UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VILNIUS 001239
STATE FOR EUR/NB
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI LH
SUBJECT: LITHUANIAN CHEESE CAPITAL NODS LEFT, BUT WITH
LITTLE THOUGHT TO THE ELECTIONS
Â¶1. SUMMARY: Rokiskis is a town of approximately 16,000
located in northeastern Lithuania and the capital of a
productive agricultural region famous for the cheese brand
that bears its name. The director of the cheese factory,
sharing the spotlight with the visiting Prime Minister, was
the local star of the recent town festival, where cheese-
related activities overshadowed political events. Rokiskis
residents generally express support for left wing parties
(Social Democrats, Peasants Party, and to a lesser extent
the Labor Party) in upcoming elections. Overall, however,
eligible voters display apathy towards politics and to
their local candidates in particular. Political corruption
scandals and the government's focus on foreign policy goals
have left Lithuania's rural electorate cold and led them
toward politicians who will attend to more basic social
problems. END SUMMARY.
Cheese for One and All
Â¶2. We recently traveled to Rokiskis during the annual town
festival. The successful cheese producer Rokiskio Suris is
the town's largest employer, and much of the rural
population from the surrounding countryside has a hand in
Â¶3. Rokiskio Suris, celebrating 40 years of operations in
town, dominated the annual town festival. The public
flocked to the cheese tasting tents in droves, and the
company's "VIP" tent was a cheese-lover's banquet.
Rokiskio Suris Director Antanas Trumpa, a friend of Prime
Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, overshadowed the town's mayor
and other local politicians and is clearly the city's
dominant public figure. Rokiskio Suris executives told us
that 80% of their cheese is now sold abroad, and exports
account for a growing portion of the company's profits.
Rokiskio Suris does export to small specialty stores in
Chicago and New York.
Electorate: Leftist Inclinations...
Â¶4. Discussing the upcoming Parliamentary elections, most
Rokiskis residents we met said that they favor Brazauskas'
Social Democrats or Kazimira Prunskiene's Peasants Party.
Brazauskas made a short speech at the festival
congratulating the town on its birthday, and those in
attendance responded well to the Prime Minister's short
visit. (Note: Brazauskas was born in the Rokiskis region.)
Local residents all emphasized that social issues,
especially pension reform, alcoholism, and rural poverty,
top the town's policy agenda. The head of the town's
community center opined that the Social Democrats and
Peasants best address the social agenda and will win the
Â¶5. According to national polls, the Labor Party is also
likely to perform well in Rokiskis, although many locals
suspect the promises of the newly-founded party. Several
residents expressed support for rising star Petras
Austrevicius and for the Liberal Center Party, although one
woman who is considering voting for Austrevicius could not
remember the name of the "urbane party" (the Liberal
Center) on whose ticket the candidate is running. A
shopkeeper also relished the opportunity to lambast
supporters of impeached President Rolandas Paksas, whom she
claimed Rokiskis citizens distrust due to the fact that he
is a "westerner."
...But Not Politically Inclined
Â¶6. The people of Rokiskis, although willing to discuss
their political views openly, appeared largely apathetic.
The vast majority of respondents said that they intend to
vote but are dissatisfied with most of the options and have
not yet decided for whom they will cast their ballots.
Some younger residents said that they have no interest in
political issues and will not head to the polls.
Â¶7. Concerning the race for the town's lone single mandate
representative, the head of the town's community center
commented that the local candidates for this year's
elections are rather weak. "There's no one for us to vote
for," she said. Peasants Party candidate Zenonas
Akramavicius held a small campaign event parallel to the
town festival; the event attendees were noticeably older
citizens, many of whom had come into town from surrounding
farms. Although Akramavicius is well known in the town for
his work on the city council, his own campaign volunteers
could not explain why he was a good candidate beyond the
fact that he is a "good man" and "from the Peasants Party."
Comment: Social Issues Critical to Election
Â¶8. Our trip to agricultural Lithuania highlighted that
social issues, especially demands for a better pension
system, are critical for the average Lithuanian voter in
this election. Traditionally, Lithuania's left-wing
parties focus more on these concerns, but in this election
all parties are now actively campaigning on similar
platforms. Overall, multiple political corruption scandals
and the GOL's focus on pursuing the foreign policy goals of
NATO and EU accession have wearied the rural electorate.
In Lithuania's cheese capital, at least, politicians will
have better luck stirring up the fondue than the public's