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UNSTOPPABLE VALDAS

  • 2004-12-09
Suddenly, the Lithuanian presidency has been transformed - again. Eight months ago the institution groaned under the strain of scandal, intrigue and in the end, an impeachment. A veil of embarrassment hung over a new EU member, and many openly wondered about the Baltic states' integrity and vulnerability to Russian business interests. At the same time the stars over Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas shined bright. The Social Democratic/Social Liberal coalition showed itself to be the guarantor of economic and political stability in times of trouble.

It didn't last long. Within weeks a number of MPs - including Social Democrat Vytenis Andriukaitis - were accused of accepting bribes from a Vilnius businessman, and then, after parliamentary elections in October, Brazauskas and Paulauskas hopped in bed with the Labor Party, the parvenu populists whom they had criticized for the duration of the pre-election campaign. Consequently, public trust in Brazauskas, prime minister since 2001, has fallen sharply.

And then there's Valdas Adamkus. Many felt the president had changed after the year-and-a-half hiatus and were expecting a new approach in the Presidential Palace, but few anticipated such a qualitative turnaround. The invitation to help mediate the crisis in Ukraine has placed him in an international spotlight and brought a flavor of recognition to Lithuania. After a year of chaos, it tastes good. But the invitation to Ukraine has as much to do with Adamkus personally as it does with Lithuania. The Baltic Times, for one, cannot imagine a scandal-dogged Rolandas Paksas sitting at the roundtable in Kiev alongside European mediators. It was Adamkus' impeccable reputation and friendship with President Leonid Kuchma that got him to Kiev.

At home, Adamkus, well aware that Lithuania's image has suffered, is determined to patch it up a bit at a time. No longer will the executive turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest and rampant impropriety in the halls of power. And here the president has shown his true mettle. He told the prime minister he wanted two suspect individuals removed from the list of potential Cabinet member, and he got his way. Even though Brazauskas and Paulauskas initially balked at Adamkus' attempts to encroach on their ground, they caved in.

In many ways, Adamkus is redefining the office of the presidency, which in the Baltic states - all parliamentary democracies - has traditionally been weak. But faced with increasing allegations of parliamentary corruption, and the inability of law enforcement agencies to deal with it effectively, Adamkus is using his authority to imbue a new sense of integrity into Lithuanian politics. And not surprisingly, people like it. He tops the opinion polls among popular leaders, and his winning streak is likely to continue. For now, at least, Adamkus has become a genuine Baltic superhero - and one to be reckoned with. Just like the old Jim Croce song goes: "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off that ol' Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with Valdas."