• 2006-03-29

Cartoon by Jevgenij Cheksters

It has been a terribly long year for Lithuania's political life. For both those involved and those forced to watch, the climate of cut-throat acrimony has intensified over the past 12 months, almost as if it feeds off itself. April will mark two years since the disgraceful impeachment of Rolandas Paksas, but instead of a renewal of its political ethos, Lithuania has sunk deeper into this self-perpetuating morass of accusations and incriminations.

Conflicts cross party and coalitional lines, public and private interests, and at times it seems that no one gets along at all (or conversely, that all interests are mysteriously intertwined). The result has been a lackluster coalition with woefully little to show in terms of real achievements. On almost any issue 's taxes, EU funds, nuclear energy, Mazeikiu Nafta 's government leaders give out contradictory soundbites, proof that this mixed bag of ministers is incapable of seeing eye-to-eye on anything.

No surprise, then, that President Valdas Adamkus used the occasion of his state of the republic to inject a much-needed dose of self-reflection and common sense. It was a classic dressing-down, and included some of the president's harshest criticism to date: "Lithuania is choking on examples of officials and politicians who have… confused public and private interests, gone unpunished, not even condemned publicly, and claiming they recognize only legal responsibility."

In perhaps the shrillest part of his speech, Adamkus even suggested that the internecine atmosphere within Lithuania is the nation's worst enemy. "We have been building an independent state for 16 years, but we are forced to admit that public disappointment with it, as a value, is increasing. Patriotism is waning. Sometimes we have to stop and think that we, rather than external enemies, pose a threat to our statehood."
Will Adamkus' words have any benign affect on the rabble-rousers? Don't hold your breath. So much hostility hangs above Vilnius that it will require more than simply one speech to clear the air. In fact, if the situation doesn't improve, the president may want to consider calling for new elections. There has been talk of this before, and the best minds at work in the Presidential Palace may want to return to the drawing boards.

The reasoning is wholly economic. As opposed to two years ago, when Paksas was removed from office, Lithuania is facing a slew of enormous economic commitments that will have profound impact on the nation's future welfare. Particularly, the sale of Mazeikiu Nafta, the campaign to win support for a new nuclear power plant, and the acquisition and disbursement of hundreds of millions of euros in EU development funds. The aggregate worth of these pillars could make up as much as one-half of GDP, so the president must ask himself if this is the government that should be entrusted with the tasks.

The problem is that the president fears that any new government may be more frighteningly incompetent than the present one. The Labor Party continues to lead in the polls, far and away, and the last thing Adamkus wants is to give the populists more leverage than they have already. The challenge, therefore, is how to take the wind out of the Laborites' sails and bring down the party's image in the Lithuanian electorate's overly gullible perception. That is the riddle not one Lithuanian has yet figured out.