NICE WHEELS: Kristina Brazauskiene is living a real Cinderella success story.
KLAIPEDA - Divine angels out there may fondle the deceased President Algirdas Brazauskas’ soul, but his spouse, Kristina, since his death has been entangled in nasty public deliberations over something, she maintains she deserves - the presidential widow’s bulky pension - known in Lithuania as ‘presidential rent.’ Her obnoxious adversaries taunt her, calling her “a barmaid.” They suggest that she has taken advantage of the love-stripped president - the canny barmaid has turned into a super rich Cinderella, with a lavish presidential residence in the exclusive region of Turniskes, customized interior Land-Rover, her own 10 million litas (2.8 million euro)-plus-something hotel “Crowne Plaza Vilnius” and a constitutional right to rake in a bulky presidential rent – nearly 7,000 litas per month.
From a legal standpoint, Brazauskiene has not received any income lately - she has refused to work in her general director’s position in “Crowne Plaza Vilnius” quite recently. President Brazauskas’ legacy, many claim, has been tarnished by his dubious decisions regarding the privatization of the once state owned hotel, though a special Seimas (Parliament) commission did not find any transgressions in the deal.
Left without income, though widely perceived as one of the richest women in Lithuania, Brazauskiene is entitled to the cushy monthly payment of 7,000 litas. Though it has been over three months since Brazauskas’ death, the issue of his widow’s presidential rent has been simmering wildly. Last week, asked by the daily Lietuvos Rytas whether she does not regret having asked for it, Brazauskiene answered, “I have worked all my life, to be exact, for over 40 years. I am not afraid of any work and, certainly, now, I can earn somehow my living myself. However, I think that the presidential widow’s rent is a certain part of the presidential institution. Therefore, it should be given not as an allowance, but as a manifestation of respect to the deceased president.”
In fact, Kristina is Brazauskas’ second wife that he has never brought to the altar. When he passed away, the Vilnius Archdiocese refused to let his coffin in for mass in Vilnius Cathedral, declining to explain the decision. Though it has brought wide public animosity, many saw it as the Church’s retribution for the deceased president’s secular wedding ties. In addition, many speculate, the Church has not forgiven Brazauskas for his liaison with Kristina – in 2002, the then PM was spotted vacationing with her at a luxurious Egypt resort. Then, journalists were quick to find that his wife, Julija, was bedridden and not aware of her hubby’s sweet escape.
A large part of the Lithuanian conservative society, not to mention the Catholic Church, still sees Kristina Brazauskiene as the late president’s concubine. However, Egidijus Kuris, a Constitutional Court ex-justice, rebuts the accusation. “According to the letter of the law, this is not the case. When Brazauskas passed away, his only legitimate wife was Kristina.
Everywhere in the world, including Lithuania, the widow is considered to be the person who was in matrimony with the departed, not the one with which a previous marriage was disrupted,” Kuris pointed out. He is convinced that the new draft defining the new order of receiving rents does not apply to Kristina. “When she applied for the presidential rent, she matched the conditions defined by the law. The amended law cannot be applied to Brazauskiene,” Kuris affirmed.
With the late president’s birthday approaching, his wife is embattled in nasty accusations, rebukes and overwhelming public scorn. “Instead of focusing on my late husband, I am obliged to fend off all the nasty public harassment,” Brazauskiene lamented in a recent interview. “I feel like a culprit being cornered – quite undeservedly,” she said.
Big names, including the signatories of the Independence Act, have lashed out at her, trying to dissuade her from accepting the presidential rent. “Real fighters for Lithuanian independence that should be revered on every possible occasion are in misery, while those who doubted their plight are extolled and put on the highest pedestal,” Alvydas Medalinskas, a prominent public figure and ex-parliamentarian, said, referring to Brazauskiene. In an article, he went on, “We should not forget that it is not an angel who has departed, but someone who often veered away into weaknesses and fallacies…
One of the ‘prichvatization’ [which means unlawful privatization, in broken Lithuanian] symbols will forever remain the hotel “Draugyste” [It was later renamed “Crowne Plaza Vilnius”] and Kristina Brazauskiene. That is why so many people were angered when she applied for the rent. With respect to the late president, did their family live with lawful income? Are those speculations about her dreamlike enrichment, while Brazauskas was in power, not substantiated? It is quite obvious to everyone that without Brazauskas’ involvement, she could not have become the sole owner of the hotel “Draugyste,” Medalinskas concluded.
Daily Lietuvos Rytas’s deputy editor-in-chief, Rimvydas Valatka, went further, pouring acid on her gaping wound of loss. In his acrimonious as ever commentary he stated, “Her hotel shares’ value reaches 10 million litas, but frugal Kristina dares to lecture her granddaughter how to live thriftily. ‘My dear, a human being does not need a lot – just to peck a little bit…’”
With feelings raging, Lithuanian PM and Chairman of Homeland Union and Christian Democrat Party Andrius Kubilius tries to assume a calm stance on the issue, “The government, regardless of what notions prevail, will have to follow the legislative framework. However, the law does not always correspond to the general perception of justice. According to the letter of the law, we will have to give Brazauskiene the rent, though its implication will contradict its nature – giving rent when a person is in need for help.
Brazauskiene appealed to the Presidential Palace for help in the beginning August. Her request was sent to the Ministry of Social Security and Labor, but the uproar has been raging ever since. The Ministry issued an ordinance suggesting that Brazauskiene matches all the requirements to receive the rent. According to Lithuanian laws, a rent seeker is not entitled to it if he or she receives any insured income. Brazauskiene stated that she did not get the income from last July, when she left her GM position at the hotel. According to the law, a presidential widow’s (widower’s) state rent comprises 50 percent of the president’s state rent which, in Brazauskas’ case, is 13,920 litas. Thus, the woman’s rent would make up a whopping 7,000 litas – an amount of which 99 percent of Lithuanians can only dream of.
In the draft, prepared by the government, when giving rent not only the actual salary will be taken into consideration, but also income related to the person’s dividends and real estate leases. Besides, the government is planning to introduce a so-called “rent ceiling,” the exceeding of which would deny the rent. “We are trying to fixate a principle of social justice in the draft,” Donatas Jankauskas, the minister of Social Security and Labor, said to a news agency. Lina Businskaite, spokeswoman for the Ministry, said to The Baltic Times that the government is likely to adopt the new draft at the end of the week. “It should become clear then whether Brazauskiene will receive her presidential rent,” Businskaite emphasized.
While the decision is taking shape, most politicians, eager to comment on anything, shun any comment regarding Brazauskiene and her rent. “I do not want to comment on this matter. I am convinced the ongoing debates are not worth the publicity. Media coverage has been blown up immensely, though we have to do the only thing [possible] – follow the law,” conservative Paulius Saudargas said to The Baltic Times.
Social democrat Gediminas Kirkilas, asked about Brazauskiene’s rent, cut it off abruptly, “I do not want to speak on this issue,” and hung up.
Algirdas Butkevicius, Chairman of the Social Democrat Party, was not eager to express his view on the matter either, putting it tersely: “The law stands with her. I regret the discussion has gotten so nasty.”
Only Kestutis Masiulis, a conservative parliamentarian, did not avoid the issue, elaborating, “The Lithuanian people have a very sensitive sense of justice. Let’s just remember what an uproar raged when Vytautas Landsbergis (a prominent Lithuanian politician, patriarch of the Lithuanian Conservative Party) was awarded land for his public merits. From a legal standpoint, she (Brazauskiene) is entitled to the rent; however, from a moral standpoint, she is one of the richest women in Lithuania and the late president’s involvement in her enrichment, while he was governing the country, is very shady and dubious.”
Masiulis admitted to The Baltic Times that he does not yet know which side – morality or lawfulness – to support. “Frankly speaking, Brazauskiene’s case opens up several social wounds, as she is not the only well-known millionaire to receive it. Sabonis and Marciulionis, the former basketball stars, are even richer than she is, but no one questions their state rents, which may seem to be quite undeserved for many, having in mind the fortunes of the pro-basketball-players-turned-millionaire-entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, we have to admit the law defining the giving and receiving the state rents has been distorted. Nevertheless, the state is trying to establish some social justice now,” Masiulis asserted.