100-day media circus
After taking over the helm 100 days ago, the Social Democratic Party has garnered little or no support in the Lithuanian press. Since the Diena daily closed its doors in the mid-1990s, there have been no left-wing media outlets to rely on. Almost all Lithuania's media lean toward the right.
Journalists dissolved into hysterics with the return of the former (reformed) communist Algirdas Brazauskas. Lietuvos Rytas columnist Rimvydas Valatka could not even bring himself to call him by his proper name and used the initials AMB instead.
Lithuania also has no think tank for leftist economists. The Lithuanian Free Market Institute takes liberalism to extremes, promoting the idea of an economy free of government meddling. That may seem like ancient history in the European Union, but the institute is a guru for most of Lithuania's political analysts. No wonder the return of the left scared them.
But in many ways Brazauskas has confounded expectations. Liberal Union-nominated Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius stayed in office. Dalia Grybauskaite, a former finance minister to conservative PM Andrius Kubilius, was known for her ultra-right views in the economic sphere. Brazauskas brought her back to the post.
The strict requirements of NATO and the European Union give little leeway for politicians to show their ideological sympathies. Ironically, the opposition often chides Brazauskas for not being lefty enough.
The Brazauskas government in Lithuania has become a good example of how little political ideology matters in modern Europe and how traces of former ideological differences remain only in party names.
The media and analysts remain skeptical about Brazauskas. But opinion polls show that the current government is more popular at this stage than any other that has gone before, with a 63 percent approval rating. The dawn of a patriarch?
The previous government of Rolandas Paksas had a rating that was 20 percent lower after its first 100 days.
Brazauskas' is neither better nor worse than governments past. Every government acts according to its circumstances. Brazauskas has no choice - make reforms and step down the twin planks toward NATO and EU membership. This government has clearly demonstrated continuity in Lithuanian foreign policy.
"Make no mistake," as George W. Bush says. Andrius Kubilius or Rolandas Paksas would not be doing anything extremely different in October 2001. But this does not mean Brazauskas' critics are not needed. On the contrary. His actions could dissolve into abject populism if the media became less watchful. A simple truth in every democratic society.
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