Where there's a will there's a way

  • 2004-04-15
Rimvydas Paleckis
began working as a journalist in 1989
former Carnegie Media Fellow resident at Duke University
served as press secretary during Rolandas Paksas' second term as prime minister, Nov. 2000 - Apr. 2001
founded "Priestarauk" (Let's Have an Argument), Lithuania's first-ever political talk show

The past five months in Lithuania have been all about political commentary, and as the host of the popular talk show "Prasau Zodzio" (A Word, Please), Rimvydas Paleckis brings politics to millions of Lithuanians each week.
As Rolandas Paksas' former press secretary, he has an intimate knowledge of the ex-president's leadership style. Paleckis spoke of both experiences when he sat down with Steven Paulikas to analyze Lithuania's political present and future.
As a person who has worked with Rolandas Paksas, can you guess at what's going on in his head right now?
I'd be afraid to say what he's thinking. Four years have passed since I worked for him, and people change. Based on the time I've spent with him, I can say that he's a fighter, a pilot. He likes extreme situations, and he sometimes consciously creates them himself.
If what I've said is true-I certainly can't get into his head-if this is true, I think he will participate in the elections. Judging from his actions in the final days and his last speech, it doesn't seem that he feels at fault. If a person doesn't feel guilty and he can run, why shouldn't he?

Do you think that Paksas' support base has become smaller since the impeachment?
The fact that [controversial supporter Yuri] Borisov has said he won't support Paksas will help Paksas with voters. Where Paksas will get his money from is a different question. It seems to me that it will be difficult for him to get money. After everything that's happened, a sane person wouldn't fund him. But everything's possible.
As far as votes, the type of politician [such as he] is able to maintain the faith of his electorate. During his campaign [for president], he was speaking to people who don't just support him but love him. I believe someone has compared him to the leader of a cult: he convinces the people who love him to love him to the end. Those who were this way before are still this way.

Is it possible to influence the Lithuanian electorate so that they are more apt to vote for more Western-style candidates?
In my opinion, these people can't be changed. The only thing that will change is the influence of new voters. Every four years, a new set of people turn 18 and can vote. The younger generation likes to travel, see the world, and compare this world to what's in Lithuania, and they'll never be fanatical about any one politician. But until these people start voting, very little will change.
In the meantime, the new presence of these young voters upsets the fanatics, who are becoming even more radical at the thought of an opposite force balancing them out.

What will happen if the mainstream parties don't agree on a single candidate for president? Would it make it possible for Paksas to win again?
I think the situation will become clearer in the course of the week. They could still agree. If they don't, it's still possible to believe that voters won't vote for Paksas. But this is very risky after all that has happened in the past six months, and I think that just this fact will motivate the traditional parties to do everything in their power to eliminate the possibility of Paksas being re-elected. That means they'll either have to agree or change the laws so that he won't be able to run again. What happened can't happen again, and they know this.

But do you think it's possible for such different parties from the left and the right to agree on a single candidate?
I don't think anything is impossible. If they want it, it's possible. As far as I understand, the conservatives would be willing to support [Prime Minister Algirdas] Brazauskas. The problem is that the Social Democrats aren't supporting [former President Valdas] Adamkus.

Do you think the media were too slanted against Paksas in their coverage of the scandal?
First, I think you have to draw a distinction between news programs and discussion programs or private newspapers, news programs having a greater responsibility to remain objective.
But the fact is that even news reporters are human beings, and inside of all of us journalists was the feeling that this wasn't what we wanted. Most people in journalism today are still around from the times of Sajudis [the Lithuanian independence movement.] It was impossible to sit and do nothing as we watched everything we'd worked for disappearing.

Do you think Paksas' attitude toward the media had a hand in determining his fate?
Yes, it played a part. He never connected with the national media. However, he did find a common language with the regional press. One guest on my show-a journalist from a regional paper-once said, "Why are you so worried about Russian influence in the Presidential Palace? We had five years of American influence under Adamkus."
And that's the mentality-the CIA is the same as the KGB.

What does Lithuania's political future look like?
The most important thing is that no one can stop May 1 from coming. This means there will be certain precautions in place that no one can change, not even if Paksas runs and wins again.