Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 2
Status: Free
Population: 3,500,000
GNI/Capita: $3,350
Life Expectancy: 73
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, other
Ethnic Groups: Lithuanian (80 percent), Russian (9 percent), Polish (7 percent), Byelorussian (2 percent), other (2 percent)
Capital: Vilnius


In a highly publicized referendum in May 2003, 90 percent of voters voiced their approval of Lithuania's proposed European Union accession. A second-round runoff presidential election on January 5 saw former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas defeat the heavily favored incumbent, Valdas Adamkus. Barely ten months after assuming office, Paksas was facing an increasing threat of impeachment following allegations that his campaign's main financial backer and some of his aides were deeply involved with organized crime.

Lithuania merged with Poland in the sixteenth century and was subsequently absorbed by Russia in the eighteenth century. After gaining its independence at the end of World War I, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 under a secret protocol of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. The country regained its independence with the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

Following the 1996 parliamentary elections, the Homeland Union/Lithuanian Conservatives (HU/LC) and Christian Democrats formed a center-right coalition government with Gediminas Vagnorius of the HU/LC as prime minister. In January 1998, the Lithuanian-American independent candidate, Valdas Adamkus, was narrowly elected president.

Growing tensions between Adamkus and Vagnorius eventually led to the resignation of Vagnorius, who was succeeded by Vilnius mayor and HU/LC member Rolandas Paksas in May. However, Paksas stepped down just five months later in protest over the controversial sale of part of the state-owned Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex to the U.S. energy firm, Williams International. HU/LC member and parliamentary First Deputy Chairman Andrius Kubilius succeeded Paksas as prime minister in November.

Apparently because of the public's dissatisfaction over the government's economic austerity policies, the ruling HU/LC experienced a resounding defeat in the October 2000 parliamentary election. The Social Democratic Coalition secured the most votes. However, the informal New Policy electoral bloc, composed of an ideologically diverse cohort of rightand left-wing parties, bypassed the Social Democratic Coalition to form a bare-majority centrist government. Paksas was chosen again to be prime minister.

After only eight months in power, this unstable ruling coalition collapsed following disagreements over the budget and privatization plans for the country's energy sector. Paksas was replaced in July by Algirdas Brazauskas, the chairman of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP). The more ideologically compatible LSDP and New Alliance (Social Liberals) subsequently formed a new ruling coalition government.

In presidential elections held on December 22, 2002, President Adamkus received 35 percent of the vote, not enough for a first-round victory, which requires a candidate to receive more than 50 percent. Adamkus faced Paksas, the second-place winner with 20 percent of the vote, in a January 5, 2003, runoff election. Surprisingly, Paksas defeated Adamkus, who had successfully secured Lithuania invitations to both the EU and NATO. Waging a media-savvy campaign that focused on poverty, corruption and bad government, Paksas received 54.9 percent of the vote to Adamkus's 45.1 percent.

Despite early fears that Lithuanian voters would fail to meet the 50 percent turn out threshold needed to validate the May 10 to 11 EU accession referendum, 63.3 percent of voters cast their ballots, with 90 percent voting to accept Lithuania's invitation to join the EU in May 2004. On September 16, the Lithuanian parliament overwhelmingly ratified the EU Accession Treaty, which was signed into law by President Paksas three days later.

Impeachment seems increasingly likely for the newly elected Paksas. His administration has been rocked by the leaking of a security services report in late October alleging that the main financial backer in Paksas's presidential campaign, Russian Jurijus Borisovas, sold illegal arms to Sudan and that Borisovas, along with some of Paksas's close advisers, were linked with organized crime. Subsequently, Paksas was charged with illegally granting Borisovas Lithuanian citizenship. In late November, thousands of Lithuanians demonstrated in Vilnius, demanding Paksas's resignation. The parliamentary committee investigating Paksas will announce its findings on December 1, 2003.

A plan negotiated by Lithuanian, Russian, and EU officials for a transit system that allows residents of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to visit the rest of the Russian Federation was implemented on July 1, effectively finalizing Lithuania's borders with Russia.

Lithuania supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq and has sent 100 troops to serve in the occupation force in that country.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Lithuanians can change their government democratically. The 1992 constitution established a 141-member parliament (Seimas), in which 71 seats are selected in single-mandate constituencies and 70 seats are chosen by proportional representation, all for four-year terms. The president is directly elected for a five-year term. The 2000 national legislative election and the 2002-2003 presidential vote were conducted freely and fairly. All permanent residents are allowed to run for office and vote in local government elections, while only citizens can participate in national elections.

Lithuania suffered a series of corruption scandals in 2003, most notably the impending impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas over charges that his campaign's major financial backer, Jurijus Borisovas, sold illegal arms to Sudan and that Borisovas and some of Paksas's closest aides have strong ties to organized crime. Paksas is also being investigated for granting Borisovas Lithuanian citizenship on questionable grounds. In addition, diplomats at Lithuanian consulates in Belarus and Russia have been dismissed because of bribery charges, and several judges were removed from office after a smuggling ring involving senior civil servants and police officers was exposed. In August, the head of the National Payments Agency, Evaldas Cljauskas, was forced to resign amid charges of embezzlement. The ongoing scandal involving the 1999 privatization of part of the Mazeikiu Nafta oil complex continued to take its toll, with charges of embezzlement levied against 20 individuals, including 2 former ministers and a deputy minister.

The government generally respects freedom of speech and of the press. There is a wide variety of privately owned newspapers, and several independent, as well as state-run, television and radio stations broadcast throughout the country. On September 30, a Vilnius court overruled the shutdown of a pro-Chechen rebel Web site, Kavkaz-Center, hosted on a Lithuanian server. In January, a Lithuanian state security agent was videotaped attempting to solicit "comprising information" about two Lithuanian dailies, Respublika and Vakaro zinios, prompting a government investigation.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law and largely enjoyed in practice in this predominantly Roman Catholic country. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedom of assembly and association is generally respected. Workers have the right to form and join trade unions, to strike, and to engage in collective bargaining. However, ongoing problems include inadequate or employer-biased legislation, management discrimination against union members, and the court system's lack of expertise in labor-related issues.

The judiciary is largely independent of the executive branch, and the recently revised Law of Courts has fortified its autonomy. However, there is a severe lack of qualified judges, who consequently suffer from excessive workloads. There have been credible reports of police abuse of suspects and detainees, and prison overcrowding and pretrial detention remain serious problems.

The rights of the country's ethnic minorities are protected in practice. In 1992, Lithuania extended citizenship to all those born within its borders, and more than 90 percent of nonethnic Lithuanians, mostly Russians and Poles, became citizens. In October 2003, the Seimas ratified Protocol 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, abolishing capital punishment in all cases.

Women are under-represented in upper-level management positions and earn lower average wages than men.

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