President Brazauskas dead

  • 2010-06-30
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

PARADISE SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS: Algirdas Brazauskas (pictured during the opening of the Visaginas-Pabrade gas pipeline in 2005), who was Lithuania’s president in 1993-1998 and prime minister in 2001-2006, died on June 26.

VILNIUS - On July 26, President Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas, 77, died in his home in the prestigious residential area of Turniskes, where President Dalia Grybauskaite and President Valdas Adamkus were his neighbors. The news about the passing of the almost mythological man-epoch came as no surprise, because Brazauskas’ cancer was the top story in the Lithuanian media for many months. A year ago he went to Israel for cancer treatment.

Brazauskas was Lithuanian president (or “lackey of Lithuania” as he called himself) from 1993-1998, and prime minister from 2001-2006. He was the leader of the country when the Russian army left Lithuania and when his country joined NATO and the European Union. Brazauskas was also a crucial political figure in Lithuania’s fight for democracy and independence in 1988-1991. Good words about Brazauskas now come from Vytautas Landsbergis, former speaker of the Lithuanian parliament and Brazauskas’ eternal rival-ally, Catholic Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis, President Adamkus and the entire spectrum of Lithuanian political leaders.

Brazauskas was a member of the Lithuanian Communist Party (LCP) for three decades. This fact is not forgotten and forgiven him by many Lithuanians, though he also always had many fans. Brazauskas used to say that “three percent of the LCP were communists while the other 97 percent were normal people,” identifying himself with those 97 percent. He was in charge of economic matters in the LCP. In 1988, Brazauskas became the leader of the LCP. He then was a kind of buffer between Sajudis, the rising independence movement in Lithuania, and the Kremlin.

Brazauskas was not an initiator of the pro-independence actions in Lithuania, but he withstood pressure from Moscow, which was urging him to stop the actions of “nationalists.” Finally, in December 1989, during the party congress in Vilnius’ Opera House, the LCP proclaimed a break away from the Communist Party of the USSR, even though Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev threatened Brazauskas on the phone to send tanks and surround the Opera House to stop such a move. Any other communist party of any other so-called Soviet republic did not risk repeating such a step of the LCP. On March 11, 1990, MP Brazauskas put his signature under the declaration of re-establishment of full independence of Lithuania.

Later the LCP was transformed into the Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) and, subsequently, the LDDP joined the smaller Sajudis-rooted Social Democrat Party (LSDP). The joint party is now known under the name of Social Democrats (LSDP). Brazauskas was always a key figure in the party. After Brazauskas left politics due to poor health, the Sajudis-rooted LSDP politicians became a ruling group in the party, leaving the former communist nomenclature a marginal role in the party.
Brazauskas received 60 percent of the vote, or more than one million votes, during the presidential election of Feb. 14, 1993. Nobody has gotten this amount of votes in the presidential elections after this. His wife, Julija Brazauskiene, who came with Brazauskas to the polling station on Feb. 14, 1993, said to journalists there that she voted for Brazauskas’ rival, Stasys Lozoraitis, who was a Lithuanian diplomat in the Vatican and Washington for many years during the Soviet occupation (the West never recognized the Baltic states as part of the USSR and embassies of pre-war independent Lithuania continued to function in Washington, London and the Vatican during the 50 years when Lithuania was occupied by foreign powers).

Brazauskas was much more traditional Catholic than Landsbergis, according to political analyst Raimundas Lopata, who made a study of the views of Brazauskas and Landsbergis. Despite such traditionalism, after finishing his term of presidency, he divorced his wife and, in 2002, married his long-time friend, businesswoman Kristina Butrimiene, owner of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Vilnius, preserving good relations with his twin daughters and former wife. This second marriage was probably the main reason why he refused to run for a second term, though he could have easily won again, according to social surveys. He wanted some time for his personal life, although his official reasoning for not running for a second term was the need for Lithuania to have a leader without a communist past.

Brazauskas’ name was mentioned in some scandalous publications about privatization of formerly state-owned property, but his charisma was so strong that he never lost his popularity in Lithuania. Brazauskas was widely loved for his tolerance, capability to agree with his opponents’ arguments and to change his own views if such arguments convinced him – this is a rather rare feature in Lithuanian politics. He never showed disrespect to his opponents in public. Brazauskas was not a blind fanatic of some doctrine - he was capable of constant development of his personality. His talent to speak to people in simple language was also a part of his charisma.

“Mr. Brazauskas’ greatest asset was political cunning, usually well-disguised by his naturally genial manner. Unlike most other politicians, he did not seem obsessed by the details of politics: he usually gave the impression he would much rather be tucking into a decent meal with plenty to drink and some pretty women for company (his first wife complained about his ‘fooling around’ in a newspaper interview: few Lithuanians seemed to mind). But he was no buffoon. For a communist born and bred, to break publicly and acrimoniously with Moscow required real steel. In retrospect, the independence of the Baltic states seems all but fore-ordained. At the time, it was a colossal risk. Had either of two attempted hard-line coups in 1991 (one in Lithuania in January, one in Moscow in August) succeeded, Mr. Brazauskas and his comrades would have been on trial as traitors,” the British newspaper The Economist wrote in its obituary to Brazauskas.

The name of Brazauskas was on the January 1991 Moscow-organized coup perpetrators’ black list - persons from the list were planned to be arrested and imprisoned in Russia, according to recent statements by Brazauskas. In 1990, Brazauskas, then being one of two deputy prime ministers of Lithuania, played a key role in dealing with the economic blockade which was imposed on Lithuania by Soviet President Gorbachev as punishment for the act of re-establishment of Lithuania’s independence of March 11, 1990.

Lithuanian leaders immediately published their letters of condolence after Brazauskas’ death. “Lithuania’s road to freedom would not have been so successful if Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas would not have decided to take the challenge of freedom,” stated Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius on his government’s Web site. “We have lost a sincere person and a prominent politician who had been at the wheel of state at challenging and difficult stages in the history of Lithuania. The memory of the strong and charismatic personality of the first directly elected president of Lithuania since the restoration of independence will always stay in the hearts of the people of Lithuania,” Lithuanian President Grybauskaite stated.

In fact, Brazauskas was the main creator of Grybauskaite’s career. She became well-known in Lithuania when Prime Minister Brazauskas appointed her to be finance minister in his cabinet. Later, Brazauskas sent her to be a commissioner in the European Commission. During the 2009 Lithuanian presidential elections, Brazauskas supported independent candidate Grybauskaite, despite the fact that her main rival in the presidential elections was his party’s leader, Social Democrat Algirdas Butkevicius and despite the fact that Grybauskaite was supported by the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, who are the main rivals for the Social Democrats in Lithuanian politics.

Condolences came from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and (ironically enough) former Soviet President Gorbachev, who described Brazauskas as “courageous man” in his condolences. On June 17, when Brazauskas already could not speak or show his reactions laying in his bed, Medvedev signed an executive order conferring the Order of Honor on President Brazauskas. The order has been conferred for “Mr. Brazauskas’ major contribution to strengthening cooperation and friendly relations between Russia and Lithuania.”

The Lithuanian government announced a three-day mourning in the country for June 29-July 1. The state funeral will be held on July 1. Zatlers, Ilves, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and other current and former foreign leaders are expected to come to the funeral. The Mass in Vilnius’ Cathedral will be concelebrated at 9:00 on July 1. The procession with the coffin of Brazauskas on a gun-carriage will start to move from the Presidential Palace, which is situated on Daukanto Square, at 14:00. The procession is expected to reach the Antakalnis Cemetery at 15:00. Large crowds of people are expected.