Vol 0, No 38
14 June 1999
T H E A M B E R C O A S T:
The Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) took lustration to a new level when a controversial measure passed which in effect creates lustration in the private sector. This dramatic step caused widespread controversy, with convictions firm for both stern supporters and vehement opponents. How this will be played out constitutionally in Lithuania, as well as its effects on foreign relations, remains to be seen.
After a difficult debate on 8 June, the Seimas passed the measure as expected. In the end, 63 deputies voted for passage while 11 stood against, with many others either abstaining or not taking part at all. The measure apparently had the support of only the former ruling coalition of the Conservative Party and Christian Democratic Party (the Christian Democrats terminated the coalition agreement last week).
Opposition parties either denounced the measure or criticised its vagueness and ineffectiveness. Nationalist Rimantas Smetona, relative of the last President of Lithuania during the Interwar years, Antanas Smetona, said the law did not go far enough. Centrist opposition politicians noted that current laws protected the state well enough, and this new measure complicated the process. Respected Centre Union politician Egidijus Bickauskas noted that many former employees of Soviet intelligence were "loyal" to Lithuania.
What does this law do?
The law takes lustration to a new level, both in Lithuania and in the former Soviet bloc. The law, introduced by Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, calls for the state to eradicate "front" organisations and businesses for Soviet/Russian intelligence. The law allows the government, with the blessing of a court, to seize the targeted organisation or business, liquidate it and confiscate its property. That may sound like a good idea for national security, but the provisions connected to it essentially create lustration in the private sector.
However, the most controversial aspect of the law involves the forced registration of former Soviet/Russian intelligence workers with the State Security Department (VSD). These provisions force individuals, who have worked with any of the Soviet/Russian intelligence forces and are among the leaders of any organisations or businesses, to register within a month. This would involve high-ranking employees and heads of these organisations and businesses, as well as board members and even some stockholders. The law also states that those who fail to register would be in legal trouble and removed from their posts by law. Additionally, the monitoring period over the affected organisations and businesses will be ten years.
Some pushed for an amendment to force even "informants" to such intelligence forces to be under the provisions of this law. However, that proved to be too extreme for many, as it could create an overwhelming legal disaster, both in investigating the alleged "informants" and the possible windfall of slander charges. Perhaps a more honest reason is that many of the politicians have been implicated in one way or another as an "accomplice" or "informant" for the KGB. One notable case was the accusations that Landsbergis himself informed on Aloyzas Sakalas, the until-recently head of the Social Democratic Party. Such accusations surface every few months on some important politician, just as in Estonia and Poland.
Any law broaching the controversy of lustration finds itself scrutinised as a possible breach of constitutional protection, and this law will no doubt be challenged if it reaches the statute book. There is no indication whether President Valdas Adamkus will sign, veto or refer this to the Constitutional Court. Many predict he would pursue the latter option, as he once did for the general lustration law passed several months ago. In doing that, Adamkus fuelled the dispute between his office and the Conservative Party which eventually led to the disastrous ousting of ex-Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius.
However, the Constitutional Court ruled last time that the general lustration law was constitutional and the only changes called for were technical and procedural issues. The law already pushed lustration into the private sector, banning the same individuals from government and some private sector jobs alike (such as high positions in the banking and legal sectors). How will the court react to the State Security Department monitoring said individuals for a decade?
Even if the measure passes all levels and is in the law books, court challenges would no doubt be prevalent. Issues such as slander, invasion of privacy, restitution for erroneous action and perjury would become common. Constitutional Court challenges could also arise from affected individuals, businesses and organisations, not to mention possible attempts to bring cases to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. This law could even be in conflict with the European Union's acquis on the Common Market - which will hurt Lithuania's already slim chances to move ahead into the front-running group of EU hopefuls.
In many ways, Lithuania is still fighting its demons from the Soviet occupations with reckless abandon. However, politicians and victims alike need to realise that justice comes with a price. Lithuania may not be able to afford that in a time of political and economic instability.
Mel Huang, 14 June 1999
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