According to a study by researchers from Kaunas, in the newly-elected Seimas (EN parliament), where the majority are conservatives or liberals, more attention is paid to discussions on human rights than on restrictions of public life or pandemic.
These conclusions were made by the Kaunas University of Technology and Vytautas Magnus University scientists after analysing the parliamentary transcripts from 2020–2021.
The research sought to find out whether the frequency of discussions about human rights correlates with the frequency of debates about the pandemic when discussing Covid-19 pandemic related topics.
The study revealed that restrictions on public life (quarantine, (self-)isolation, state of emergency, etc.) were mainly discussed during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, whereas during the second wave, more attention was paid to general discussions about the pandemic (mentioning Covid-19, coronavirus, pandemic, epidemic, etc.)
Human rights in Seimas were discussed more due to Covid-19 pandemic and the presidential election in Belarus because these are sudden, unexpected, attention-grabbing events.
– Dr Vaidas Morkevičius, KTU Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities
Researchers notice that in the parliament there were not many discussions about distance learning and medical management measures (wearing masks, vaccination, testing, etc.) during both waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. These management measures have received little criticism from human rights experts, even though the wearing of masks and their usefulness has constantly been discussed by the public.
It is noted that the Covid-19 pandemic and the presidential election in Belarus were the situations that dictated the direction of Seimas debates in 2020.
The focus towards human rights shifted when the restrictions imposed by the parliament during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic received criticism from human rights organisations and legal experts. The criticism received was for violations of human rights and the country’s rule of law, and the opposition had doubts on whether the government did not exceed its powers in establishing quarantine in the country.
Scientists notice that the newly elected parliament took the criticism received by human rights experts and international organisations into consideration, and has paid more attention to human rights, was more careful when making decisions about the restrictions of public life, which partly confirms the policy learning theory interpretation that political actors learn from mistakes when making political decisions by responding and applying new information and ideas.
The automated analysis of parliament’s debate content and expert analysis confirmed the agenda creation theory insight, which says that current events attract the attention of political actors and has significant influence over the political agenda.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and mass protests following the presidential election in Belarus were reflected in Seimas’ agenda because an increase in discussions about the pandemic and human rights was found in the parliamentary transcripts.
“Human rights in Seimas were discussed more due to Covid-19 pandemic and the presidential election in Belarus because these are sudden, unexpected, attention-grabbing events, which normally have a significant impact on political agenda outside of Lithuania”, says project manager, Vaidas Morkevičius, chief researcher at Kaunas University of Technology Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (KTU FSSAH).
According to researchers, liberal parties with a strong focus on human rights in their agendas began expressing human rights-related questions among members of the ruling majority after forming a ruling coalition with conservatives.
As a result, these political parties managed to involve their partners in a dialogue on necessary decisions without leaving out human rights in parliamentary debate. In addition, the newly elected parliament started working at the same time when the second Covid-19 pandemic wave hit, and this coincidence provided an opportunity for human rights activists to influence the policy agenda in Seimas.
About the project:
Researchers of Kaunas University of Technology and Vytautas Magnus University are carrying out a project “Policy Agenda of the Lithuanian Seimas and its Framing: The Analysis of the Seimas Debates in 1990-2020 (PolAFra)“, which is funded by the Research Council of Lithuania (RCL), contract no. P-MIP-20-373.
The project will systematically examine (using the internationally developed instruments of policy agenda research) contents of the Lithuanian public policy agenda and its determinants by analysing the political agenda of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuanian in the long term (30 years) perspective. It is also planned to identify a model of the contents of the Lithuanian political agenda, which means to determine which theoretical model best explains the evolution of the political agenda of Lithuania as a post-Soviet state. It will also examine how different issues emerge on the political agenda of Seimas, and what different framing strategies political actors use when discussing them.
The aim of the project is to investigate the content of the policy agenda of Lithuanian Seimas and its determinants in the period of 1990-2020 and to analyse the main practices of framing, their origins and agents of Seimas‘ political agenda.
Objectives of the project: a) to investigate the content of Lithuanian Seimas political agenda in 1990-2020 using internationally developed instruments of policy agenda research; b) to analyse the factors of the dynamics of Lithuanian political agenda and determine which theoretical models best explain the evolution of political agenda of Lithuania as a post-Soviet state; c) to distinguish main practices of political agenda framing in the parliament and to carry out a study on their expression in 1990-2020; d) using case study analysis, examine the origin, content, and agents of the chosen most important framing practices of Seimas policy agenda.