• 2006-08-02

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

Viktor Uspaskich wants to return home. It is a perfectly natural desire. Though born in Russia, Uspaskich became a millionaire in Lithuania on real estate investments, sales of natural gas and packaging pickles. (In 2002, he declared ownership of 46.7 million euros in property alone.) He later became an MP, and most memorably, created the Labor Party in 2003, which has undisputedly been the dominant force in Lithuania over the past three years. It won the European Parliament ballot and then national elections in 2004. Consistently the Labor Party has been at the top of almost all polls.

But if all parties have flaws, the Laborites' was particularly damning: they were shamelessly populist. While on the campaign trail, they routinely promised impossible social reforms 's measures that, if implemented, would have bankrupted the state (at best) or placed Lithuania in poor repute in Brussels and Washington. Many were leery of Uspaskich's close ties with Russia, a suspicion he helped propagate when, acting as economy minister, he lobbied the interests of a friendly company during a set of business negotiations in Moscow.

To shorten a long story, the Labor Party scared many influential Lithuanians, and so the hunt began. Political adversaries managed to oust Uspaskich from the Economy Ministry, but to their amazement, this only made the pickle magnate more powerful. He toured the countryside, where he blasted the president, painted himself the victim of decadent Vilnius politics, and watched as the Labor Party's rating gradually recovered lost ground. Gradually Uspaskich's star rose anew, allowing the Laborites' to pull off an intra-coalitional coup that gave it another ministerial portfolio and the chairmanship of Parliament. Suddenly, the Laborites were in the driver's seat.

It was at this juncture that, as The Baltic Times accurately predicted, the hunters declared all-out war on the Labor Party. Suddenly incriminations rained down, and investigators raided the party's offices in search of evidence to back the claims. Political allies ran for cover, and Uspaskich even left the country. (He's now in Russia.) Virtually leaderless, the Labor Party dropped out of the coalition and now finds itself in the opposition.

But Uspaskich wants back in 's and investigators off his trail. To accomplish this, he has apparently threatened to expose all the filth of Lithuanian politics (of which there is copious amounts, no doubt) in a tell-all book that would certainly become a regional bestseller. If you don't back off, he seems to be saying from his Moscow hideout, I'll open all your closet doors and expose the brigade of skeletons.

In polite society, this is called blackmail, and one has to wonder whether Uspaskich is not shooting himself in the foot. To be sure, he undoubtedly possesses a vast amount of incriminating inside information 's facts that should be brought to light 's about his political adversaries, and considering what they did to him, it is only fair that he be given a chance to strike back. But Uspaskich should choose the proper method for retaliation; otherwise, his volley will backfire, and could possibly end his political 's and business 's career in Lithuania forever.