• 2004-07-01
During the barrage of news over the past few days, one curious bulletin crossed the wires virtually unnoticed. An overwhelming majority of Lithuanian voters who cast their ballots abroad - in countries such as Australia, Japan and Kazakhstan - supported Valdas Adamkus. The former president collected 275 votes from this electoral segment compared to 29 for Kazimira Prunskiene.

That tidbit says it all. Adamkus personifies the West, or integration with the West, and was positioned to win the support of Lithuanians who take pride in the country's integration achievements over the past couple months - the culmination of 13 years of toil and trouble. Prunskiene, on the other hand, represents gender equality, the agrarian lobby, and for some, the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti - the KGB. For more insightful voters who saw how the populist Labor Party cuddled up to the Amber Lady in the days before the runoff, and how the impeached populist ex-president waited in the wings for another chance to exert his noxious influence on national affairs, Prunskiene also represented the status quo a la Paksas - more of the same suffering the country has endured since October of last year.
For many Lithuanians thirsting for stability after months of humiliating scandal, a vote for Prunskiene was akin to a vote in the dark: there's no telling what you'll get. (Ironically, this schizophrenia is reflected in Mrs. Pruskiene's first name: it is Kazimira on her birth certificate and Kazimiera in her passport, leaving foreign journalists at a loss to pinpoint the correct representation.) Would she run the President's Palace, or, as it was with her predecessor, would one or more of her campaign donors do it for her?
Unpredictability and vulnerability are the two charges no one could ever level at Adamkus. Voters always knew - and know now - what the former president wanted, what he stood for, and his five-year term as president was predominantly focused on getting Lithuania in NATO and the European Union and serving as integral members in numerous other international organizations. The invitation he received to be a goodwill ambassador for UNESCO last year was evidence of his repute in the international community.
It was also pleasant to see that Adamkus has learned from his mistakes in the past and spent more energy this time around in the boondocks meeting those Lithuanians who haven't benefited an iota from a decade of reforms. With any luck, this fresh perspective of his will bring new wisdom to the presidency.
Otherwise, pro-Western forces aren't out of the woods yet. There will be parliamentary elections this fall, and with every third Lithuanian currently supporting the parvenu Labor Party led by Viktor Uspaskich, a millionaire picket-magnate of Russian descent, the Seimas is about to swing toward center-left populism. How Adamkus will deal with this challenge is anyone's guess, but it would appear that now, after a semblance of stability has returned to Lithuania, the monkey business is about to begin.