Foe of the invulnerable president aims to expose her political nudity

  • 2011-09-21
  • Interview by Linas Jegelevicius

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite’s public support since her inauguration has been at a steady, jealousy-evoking 80-plus-percent, which makes her political weight and reputation unparalleled by anyone in Lithuanian politics. Her ascension to the ultimate political height, to tell the truth, has been little scrutinized so far, as has her presidential work style. Lauras Bielinis, ex-advisor for former President Valdas Adamkus and renowned political analyst, is probably the first to try and unsheathe the core of the Steel Magnolia: Grybauskaite. In his recently published book “The President,” he aims, as he says, “to answer the question: what lies behind the faceless political mask, which Grybauskaite, retaining staggeringly high support ratings, has worn since December 17, 2009, her presidential inauguration day?” The 54-year-old political analyst sat down with The Baltic Times to share insights on the yet-unchallenged president’s rise, work methods, personal traits and vulnerabilities.

You are ex-advisor for the former President Valdas Adamkus. Undoubtedly, you know him best. Why did you decide to write the book about the incumbent President Grybauskaite, but not about Adamkus?
A book about Adamkus would not be as much an analytical thing, as much memoirs about him and me in the capacity of his advisor. It was not my purpose.

How did you come up with the book title “The President”? Were there other options?
I have long thought about the book title, as I strived to encompass all the aspects, along which the Lithuanian President Grybauskaite manifests herself in the domestic and foreign political space. In a series of Delfi articles on the president, publicized in the spring of 2010, I tried out another title, “Poker Face, or the President in the Battles.” Later, the series was considerably supplemented and edited, ending up with the current title, “The President.”

You have written the book without even interviewing Gybauskaite and her closest aides and advisors from the Presidential Palace. In your book, you do not refer to any public documents, reinforcing your blunt statements about her. Can the book, therefore, pretend to be a serious analytical book? How can one measure its impartiality?
The axis of the book is the president’s communication expressions in the public sphere. It means it is not necessary to scrutinize what the president herself thinks and what kind of person she portrays to be to herself, but what is being broadcast from her speeches and interviews to us, the citizens. Every politician is not who he or she is, and how he or she shows himself or herself in the inner world, but how she or he manifests oneself in the public field. I did not intend to write a Grybauskaite biography, and, moreover, to delve into her pre-presidential life and her intimate sides of life. I strive to help the readers of the book to make out the president’s political positions and their shift dynamics. In the book, events serve only as factual illustrations and logical connections when analyzing the distinctive characteristics of the president’s participation in the Lithuanian political field.

I have always known you as a pleasant, cheerful person. However, it seems that talking about President Grybauskaite makes you sullen, assertive and vociferous. What infuriates you that much about the Steel Magnolia? I reckon you pursue some political ambitions in opposing Grybauskaite so sternly. Perhaps establishing your own, anti-Grybauskaite-oriented party for the Seimas elections in 2012?
No, I do not have any political ambitions. I do express myself fully as a political analyst. I do not have any advance points of view and emotions towards the president. However, I observe that she, holding the highest political post in the country, realizes it weakly, poorly and often in a way lacking motivations.

What is so exceptional about Grybauskaite’s rise to the political Olympus?
In terms of the modern political processes in Lithuania, her exceptional trait is coming from “nowhere.” Without a history of a political career and political support, her positions, as well as ambitions and political aspirations, turn into a lonely person’s stance in the political field. Even now, long after the elections, when her presidency reached the mid-point, those parties and politicians that support her purely out of well-judged intentions are foreign to her. Her announcement about the candidacy was unexpected, however, “awaited,” as the public and the political elite had thirsted for a new, other politician, who would, in a sense, dismantle and reshuffle the worn system of the political relations that encouraged more political confrontations and suspicions about each other, than a state approach to the situation in the country. Nevertheless, the “unexpectedness” of her ascension raises many questions which, in the book, are shown as questions, not answers. To sum up the questions, it remains unclear how Grybauskaite’s transition from a bureaucratic career to a political one has taken place, and what has triggered it. After the years of her presidency, the orientation of her domestic and foreign politics is still unclear. After all, her personal values are also vague.

Do you, because of the “obscurities,” claim that Grybauskaite is somebody’s “project”? If so, whose?
Now we can recall certain presumptions and deliberations regarding Grybauskaite’s “conversion” to politics. Who has talked her, an apolitical woman and bureaucrat to her marrows, into pursuing the highest political post in the country? It is worth mentioning the subtle and emotionally convincing version about the connections of Dalia Grybauskaite and the patriarch of Lithuanian politics, Vytautas Landsbergis. Rimvydas Valatka, the deputy editor of the daily Lietuvos Rytas is the first to have noticed the link. While we did not know anything about her political visions and ambitions until the start of the presidential campaign, it, the link, sounds right and quite logical even now. Somebody had to impel her to take the step! Why could it have been Landsbergis? Back in her days in Brussels, there was no other such influential person who could authoritatively and suggestively speak to the EU Commissioner, Grybauskaite, and not be pushed away by her. What we saw in the electoral campaign – the intense support of the Conservatives and Landsbergis’ personal care in covering the presidential hopeful’s weak biographical aspects and personal traits – only reinforces this version.

Since the restoration of independence all Lithuanian presidents have  enjoyed extremely high public support. How do you explain that?
Indeed, the presidential institution has always been rated very highly. It is apparently due to the exaltation of the institution between the wars, and the paternalistic consciousness in the nation.

In scrutinizing Grybauskaite’s behavioral patterns, you even employed Wolfenstain’s book “The Revolutionary Personality: Lenin, Trotsky, Gandhi,” which analyzes the phenomenon of political leadership. Among other things, the treatise stresses the Oedipus complex, transferring a person’s inner experiences, emotions and inferiority complexes to the political sphere. Do you reckon the complex applies to our president?
Dalia Grybauskaite has obtained the power but not leadership. Therefore, her ostensible charisma and legitimacy contradict each other, as the resources of the latter lie in public support, the judiciary system, and personal activity, and in the potential of employing possibilities of the party system. In those terms, her presidency is not as much the realization of her goals as the president of Lithuania, as it is all about her personal trait she augments – strengthening her personal leadership in the Lithuanian political field. However, no one should forget that love of the public and high approval ratings are likely characteristics of a possible leadership, rather than political, power. It is, obviously, impossible to prognosticate on Grybauskaite, as she, even in the camp of her political backers, stipulates mistrust among them. Therefore, we can maintain that Grybauskaite is not a political leader yet. Because of the known political circumstances and, thanks to the Conservatives’ initiatives, she is rather just a high-ranking official.

However, for most political analysts and commentators on public life, the incumbent president, compared with her predecessor, Adamkus, seems to be much more exuberant, while the latter now seems too passive and complaining about the limited constitutional powers. Did Adamkus fully employ them? Or maybe Grybauskaite exceeds them trying to meddle into the government’s affairs?
I disagree with the statement that Adamkus used to complain about his little constitutional powers. He would just point to them as often disallowing him to demand more from others. Grybauskaite, however, does not conceive of her powers and her spot in Lithuania’s political system. It is obvious that Grybauskaite’s presidential spot in politics has not been shaped yet.

If we can rely on statistics when describing presidential work, no other president in modern Lithuanian history has ever submitted so many drafts, vetoed so many bills and taken on changes to state institutions as Grybauskaite. Do you disregard it, purposely belittling her big input in the more transparent and functional state mechanism? Bluntly, are you not snubbing Grybauskaite?
Well, statistically, she may appear better, compared with her predecessors; however, I would like to suggest to evaluate her not according to the statistics, but to the ultimate results and their use for the state. Are you referring to the State Revenue Inspectorate, Special Investigation Service and courts when you speak about “the changes in state institutions?” I do not see those changes, only the impression of reforms that messed up the aforementioned structures.

Nevertheless, there have to be more profound explanations for her continuing high public support, other than that you have already pointed out.
The rating is not the result of her achievements in the capacity, but rather a result of public relations and image. Her attention to the ratings and emphasizing the importance of them covers her authoritarian inclinations. If she lost her ratings, the emptiness, in other words her political nudity, would appear. Her care for the ratings is not only the striving to hold the political instrument in her hands, but also it reflects her concerns about her personal psychological support in the political loneliness.

You emphasize in your book the importance of impeccable public relations in shaping Grybauskaite’s image. How is the constructing of public relations and its communication different from her predecessors’ PR campaigns? Do you not exaggerate the PR thing when it comes to Grybauskaite?
No, I do not. She has deliberately exerted many efforts and continues doing so in strengthening the image of “the strong hand.” Her predecessors have heeded responsible decisions for the most part. Therefore, they never were in a hurry and tended to deliberate things thoroughly. What makes the Grybauskaite communication so different is that, when speaking to the public about political matters, she does not as much state concrete situations as much as she marks out by her words and intonations the expected directions of further actions and societal evaluations. In other words, what Vladimiras Laucius, a political analyst said very precisely, Grybauskaite speaks what her audience wants to hear. In that sense, her rhetoric, adding to it her stern and aggressively formulated affirmations and statements, reminds one very much of the way Russian leaders speak.

Despite her ostensible conflicting personality, no one, besides the former Parliament chairman, Arturas Valinskas, has dared to publicly challenge or mock her. Probably you are the second one after Valinskas to do so. Should there be social and political circumstances to witness a more weighty challenge to her authority?
There is a lot of grumbling about her in different layers. I have no doubt that she will seek re-election in the upcoming presidential elections; however, she will definitely see some strong rivals in them. In preparing for them, Grybauskaite has to think of the political, financial and intellectual support for the campaign already now.

Which political parties do you reckon might support her candidacy in the elections?
I believe she may expect support from the Motherland-Union and Christian Democrat Party, as well as the Party of Order and Justice.