Rolandas Paksas: a psychological profile

  • 2004-01-15
  • By Steven Paulikas
VILNIUS - "My sister, who lives in the countryside, says she doesn't like Paksas because he's nothing more than a tractor driver," said Vilnius University political psychologist Albinas Bagdonas. "When I asked her what that means, she said, 'tractor drivers drive their tractors straight over the ground-Paksas just flies his plane straight through the air.'"

As Lithuania's acrobatic pilot turned president drags the country on a topsy-turvy course through its third month of scandal and investigation, some are turning to psychological models to explain the actions of an intractable leader facing down his adversaries amid almost certain defeat.
While an anonymous psychologist in a December issue of the daily Lietuvos Rytas
went so far as to compare President Rolandas Paksas to a child on the playground unwilling play fair with the other children, professionals willing to go on record say that their obligations prevent them from making a detailed analysis of an individual's personality without personal contact with the subject.
"Our ethical standards state clearly that analyzing a subject from a distance is outside the norms of practice," said Robertas Petronis, a Vilnius-based psychologist and psychotherapist.
Yet while drawing a full and reliable psychological portrait of any politician, including Paksas, is challenging, experts agreed to offer The Baltic Times their professional opinions on the president as a political figure and his actions since the scandal first broke.
According to Bagdonas, Paksas the figurehead is an exemplar of the "negative-active" type of leader.
The negative-active personality is often motivated by selfish reasons for acquiring power and enacts his personal agenda in an actively aggressive manner. This personality is also inflexible and generally takes criticism personally.
In the 1970s political scientist James David Barber classified American presidents according to this paradigm and found that Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were negative-active.
"All human beings are motivated by basic urges, but the negative-active politician is almost completely given over to his urge to dominate. The fact that Paksas has belonged to five parties since he entered political life demonstrates that he is more concerned with power than with any sort of national agenda," said Bagdonas.
The opposite of the negative-active type is the positive-passive leader, who has little interest in his own political well-being and rules with a soft touch.
According to Bagdonas, the sometimes-overbearing nature of Paksas' leadership style has been magnified by its proximity to that of former president Valdas Adamkus, an archetypal positive-passive leader.
Psychologists argue that the negative-active basis for Paksas' leadership as president has defined his reaction to the scandal.
Petronis, who often works with families in his private practice, analogizes Lithuania's current political dynamic to that of house in crisis.
"The point of breakthrough in family therapy usually comes when one or both parties stop speaking about the other's faults and begin to admit their own minuses. When first faced with crisis, an individual's natural reaction is to defend himself, but over time a resolution to the conflict only comes with personal admission of guilt," said Petronis.
"As far as I've seen, neither Paksas nor his opponents have admitted to their own minuses," he said.
Bagdonas, going one step further, said that Paksas' stubbornness in the face of his detractors is characteristic of megalomaniac leaders unwilling to admit defeat.
"The greatest example of this stubbornness is Hitler. Even when it was obvious that Germany couldn't win the war, he continued to repeat the exact same phrases about victory," he explained.
Bagdonas argued that Paksas' alleged fascination with the mystical also goes hand-in-hand with the phenomenon of political stubbornness.
"This type of leader adopts a sort of messiah complex. They believe that they will save their people. Paksas' own election campaign demonstrated this, when he went to the countryside making vague promises to simple people," said Bagdonas.
"His connections to [Georgian mystic Lena] Lolishvili is part and parcel of this," he added.
In a bizarre incident that occurred at the end of a Jan. 12 press conference, Paksas wished reporters a good weekend, in spite of the fact that Jan. 12 was actually a Monday.
"Before this press conference, Paksas was only talking to the press through his meetings in the countryside, which he only held on weekends. His stubbornness has escalated to the point that he automatically repeats exactly the same phrases, regardless of context," offered Bagdonas.
In spite of the grim psychological picture experts put forth, Petronis remains optimistic that a favorable resolution to the country's political crisis can still be met.
"Of course, it would be more difficult for both sides to take the necessary steps to resolve the conflict now than it was a few months ago. Perhaps I'm an incurable optimist, but I think it's never too late to take a look at one's self to see how you have caused conflict. At any rate, even impeachment or resignation won't solve the conflict, since Paksas and the Liberal Democrat party will continue to exist," he said.