Conspicuous absence at Davos raises thorny questions

  • 2006-02-01
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - For two consecutive years, Lithuania's top officials have not received an invitation to one of the world's most prestigious events 's the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Concerned as to why Lithuania is going unnoticed by the Swiss forum's organizers, officials and commentators have admitted that the Baltic state became persona non grata during the rule of removed president Rolandas Paksas and is still forgotten largely due to diplomats' lackluster attitude.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Antanas Valionis urged politicians to keep a lid on the issue, saying there were tons of various forums in the world and one can't attend all of them.

However, the Presidential Palace has suggested that someone needs to take the responsibility as to why Lithuania is being ignored, since it isn't only the president but other top leaders also receive invitations.

The president's adviser, Edvinas Bagdonas, said the negative aftershocks of the Paksas impeachment could be felt to the present day. Former Foreign Minister Povilas Gilys agreed that the series of political scandals that followed Paksas' impeachment had completely ruined Lithuania's image.

"It is most likely that our unsavory reputation is troubling," Gilys said. "Of course, there is also another explanation 's perhaps it is enough to have one representative from the Baltic states. But then there is a question 's why is it the same person, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, representing the Baltic region two years in a row?"

Algirdas Gricius, a political analyst from the International Relations and Political Science Institute, told the radio Ziniu Radijas that "Davos is a good chance to present the country."

"Indeed, the fact that we don't manage to get there shows flaws in our diplomacy. I believe we should be more active and try to participate there," Gricius said. "On the other hand, I don't think it is a tragedy, and I hope we'll be invited next year."

MP Petras Austrevicius, former euro-negotiator, previously said there were many places you may not go, but not Davos, one of the most important forums not only in Europe but also globally.

"We are, of course, slightly indignant about Davos, but we try to overlook this with dignity. But why, in fact, were the Latvians invited and not us? Why should the growing power of India and China be more important to Latvia than Lithuania? This is very strange," wrote media analyst Vita Petrusaus-kaite.

In December, leader of the Labor Party Viktor Uspaskich even accused the presidential palace of negligence for failing to get the president on the participants list in Davos.

"The president runs minor visits and pays no attention to Lithuania's international politics. As a result of his actions, two years in a row Lithuania doesn't participate in the World Economic Forum, with the world's most influential leaders. The priorities of the presidential palace seem strange, if Davos conference remains off the way," Uspaskich said in a press release.

The Presidential Palace rejected the criticism, reminding that President Valdas Adamkus did participate in World Economic Forum in Ukraine last June.

"We can't say Lithuania doesn't participate in the generation of ideas for Davos, because Adamkus was involved in the extraordinary Davos Forum in Kiev last June. We do participate in the forum, but on the regional level, as experts of regional aspects," president's adviser Valteris Baliukonis was quoted as saying.

The presidential palace hinted that perhaps the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wasn't consistent enough to get Lithuania's leaders on board in Davos.

Valionis tried to sooth the situation, saying "there were 50 events of similar importance in the world," and one can't attend all of them.

Nevertheless, despite the minister's reassuring stature, the importance of the event is clearly underestimated among Lithuania's politicians. The comment of Social Democrat MP Justinas Karosas, who also happens to be chairman of parliamentary foreign affairs committee, is the best illustration of the provincial understanding about Davos: "They come to ski, to flirt with girls 's that's all there is to it."