PM Brazauskas strikes back - unsuccessfully

  • 2005-10-26
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas has had enough. Fed up with the opposition's relentless prodding into family business, Brazauskas launched a major counterattack on Oct. 21, appealing to prosecutors to investigate what he claimed was slander of his and his family's name.

The plea, however, fell on deaf ears, as Deputy Prosecutor General Gintaras Jasaitis told journalists on Oct. 25 that prosecutors would not open a defamation of character case on request of the head of government.

Jasaitis said both Lithuania's Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights have repeatedly ruled that criticism toward political figures can be more rigorous than criticism of private individuals.

For weeks now, the Homeland Union (Conservatives) have been hounding Brazauskas' wife, Kristina Brazauskiene, and her hotel business. They are suspicious that her relations with Ivan Paleychik, head of Lukoil Baltija, a branch of the Russian oil giant that is currently lobbying to buy Mazeikiu Nafta, may affect the Cabinet's objectivity in assessing who will take control of the country's prize industrial asset.

The Chief Official Ethics Commission ruled last week that the prime minister was not involved in a conflict of public and private interests and should not bow out of Mazeikiu Nafta privatization matters due to his wife's links with Lukoil Baltija.

This, however, didn't stop the opposition. It collected enough signatures to form a parliamentary ad hoc commission to investigate the sale of Brazauskiene's Crown Plaza hotel. But Brazauskas said that not only would he refuse to give testimony to any ad hoc commission, but he would also withdraw from the government if his hand was forced.In the meantime, the prime minister has asked the Prosecutor's Office to launch an investigation against Conservative leader Andrius Kubilius and MPs Jurgis Razma and Rasa Jukneviciene."He [Kubilius] constantly accuses me of hiding something. He always emphasizes that. However, now he will have to prove what kind of criminal offenses I, as a public servant, [supposedly] hide," Brazauskas was quoted as saying.This move took many by surprise, and even the Conservatives didn't hide their astonishment. They claim the prime minister is striking out at them for what they simply say is "asking questions." "These are desperate and inadequate actions from the beginning of the story," said Jukneviciene. "A criminal case has never been launched in a democratic country against the opposition for raising questions. In spite of answering the questions calmly and simply, Brazauskas behaves inadequately." "It reminds [me] of the times of the former president Rolandas Paksas," she said.Kubilius said he was right in drilling Brazauskas for information. "The prime minister's pressure on us through prosecutors, and his attempts to block the Seimas' [Lithuania's parliament] establishment of a commission, is shocking," he said. "This makes us seriously question what it is that the prime minister is trying to hide, using such desperate methods. It only testifies that we have taken the right path." Deputy Parliamentary Chairman and Social Democrat Ceslovas Jursenas said that Brazauskas was only trying to defend his honor and dignity. "Just like any other citizen, [the prime minister] has his conception of honor and dignity, especially a man who sincerely served the new Lithuania for 15 years. He has his conception of honor and dignity and he wants to defend it," Jursenas said.Political analysts almost unanimously commented that Brazauskas' choice of response was, to say the least, strange. It's clear that the PM's anger worked against his popularity, they said. "We can see now that Brazauskas' rigid position has had opposite effects in society – if Jupiter is angry, it means Jupiter is wrong," commented political analyst Arunas Staras. "It means there are some bad deeds in those long ago forgotten privatization circumstances, and now they need to be clarified. Any attempt to hide this or to avoid answers to uneasy questions only increases distrust in Algirdas and Kristina Brazauskas," Staras said. The scandal comes at a time when the coalition government's stability is as precarious as ever. Indeed, the opposition wasn't alone in signing a petition to investigate Brazauskas' family business. MPs from the Labor Party faction, coalition partners, joined the effort.