• 2004-04-08
Lithuanians deserve a long, cathartic sigh of relief.

After having been dragged through five months of international humiliation, they can now breathe a bit easier with the knowledge that their political system works flawlessly: it managed to expel a vainglorious demagogue who grabbed power with the help of a foreigner who, judging by all that followed, had acted purely out of selfish interest.
From the moment that Paksas and Borisov assumed power in February 2003, Lithuania experienced nothing but trouble. Immediately the Presidential Palace took to removing undesirable rivals, most notably Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas and Vilnius police commissioner Vytautas Grigaravicius - all under the pretext that it was battling corruption. In the meantime, Paksas' advisers meddled in the privatization of the ultra-lucrative alcohol industry, and an increasingly estranged Borisov cohorted with Russian criminal bosses - allegedly to carve up state-owned goodies.
True enough, the Paksas-Borisov duo was first and foremost a partnership in crime, and while reflecting on the lessons of the ordeal, one can only hope that Lithuanians remain thankful in their hearts to the security services that brought the two men from the altar of power.
But the past five months also proved that not only is Paksas incapable of thinking independently, but that he might be unable to think rationally. Lithuanians were also shocked to learn that their president and first lady used to confide in a Georgian seer. Later, when confronted with accusations of wrongdoing, the president responded by retreating to the boondocks and appealing to the populaces' naive compassion. Finally, the refusal to resign - based on a belief that resignation would be tantamount to a confession of guilt - especially at a time when Lithuania was joining two families of European nations, proved more than anything that vanity knows no bounds with Rolandas Paksas.
Thankfully, that is all in the past. Lithuanians can now look forward. However, some political leaders will try to drown Paksas in a criminal case over the next two months in the hope that an indictment will prevent the demagogue from standing for re-election. This could be dangerous in that any such concerted effort will only deflect energy from what should be the political elite's predominant task: consolidating forces and ensuring that Paksas is not re-elected.
Should Paksas be prosecuted? Definitely. There is an abundance of nefarious subplots that emerged over the past five months but have so far remained unresolved. Most notably: who organized the smear campaign against Vilniaus Bankas just days before the final ballot in January 2003?
But a full investigation can wait. For now, consolidation - and not prosecution - should be the weapon of choice for Lithuanians in their struggle to keep any and all Russia-backed demagogues out of power.
Although they have been temporarily defeated, the demagogues will come back en masse once the new presidential campaign begins. Lithuania can count on that.