Vareikis Egidijus Lithuanian Parliament

Lithuania and Developments in European Family Policy

7 February 2012, 14:23

One of my good African friends and a politician and Member of Parliament mentioned to me that many Africans would like to live in Europe enjoying the opportunities and freedoms European society offers, but, he added that there were things Africans can't understand — European society, which is supposed to be the happiest in the world, is also shrinking the fastest, dying as if of its own will; dying mostly for a lack of children and the destruction of traditional families.

Though family is still regarded as the “Main Cell of Society”, this cell needs to be studied and supported by the state. The first thing to discuss is what to support: which model of the family is to be declared as “normal” and which is “exceptional”? What modern trends — positive or negative — are to be stopped or promoted? Second, can one country – Lithuania — have a specific family policy while being integrated with Europe and the entire world? What are "family values" and are they really "values" at all?

Social scientists and politicians differ in opinion on what is the main task of the family in the modern world: is it to be responsible for raising and educating new generations of people, for securing traditional values and gender roles, or to be involved first of all in countries’ economies and labor markets, that is, in adding to the GDP? This is especially important since theoretically an individual of any age or social status can be protected by society and consequently has no need for children, parents or a spouse in order to survive.

One can say that “traditionalists” protect family duties vis-à-vis professional careers, while liberals protect those adding to GDP from family duties.

So, will the family stay? And what is its social role today? Each country approaches the issue based on its own traditions and the expectations of its society.

Lithuaniais a typical country with typical, traditional European values. The country's identity has its roots in rural ethnic society and Catholic tradition. During its Soviet occupation, Soviet habits were seen in everyday life, but the main symbolic traditions of the Lithuanian family were secured by people as manifestations of resistance, examples setting people apart from the ideas promoted by the Soviet authorities. A traditional family with children and harmony of generations and a family without divorces was regarded as normal. The restoration of independence in Lithuania was a period during which Western ideas of the “modern family" and gender-equal opportunities that shaped general understandings and hierarchy of values blossomed.

A review of public opinion shows that people still support traditional family values while noting that they are unfortunately poorly protected. Women still admire maternity as a common good. Both men and women in Lithuania find it convenient for men to be work-oriented and women to be family-oriented, though in other countries this is seen as “old fashioned”, and not a good, modern idea.

The parliament and the government of the country itself played an active and positive role in creating new concepts of family,  gender roles and civil partnership. The Lithuanian parliament approved the basic concepts of family and its protections, i.e.  “The Concept of Family Policy (2008), The Law on the Basics of Family Support (2007), and The Law on the Protection of Prenatal Life (2006). The Catholic Church also welcomed these legal acts as laws which implement the views of the Church.

However, the changes to the government's family policy in Lithuania were far from embracing a consensus on the object of family policy and operational trends. Like in other countries, conservatives and Christian democrats became the promoters of the “traditional” family, while liberal and socialist politicians were keen to implement the “new” ideas. The newly established “non-systemic” parties like the Labor Party and the Party of Order and Justice are generally pro-family. This gives rise to an interesting situation during votes on family affairs: the formal coalition partnership of conservatives and liberals is divided in the vote and the same is true in the opposition camp of social democrats, the Labor party and the Party of Order and Justice.

The concept of familyin Lithuania defines a family as a legally married man and woman, and sketches out the framework of how to establish this family policy through various laws. Single and unmarried parents do not fall under the definition of a family. Divorcees, widows and widowers with children are considered to be "incomplete families". The law provides some benefits and privileges for married couples: greater financial support, tax exemptions, guaranteed social insurance, preference in civil service positions, an earlier retirement age, housing loan concessions and so forth. However, opponents point out that since these advantages only apply to married couples, a man who leaves his family and starts a new one, would still be entitled to benefits, but his divorced wife and children would lose all legal privileges.

Conservative and right-wing parties tried to implement by law the idea that all children must be secure, but that the parents are responsible for what kind of security they have — family security, single parent security or something else. They declare that people understand the traditional role in the family, though more and more people do not see family as a priority in life.Generally their ideas are to enhance the status of maternity as well as to raise the responsibility of parents for the family, first of all for the children. The socialist and liberal camp tries to emphasize equality instead of the division of labor and the right to live or not to live as legally married. In other words – these are typical European issues.

However there are some special details that influence the formation of family policy of Lithuania. One is the law on artificial insemination, that must declare the rules of how artificial insemination is to be legalized. Second, is a decision by the Constitutional Court which declared that some statements in the concept of family are not in line with the Constitution. The legal regulation of artificial insemination is still pending in parliament mostly because of disagreements between interest groups and political parties. The Constitutional Court essentially said that marriage is an important, but not necessary, component of completing a family. As these rulings were made and votes were taken, the country became sharply divided into liberal and conservative camps on that issue.

MP Mantas Adomėas was incensed by the Constitutional Court’s decision, calling the court “a judicial junta.” Rimantas Dagys, a Conservative MP, said, “The court stands for a family which is not bound by responsibility, and where children and parents can live any way they want,”. Egidijus Kuris, a former Constitutional Court judge says that neither the Civil Code, nor Lithuania's family-oriented legislation defines what a family is. Those behind the "Family Policy Concept" have tried to make the definition, but did not do it in the best way, raising the concept above all other family-oriented legislation, and not heeding the dynamic processes that influence the concept of family.

Finally, political analyst Kętutis Girnius said: “Certainly, the judges were concerned about the concept’s compliance with the Lithuanian Constitution from the point of view of constitutionality. Nevertheless, they are smart people who follow the changes in the concepts of family across the European Union and the modern world. Certainly, they have also been influenced by trends in reviewing the concept and passing their ruling”. On the other hand,  Priest Ričrdas Doveika of the Vilnius Arch Cathedral said, "Lithuania is the first country in the world trying to save the family, but exceptions should not become the norm".

As the examples of France and Sweden suggest, with a system of effective public administration, it is possible to ensure people’s protection both in the framework of a special “family” or a general “social” policy. Likewise, both approaches cannot totally exclude divorce, family violence and general instability. Still, what is important is that there should be a consistent policy to create a family friendly environment.

A Lithuania without strong families means a Lithuania without a future, but the future of families is very difficult to predict. Perhaps then, a future should be created instead. Or Lithuanians should learn from history and their own natural human experiences, recalling that the best idea of our youth was to have parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters…

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