Injured bears are the most dangerous

  • 2000-06-29
  • By Rutherford MacGregor
Last week saw the opening of the five-day Eleventh World Lithuanian Academic Symposium. Keynote speaker: Vytautas Landsbergis.

He trotted out all his trusty old bugbears: communism, totalitarianism and thinly veiled anti-Russian rhetoric cloaked in allusions to the Iron Curtain. He made multiple references to his own legislative achievements earlier in the decade: The man has been reduced to basking in his own glory days. His speech was stultifying, and his monotonously nasal voice combined with the intense summer heat made the experience that much more soporific.

Yet no one got restless when he surpassed his allotted 20 minutes and dragged on for a full hour, bumping two other scheduled speakers. Not a big surprise, considering he was addressing the only two constituencies he has left: old fogies and North American Diaspora Lithuanians (a.k.a. old fogies with big savings accounts).

The whole event had the air of a Landsbergis love-in. Last week Lithuania's Vilmorus public opinion pollsters announced that Vytautas Landsbergis' approval rating was hovering around an abysmal 11 percent. So many veteran athletes and politicians just don't know when to bow out: Helmut Kohl and Diego Maradonna come to mind. There's always one more chance, however fleeting, to stand on the victory podium.

No one can deny that Landsbergis has earned his place in history. Like Churchill, he was the right man to lead a battle, but inflammatory rhetoric has little place in peacetime. Landsbergis' recent demands for reparations from Russia for the Soviet occupation are nothing short of dangerous: At best, he will only score a moot point.

Germany paid after World War II, but the Allies laid Hitler's 1000-year Reich to waste. The Germans themselves wanted to put the war behind them and were greatly helped by the Marshall Plan in getting back on their economic and legislative feet. Today's Russia is more akin to post-World War I Weimar Germany: chaotic, bitter, corrupt, substantially weakened and suffering a loss of respect. It is fertile ground for an expansionist tyrant.

Russia's GDP is the size of Belgium's but it still has a massive military infrastructure. The Bear was not killed during the Cold War: It was only injured and may now be on its way to recovery under steel-fisted Putin. It is common knowledge that injured animals are the most dangerous: always best to keep a safe distance.

It is time for Landsbergis to hang up his support hose and don his sandals for a lengthy walk on the beach. He has his encyclopedia entry and recently received a presidential pension for life. He should go gracefully while the warm weather is still here, otherwise the Paksas, Paulauskas, Ozolas steamroller is going to flatten him in the fall elections. Maybe the Lithuanian government should sweeten his pension with a brand new Steinway.