Lithuanians' fair decision
Yesterday's impeachment of Rolandas Paksas from the post of Lithuanian president showed that it wasn't so easy to manipulate Lithuania through populism and machinations. Lithuania managed to preserve the reputation of a state with a solid democracy.
Despite having the smallest population of Russians among Baltic states, Lithuania could have become the one most manipulated by Moscow through Paksas' former adviser Yuri Borisov. At the same time it could be that we are dealing with an isolated case. Regardless, the whole Lithuanian state and its people suffered from the presidential scandal.
Lithuania is the only Baltic state where the people elect the president directly. True, what has not meant much in the previous decade became quite decisive in getting Rolandas Paksas to the presidential chair - one person, at the same time an institution, who is easier to manipulate than, for example, Parliament. This is what happened to Paksas, who came to power in 2003 on populist slogans. Fortunately, a strong counterbalance was found in Lithuania in the face of a Parliament that did take responsibility over the future developments by starting the impeachment. The Parliament has not smeared the name of Lithuania.
The worst that could happen is that Paksas wins the new election. The Lithuanian constitution does not rule out that option.
But now it seems that Lithuania has emerged from the foreign policy isolation where it had been taken by the presidential scandal.
By impeaching Paksas Lithuania became the first country in Europe where the elected head of state has been impeached. Everything was carried out in accordance with democratic rules, and there is something to learn here for some West European country where top officials have been accused of corruption. Unfortun-ately, those countries are keen to preach democracy to East European countries.
There is something to be learned, or at least to be discussed, from what has happened, for Estonia as well. We also have political forces who talk about direct presidential elections and who do not hesitate to use populist slogans in achieving their goals. Paksas' impeachment and also the victory of autocratic Vladimir Meciar in the first round of the Slovak presidential elections should force them to reflect. Another question is whether Estonian MPs could have handled something like their Lithuanian colleagues have handled.
In Latvia Paksas would not
The agonizing and shameful scandal with Lithuania's highest public official is an argument against the solution to the ever-present idea that nation should directly elect the president. The people, of course, "are not fools," and in Lithuania it is doubtful that Paksas would be re-elected. Unfortunately, they did vote for him the first time. The previous president, Valdas Adamkus, did not fly in an airplane, did not promise miracles, did not spend big money on an election campaign. It shows that Paksas is undoubtedly a Russian "businessman" or possibly a tough guy - not the president of the Lithuanian people. These mistakes are being rectified by the Lithuanian Constitutional Court and Parliament.
The constitution has defended Latvia in the First Republic and in the renewed republic from presidents we would have been ashamed of. That protection will continue.
Aivars Ozolins, April 2
Europe's black hole
Lithuania has survived. Rolandas Paksas, who got to the Presidential Palace with the help of Russian money and a Russian election strategy, has been removed.
It's now finally possible to comprehend with relief: Yesterday ended the 13-month 11-day epoch of Paksas' rule. This epoch will go down in Lithuanian history as a period of presidential lies, demagoguery, the appointment of incompetent people to high posts and the conscious deception of the people.
In refusing to resign, the president who grossly violated the constitution and his oath of office was ready to bring an end to the country because of his own guilt. Because of the political and moral crisis caused by this, Lithuania was obliged to become the first European people to remove their president in a civilized manner.
Paksas has been removed. But does this mean that post-Paksas Lithuania will learn the lesson it received during the impeachment?
It is too early for euphoria. Aside from the massive victory for the forces of democracy, there was little joy to be had yesterday. During his short time in the post of president, Paksas did everything possible to divide the country by class.
The symptoms of Paksism-the most important of which is disdain for laws, other democratic principles and even Lithuanian history-haven't gone anywhere and continue to tantalize no small part of society.
Moreover, with "Plan A" - created in the labyrinths of the Russian secret services - foiled, Lithuania will soon be confronted with "Plan B"- the party of the Archangelsk rich [Viktor Uspaskich's Labor Party], whose reasoning is no less befuddled.
But it would be incorrect to blame someone for the fact that Lithuania had a tough lesson in the principles of Western democracy. The difficult time demonstrated that Lithuania is one of the most backward states among the future EU members.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright called Slovakia under Vladimir Mechiar, that country's former populist president, "a black hole in the heart of Europe." If our citizens allow the resurrection of Paksas' political corpse yet again, Lithuania will be faced with the somber possibility of becoming a black hole on the periphery of Europe.