Who’s Laughing Now? A Talk Show Host Goes Political
ANDRIUS TAPINAS, a journalist, activist and science fiction author, doesn’t sugar-coat the reality of Lithuanian politics. In March 2018, 38 of 60 mayors were re-elected, despite numerous corruption scandals. “In our hearts, we crave for a revolution, as if we went out into the streets, and it would literally bring us a new tomorrow,” he says. “But when tomorrow actually comes, you see that nothing has changed, that the same people are taking the same posts, and you catch yourself thinking—I have achieved nothing.”
Except that individually, Tapinas certainly has achieved something. In 2016, Lithuania’s national broadcaster LRT cancelled the 13th season of his show Pinigu karta, or “The Money Generation,” with no explanation. So, Tapinas took his show to YouTube, establishing the first Lithuanian TV show that is completely funded by its viewers through the crowdfunding platform Patreon. Today, Laisves TV, “Liberty TV,” has over 100,000 subscribers and boasts more than 1.5 million monthly views—in a nation of 2.7 million inhabitants.
Because of the straightforward way it confronts political actors and issues, Laisves TV has been accused of bias, disrespect and meddling in civil society. “I am a strong activist, with transparent opinions and clear values, and I am not hiding it,” Tapinas admits, adding that being transparent and honest with his viewers is crucial in order to maintain trust in the media in a post-truth age.
To challenge the decreasing trust the young nation has in democracy, Laisves TV organizes an annual festival of debates between politicians and activists. The extensive discussions that happen at Laisves piknikas, “Liberty Picnic,” reveal that people want to see rapid change and more young people in office. But in politics, “there cannot be a revolution, only an evolution, and it is already happening,” says Tapinas, who also hosts a satirical show, Laikykites ten, “Hold On There,” which combines an open panel discussion with light-hearted interviews and seeks to keep local politicians accountable.
Since 2016, a wave of protests against the government has been sweeping through Lithuania, in which Tapinas and other journalists and activists have been important protagonists. This has led to Tapinas being accused of “brainwashing the youth” and “spreading tapinism”—a label that was coined after Tapinas asked pupils to report politicians campaigning in schools.
In November 2018, Lithuanian teachers started a six-week protest against pay reform. In the absence of dialogue between educators and the government, Tapinas was encouraged to take up a mediator role. In response, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis accused Tapinas of cooperation with the parliamentary opposition in organizing a coup, and using the teachers’ discontent as an excuse. In a parliamentary group meeting, Skvernelis claimed that the protest was organized “not by the professional unions, but by Mr. Tapinas, who is becoming a politician instead of a journalist.”
In between fighting a legal battle over defamation, filming new shows, and spreading European democratic values across the country, Andrius Tapinas keeps his ambitions up and his hopes high. “We need time and patience for better politicians, better society, better civil society,” he says. “The fruits [of what we do today] might show in only eight, or maybe even ten years. And you will not get recognition, not even a thank you, but you will know that you were one of the many catalysts for that change to happen.”
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue