Zuokas continues to dodge criticism

  • 2005-08-10
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - The ongoing scandal over Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas has reached critical mass, with major parties turning to the government for help. Exhausted by the mayor's intransigence, non-parliamentary parties have urged the government to take the municipality into its own hands and impose direct rule in the capital.

The National Center Party and Union of Social Democrats urged the heads of state and government to consider direct rule 's an option enshrined in Lithuania's Constitution. The alternative, they said, could be a national crisis.

"Defending himself from critics and ignoring the Lithuanian Constitution and law, even the rulings of the court, Zuokas declared that municipality operations did not act upon order of national institutions," said authors of the initiative Romualdas Ozolas and Arvydas Akstinavicius.

Such a philosophy, they added, shows that the mayor and his administration have abused the public trust and are no longer capable of coping without external intervention.

"Work within the municipality and its council follows a system of authoritarian privilege, favoring the mayor and his administration rather than an acceptable, democratic way of decision making," Ozolas and Akstinavicius said.

The criticism also infiltrated the Liberal Centrists, the party Zuokas leads, with members accusing their leader of purging the ranks of those who were too zealous in their criticism of the mayor.

The rigmarole started in May, when Zuokas was suspected of corruption. LNK, a national TV channel, aired documents allegedly proving that some person nick-named "the subscriber" was receiving regular payments from the Rubicon Group company for pushing favorable decisions through the Vilnius municipality. It was implied that this "subscriber" was none other than the Vilnius mayor.

Finally, the mayor was enmeshed in a bitter exchange of accusations with former Economy Minister Viktor Uspaskich that led President Valdas Adamkus to call for both men to resign their public offices. Zuokas refused to listen.

Ozolas and Akstinavicius said their concern did not stop with the Rubicon Group. They also pointed to other controversial City Council decisions such as ignoring the opinion of UNESCO, jeopardizing the Old Town's cultural heritage, contributing to the deterioration of city green zones and squandering taxpayers' money.

It is precisely these issues that have divided the party into two circles. Even the fact that Zuokas stepped down as party chief failed to mollify the mayor's inner-party opponents, who claimed he was just trying to salvage the Liberal Centrists parliamentary image.

"Silence and fawning to the chief caused more damage to the party than declaring the problems in public," MEP Eugenijus Gentvilas told the ELTA news agency after a council meeting where his membership was suspended for publicly criticizing the leader.

"I think that he doesn't care about the party, but only about his business," he said, repeating the phrase he believes was the main reason for his eviction.

Gentvilas, who headed the liberals before the Liberal Party and Centrist Party merged, was the second politician to be evicted from the Liberal Center Union. Kestutis Glaveckas, another liberal centrist, joined Gentvilas as punishment for his "cantankerous mood with the leader."

"This is the beginning of party cleansing, which is conducted in accordance to Zuokas and his team of followers. Zuokas doesn't see another way 's only to get rid of different opinions," commented MP Vytautas Grubliauskas.

"These are the last convolutions attempting to get rid of unwanted members, leaving only those who unconditionally carry out all orders. The party has no idea how to swim away from the crisis," he added.

As for direct rule in Vilnius, lawyers imply that, in this situation, such an extreme move could violate the citizens' right to self-governance. According to the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, this measure could be used to avoid more serious damage such an undemocratic coups or violating the country's territorial integrity. Therefore, the chances of such are unlikely.