Grybauskaite’s first year in office

  • 2010-07-21
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

Vytautas the Great (Lithuanian Army Major Donatas Mazurkevicius), ruler of the medieval empire of Lithuania, and Dalia Grybauskaite on July 15 in Poland during the preparations for the re-enactment of the Battle of Grunwald commemorating the 600-year anniversary of that biggest and geopolitically most important battle of medieval Europe.

VILNIUS - On July 12, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite celebrated her first year in office with a press conference in  thepresidential palace. During a week after this, political analysts were evaluating her one-year rule. There is no doubt about one thing: the electorate loves her. Her positive rating from election day has remained at the same level – 85 percent of Lithuanians evaluated her positively immediately after her election, and 84 percent evaluate her positively now (according to social research company Vilmorus). For comparison, according to the Pew Research Center, Barack Obama’s approval rating dropped from 64 percent in February 2009 (he assumed the president’s office in January 2009) to 49 percent in December 2010, and it continues to drop.

During one year, Grybauskaite initiated the firing of 16 heads or deputy heads of state institutions. Her policy is commonly described in Lithuania as “chopping of heads.” Lithuanians love it. During a daily political humor show on LNK TV, Grybauskaite was usually shown assisted by a headsman who dressed in medieval clothes and carrying an axe in her office. Some say that some heads were cut due to the large ego of Grybauskaite.

According to Rimvydas Valatka, editor-in-chief of, the charismatic Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas was probably fired due to an incident which took place when Usackas and President Grybauskaite went to New York to take part in a session of the United Nations. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, while giving a hug to Usackas, asked him who is that lady who came with him. The unknown lady was Grybauskaite.

Arunas Valinskas told Lietuvos Rytas TV how he lost the post of parliament speaker (the vote of non-confidence in the parliament was inspired by Grybauskaite). August 2009 was a period of time when pirates in Nigeria captured five Lithuanian sailors and Russia imposed sanctions on Lithuanian trucking companies. Then Parliament Speaker Valinskas, during his briefing, said, “Pirates and the Russians are unpredictable.” According to Valinskas, soon after this, during some gathering of the country’s establishment, Grybauskaite approached him asking how he dared to say such a thing. Then Valinskas told her that he was ready to correct his mistake and to say in public the following, “Pirates and the Russians are predictable.” That was the end of normal relations between Grybauskaite and Valinskas.

Of course, both those stories are just interpretations by Valatka and Valinskas, not confirmed by other sources.
Arkadijus Vinokuras (re-emigre from Sweden of numerous talents: Soviet-era dissident, former professional clown in the circus, author of a book of erotic essays, currently liberal political analyst and even adviser to Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius on Jewish community issues) praised Grybauskaite’s political talent in his article in on July 15, though he never had big sympathy for Grybauskaite partially because she was a Soviet-era professor of economics in the school for Communist Party members (they were studying their Marxist ideology there) – Vinokuras and Grybauskaite are of really different backgrounds.

Vinokuras stated that Grybauskaite was smart enough to gain support of the ruling coalition as well as opposition – Vinokuras described it as French-style love. He also praised her talent to present herself as a reincarnation of the quite popular President Brazauskas though Vinokuras himself is not an admirer of that former high-standing communist boss. Vinokuras also stated that Grybauskaite paid attention to the media critics and her talking style is less authoritarian now. She smiles more often now and therefore, looks more charming. Indeed, during her press conference held to review the first year of her term in office, Grybauskaite smiled a lot, though her smile was rather ironic. She said nothing sensational though a couple of questions and answers were interesting.

Grybauskaite was asked what she is doing to achieve the visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Lithuania.
“Maybe it seems to be important to somebody. However, I think that now, when modern communication technologies exist and when there is a possibility of direct communication during various forums, or talking in other ways, visits become a little bit archaic stuff - they are unnecessary for preserving or developing relations,” Grybauskaite said.
The correspondent of asked the following question, “You criticized the Church for not allowing the body of Algirdas Brazauskas to be carried into the Cathedral. What is your personal relation with the Church? Are you a devoted believer?”
“You asked about my personal relation – so, I’ll leave it to myself. No comments. How devoted, how much devoted, how much percent devoted – that is my personal matter,” Grybauskaite said.

One thing is sure – the contradictions to Grybauskaite could quickly find their reflection in the popularity ratings. The official author of the decision not to allow Brazauskas’ coffin into the Cathedral was Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis (though rumors say that he was pressured by right-wing politicians – the absence of Vytautas Landsbergis, former parliament speaker and idol of the Lithuanian rightists at Brazauskas’ funeral was symbolic). Nonetheless, according to a Vilmorus survey published by the daily Lietuvos Rytas on July 17, Backis is negatively viewed by 33.8 percent of Lithuanians, while 24.2 percent view him positively. A month ago, such a survey showed that only 5.6 percent view him negatively while 46.5 percent had a positive opinion about him.

On the Mindaugas Coronation Day on July 6, soon after Brazauskas’ funeral, Grybauskaite showed up for Mass in the Vilnius Cathedral and was met with standing applause, but her face, with an expression of despise during the Backis-concelebrated Mass told everything that she thinks about Backis.

In terms of foreign policy, Grybauskaite, as any other Lithuanian leader before her, accents the importance of membership in the European Union. It is a very positive ideological orientation towards Brussels in a rather narrow-minded archaically ultraconservative and, at the same time, still somewhat Soviet country. The word “Europe” is the most popular word in Grybauskaite’s vocabulary, though sometimes it is used in an unlucky way.

“The victory at Grunwald stopped the centuries-long aggression against Lithuania, Poland and Europe,” Grybauskaite said in her not so bad Polish on July 15 in the battlefield of Grunwald, to Polish President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski, presidents of Romania and Moldova as well as Lithuanian and Polish army troops starting the several-day long re-enactment of the Battle of Grunwald, commemorating the 600-year anniversary of that biggest and geopolitically most important battle of medieval Europe. Actually, the Teutonic Order, which was beaten in Grunwald in 1410, used to consist of knights from the entire West Europe (mostly German lands), including some highest nobility-origin personalities of England and France, and therefore, calling them “aggressors against Europe,” was funny enough. However, Grybauskaite, and probably her speechwriters, are not historians by education, as is Komorowski (or Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk), so such mistakes are forgivable.

With the election of Komorowski, another feature of Grybauskaite became quite obvious. It is ironic that people of the town of Kavoliskis (near Rokiskis) in North Lithuania are ready to exploit Komorowski’s legacy in that town by preparing to start producing the sweets of which Komorowksi’s family estate of Kavoliskis was famous. Now Lithuanians know a lot about the genealogical tree of that new Lithuanian-origin Polish president, while they don’t know much more about their own president - Grybauskaite’s biography is known in only a very short version by the majority of Lithuanians. Grybauskaite prefers to keep some enigma about her biography, and even about her political preferences and views. From the point of public relations, this is quite smart behavior – Lithuanians can create her image in their heads according to their own wishes, and fall in love with that image.