel the world and enjoy their golden days. On the other hand, the country is also pressed down by financial problems. But have you seen a German splashing money?
Last year, I happened to visit the luxurious Porsche factory in Stuttgart. I was surprised to learn that a well-known Porsche virtuoso, whose job involves driving the 100-thousand-euro car, drives a modest Opel Astra for his daily 100-kilometres commute to work. “Why waste money, it's not worth it,” was his frank explanation.
We, Lithuanians, on the other hand, are greedy. We need free lunches and used BMWs to jam the streets. And also a country house near a lake that we visit twice a year. A very Russian style which is the very opposite of German rationality. We therefore think that anyone who is conspicuously rich, loud, and glaring is automatically a worthy man.
Minimum wages or unemployment?
Viktor scored another goal when he promised to raise minimum wages. Or, rather, he hit the bullseye of naiveté. Who can honestly believe that the only obstacle to raising minimum wages is Mr Kubilius or some tiny employer who sits on a bag of money and refuses to share?
Many companies in Lithuania pay modest wages. They could not survive otherwise. We are such a negligible drop in the global market that the only way we can compete is with exceptionally bright minds or exceptionally cheap labour. And raising minimum monthly wages to 1,509 litas (437 euros) could mean several less-than-desirable things.
Some companies will go bankrupt and close down. Their employees will find themselves on the street, perhaps some of them will emigrate. The remaining lucky few will get their 1,509 litas. Alternatively, cash-strapped companies will fire half of their workforce to avoid bankruptcy and the rest will be paid minimum wages, 1,509 litas. Then unemployment benefits will drag the state further into debt. An even better solution to avoid bankruptcy – “envelope wages” (undeclared illegal pay). Is that what we want?
In short, it should be clear to everyone that already highly indebted country will not be showered with money as soon as someone promises to raise minimum wages. Unless Mr Uspaksich himself printed money in his hometown Kėdainiai. In that case, however, inflation would drive bread and sausage prices up faster than fuel, while we could kiss the euro goodbye for several generations.
In any case, this campaign promise, which is not based on any economic logic, only pushes the state closer to the brink of disaster. Closer to Greece, Portugal, Spain, and others who are already seeing the Eurogedon.
We know how?
Many voters also bought the Labour Party's slogan: “We know how: to reduce heating bills, create new jobs, raise minimum wages.” True, the Labour Party did not specify what they know, inspiring online jokes about their populist promises.
But they won the election. And in that respect I completely agree that they knew how. Cases of mass vote buying only testifies to their know-how. They knew how to win election by bribing voters. Sure, hundreds of entrepreneurs, too, know how to build a business on double bookkeeping and tax evasion.
Obviously, in order to carry out a massive vote buying scheme (according to reports, 10 to 50 litas per vote), one needs a huge pile of cash. Black cash. One can't put it under “representational expenses of the party.” One can guess where such sums of money come from.
Laimonas Tapinas of the Journalism Institute used to say during lectures: One time is all it takes to get into prostitution. If you sold yourself once, you will do it again. So I would venture to say that all those politicians who organized vote buying turned their voters into small-time prostitutes. At least now we know the market price of our nation's pride and honour.
But one thing that I most like about Mr Uspaskich is that he is a true politician – a virtuoso of situational morality. If he bullshits, he goes all the way. A wonderful actor. And not only because he dances on television, plays the accordion and boosts ratings for second-rate talk shows. He gives a very straight-faced reply to accusations of bribery – just like that other actor Ronald Reagan. Something along the lines of “well, it might have happened, but other parties did the same...” And what do you make of his latest declaration? “Strict decisions will be made regarding violations of the Election Law.”
Can you believe that someone secretly, behind Mr Uspaskich's back, bought votes in dozens, while he himself had no idea? But now that he does, he will punish the culprits and kick them out of the party. It would sound amusingly funny, if people did not actually buy it.
Remember how, before the elections, the President urged voters to not think about themselves but rather to think about Lithuania. Did you?