Evaluation of Grybauskaite’s State of the Nation Address

  • 2011-06-15
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

BLONDES: The arrival of President Dalia Grybauskaite to the parliament for the State of the Nation Address was an opportunity for her to chat with Parliament Chairwoman Irena Degutiene (right). One of the themes of the chatt could be the upcoming visit of Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, in Vilnius on June 30-July 1.

VILNIUS - On June 7, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite delivered in the parliament her second State of the Nation Address. While last year’s address was mostly about the simple citizen abandoned by the state, the focus of this year’s address was on corruption. Grybauskaite is used to speaking in short and somewhat Putin-style categorical sentences, while long rhetoric does not look like a great value for her. Last year’s address took 20 minutes for her to read, while this year the address was longer – it took 30 minutes, mostly because she read her address more slowly this time. The masses evaluated her speech rather positively, while political analysts (almost all of them) and opposition politicians could not hide some irony, commenting on the narrow scope of the address’ themes and analysis of only one theme (corruption) in it.

“Yes, I am speaking about corruption once again. I spoke about it a year ago - about this dreadful, deep rooted and hardest to treat disability of ours. Let me remind you in a few words: I spoke about its scope and related impunity problems; I informed you that more than 700 pre-trial investigations into corruption were initiated. However, no one was convicted for bribes. So what has changed since last June? The first figure stands the same: more than 700 pre-trial investigations into corruption have been started. This time, however, 18 persons were convicted of corruption: six for bribe-taking and 12 for bribery. Is this a victory? Of course not,” Grybauskaite said.

The address got a very mild reaction in the parliament – just several seconds of applause after Grybauskaite finished her speech. Immediately after the State of the Nation Address, the ruling Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat MPs mumbled something vaguely positive about Grybauskaite’s speech, because they never criticize her. Opposition Social Democrat Party leader Algirdas Butkevicius described the corruption-related part of Grybauskaite’s speech as “too dramatic” and presenting a distorted picture of the country for foreign ambassadors.

“Nothing new,” former President Valdas Adamkus, who was present during the speech at the parliament, said, though he praised her decisive words about corruption and wished her all the best, with a slightly skeptical smile on his lips. The relations between Grybauskaite and Adamkus are politely cold. On the day of the presidential election of May 17, 2009, TV and cameras managed to capture the election bulletin in the hands of then outgoing President Adamkus – he voted for Social Democrat Butkevicius, not Grybauskaite.
Virginija Baltraitiene, opposition Labor MP and deputy chairwoman of the parliament, described Grybauskaite’s speech as “empty.” Political analyst Kestutis Girnius said that he missed some remarks about human rights in the speech, which could be appropriate after the European Commission’s report on mass surveillance on Lithuanian citizens by the Lithuanian police and secret services.

Political analyst Arturas Racas pointed to the piece on foreign policy, where Grybauskaite described relations with the Nordic countries as strategic priority, while Poland was not mentioned as a strategic partner – such a mention of Poland was common for all Grybauskaite’s predecessors in the post of president.

“Strengthening the Baltic Sea Region remains a key direction in Lithuania’s foreign policy. We are an integral part of the Baltic Sea Region and we have reliable partners here with whom we share the same regional development goals. It is natural, therefore, that cooperation with Nordic countries in all spheres continues to be a top priority. A constructive and stable neighborhood is also greatly relevant to Lithuania’s security. Therefore, the implementation of strategic energy and security projects with Poland is greatly important,” Grybauskaite said in her State of the Nation Address.

Such a pragmatism-based view on Poland has been declared by Grybauskaite since the very first day of her presidency. The choice of the Nordic countries as key partners is widely approved by the electorate, politicians and political analysts. In the 1990s, when Lithuanian politicians decided to choose Poland as a strategic partner to get NATO membership more quickly (this strategy worked well), Antanas Valionis, then Lithuanian ambassador in Warsaw (recently Valionis became scandalously famous due to his unfortunate remarks on Latvian President Valdis Zatlers), told the employees of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry that it is useful to exploit the nationalistic vanity of Polish officials, flattering them as some kind of elder brothers in the context of nostalgic memories about the former Republic of both Nations. However, it seems that Lithuanian diplomats did overdose with such flattery and Polish leaders indeed seemed to start to imagine themselves as somewhat superior by birth, which was demonstrated by Warsaw’s recent attempts to dictate its view on Lithuania’s internal affairs on education.

Therefore, the Nordic leaders, who are free from imperialistic dreams, are more promising and pleasant partners for Lithuania.
It is interesting that the State of the Nation Address already for the second time provoked some nervousness in the Lithuanian presidential palace. On June 3, almost on the eve of the address, Linas Balsys, spokesman for Grybauskaite, announced that he was resigning due to political and personal differences with the president. He gave no details on those differences. Grybauskaite and Balsys made their acquaintance in Brussels when Grybauskaite was a commissioner in the European Commission, while Balsys was a Brussels-based correspondent of Lithuanian public TV. Since the start of the victorious presidential campaign in 2009, they have always worked together. Last year, on the eve of the State of the Nation Address, Audrone Nugaraite, Grybauskaite’s adviser on Lithuania’s internal politics, resigned.   

Despite all the irony coming from political analysts, certain statements made by Grybauskaite in the State of the Nation Address will definitely be popular among the electorate. “If a law presented to me for signature is adverse to the interests of society, I will veto it. I will offer constructive solutions, which would make our life better and brighter, and would not push people into poverty and despair or force them to go to foreign countries in search of hope. Each time I am presented with a piece of legislative which is custom-made for a particular interest group, which smells of corruption or of plain stupidity, I will personally request to investigate its origins. I will personally enquire in which chain of the legislation process the doubtful provisions were introduced,” Grybauskaite said in her State of the Nation Address.