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Lithuania's Pop Star Politicians

By Andrew Zvirzdin

Celebrities are all the rage in politics these days. Americans elected Barack Obama, famously labeled the biggest celebrity in the world by John McCain during a television advertisement three months ago. And now Lithuania has voted for a party composed entirely of TV and music stars to be part of its new government. Given the list of global challenges facing incoming world leaders, how did celebrities win against lifelong politicians?

Lithuanians wanted change. Like much of Europe, the Baltic country is reeling from the shockwaves of the American-centered global financial crisis. The tremendous growth of Lithuania during the past decade has been fueled by plentiful and accessible international lending. With credit dried up, its economy is headed for a hard landing. Lithuanians held the ruling Socialist Party responsible but many voters also appeared disgruntled with the other traditional political parties as well.

Enter Ar┼źnas Valinskas. This television producer and host of a popular TV talent show created The National Revival or National Resurrection party only a few months before the elections in October. Composed entirely of national television celebrities and pop music stars with little political experience, the party campaigned on a promise of change and reform. Like the rock star Obama across the Atlantic, the party was criticized for its opaque promises and lofty rhetoric. But the party did surprisingly well, coming in second place behind the Homeland Union party and thoroughly defeating the ruling Socialist party in the first round of voting. Now Valinskas and his fellow celebs will be part of the new governing centre-right coalition in Lithuania.

The National Revival Party evoked change through the youthful looks of its celebrity candidates and their non-political backgrounds. And too, the smiling image of Valinskas on his TV show sends a message of hope--or at least entertainment--in an uncertain time.

Andrew Zvirzdin is a graduate student in the European Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (6)

max1941 Author Profile Page:

dont know about lithuania,but same social politics here in spain are no good at all.,Hope there will be some type of changes urgently.-

nerijusrim Author Profile Page:

It could be, but what other system we have? The main reason Lithuanians went in low numbers was they did not expect politicians to bring about change. Life is the same before and after elections and people know that damn well.

zvirzdin Author Profile Page:

You are right, defunct is perhaps too strong a word. But I would argue that the political system has some significant problems and the National Resurrection Party is tapping into dissatisfaction with the status quo.

But consider too that voter turnout was very low. Perhaps many Lithuanians simply do not take their political system seriously.

nerijusrim Author Profile Page:

Statement that political party system in Lithuania is largely defunct is not correct at least in this context. And the question will the National Resurrection Party live up to its name is out the place also, because they were not the winners of these elections. Put it simply they do not posses any means even to think about that in near future. The biggest party in the parlament will be the Homeland Union, which is traditional party and at the same time doesn't have the label of being any populist. Will Valinskas' Party enlive
animate political system? Well, they already have done that and I think that is all what they can do. And here is exactly where Lithuanian political system showed it self up in a good way. Populist electorate was divided, they failed to grow up with the constantly rising number of populist parties and eventually
didn't get the leading voice in the house.
What is the long term direction of Lithuanian politics? Is a welfare and prosperity of Lithuanian society and stuff I dare think. Of course, different parties in Lithuania have different approach to it. But I do not lecture you politics or do I. You simply won't get it.

zvirzdin Author Profile Page:

ZZAPYNYS, I largely agree with you when you state that the political party system in Lithuania is largely defunct. The question is, will the National Resurrection Party live up to its name and resurrect an enlivened political system? Or is this just a PR move by Valinskas? What is the long term direction of Lithuanian politics?

zzapynys Author Profile Page:

You more or less or correct in this piece, but you don't overestimate the impact of the National Revival Party, except for Valinskas, the rest are just aging airheads. Valinskas created his party as a sort of protest, not so much against the Social Democrats, who were already on the wane and had long ago lost their way, but two other more disreputable organisations - it's hard to even call them politcal parties. These are what the locals here call the Paksas group, a rather annoying but powerful clique run by the former impeached President of Lithuania, Rolandas Paksas, and the Labour Party, more like a public relations company, whose endeavors in the last elections sunk them to incredible bouts of stupidity. Valinskas just wanted to say that if Lithuania wants clowns in their government, than vote for 'real clowns,' not pretend politicians. In fact, Valinskas is smarter than the average bear here, but his party won't do much legislating - they're there just to create a ruling coalition and keep the Paksas and Labour parties out.

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