• 2005-07-06
The standoff between the Lithuanian president and Vilnius mayor underscores a number of issues pertinent to Baltic politics. Valdas Adamkus has reiterated his call for Arturas Zuokas to resign, but the latter is refusing to budge.

The president is frustrated with the increasing number of accusations leveled at the mayor, and since it is his job to serve as a sort of moral beacon, he feels he has no choice but to call on the mayor to step down.

In either Estonia or Latvia, a similar scenario would be remarkably different, since the heads of state in these two countries are elected by Parliament, not the people. In Lithuania, however, Adamkus was given the job by winning at the ballot box, while Zuokas, like all Baltic mayors, was chosen by the city council. (These are elections that, as many Balts know, are far from honest). So the voice of authority belongs to the president.

Second, there is the humanistic concept of innocent until proven guilty that must be taken into account. What, after all, is to prevent a president from asking any municipal chief to resign? Accusations must be backed up by some semblance of evidence. In the case of former Economy Minister Viktor Uspaskich, a commission was set up to investigation charges that he violated ethical boundaries, and they submitted their conclusions. Uspaskich resigned.

With Zuokas, nothing similar has happened. While there have been reports that the mayor, a millionaire with a large real estate portfolio, has used his office to secure friendly companies lucrative contracts and deals, so far no substantial evidence has materialized. As Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas has stated, the mayor has the right to defend himself from criticism.

Though the standoff between Adamkus and Zuokas 's who in the past have been allies in the right-of-center zone of the political spectrum 's is unlikely to deteriorate into a war of words, it does risk poisoning Lithuania's political atmosphere, already the most toxic in the Baltics. Just this week Adamkus has just engaged in a similar faceoff with Agriculture Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene, who ignored the president's request not to go to Kaliningrad for the 750-anniversary celebration.

Prunskiene, under fire from both the right and left for her decision, held a press conference on July 5 to defend herself, though at one point she reportedly said, "The president should probably be advised to better coordinate foreign policy." To which Adamkus promptly replied, "I see the agriculture minister's statements of today as a demarche against me, as head of state."

Upon returning to office after the moral pitfalls of the Paksas administration, Adamkus sees it as his job 's the swan-song of his outstanding career 's to clean up Lithuania's political cesspool. No doubt there is plenty of work. Nor is it a secret that he never has liked this current government, a hodge-podge of quasi-Social Democrats and unpredictable populists. But in order to succeed even marginally at his task, he must pick his fights wisely. Otherwise, the house of cards around him will come tumbling down on top of him.