Lithuania: Icarus

Rolandas Paksas
Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas speaks to reporters, Dec. 12, 2003 (Photo: Petras Malukas/AFP-Getty Images).

The question in Lithuania is no longer if Rolandas Paksas, the stunt pilot-turned-president, will be forced to step down, but when. “The Lithuanian president has no hope—it looks as though he will not avoid the tightening noose of inevitable resignation he has slipped his neck into,” wrote Valdas Bartusevicius in Lietuvos Rytas (Dec. 8).

The presidential scandal, known as the “Lithuanian Watergate” or “Paksagate,” began in late October, when the Lithuanian State Security Department provided the leadership of Lithuania’s Parliament with information that Paksas and his national security adviser, Remigijus Acas, allegedly maintained relations with Russian criminal organizations. A special parliamentary commission of investigation was set up to evaluate these charges.

Five weeks later, Parliament adopted a report by the special commission: “The commission states that the president has been and continues to be vulnerable. Considering the president’s unusual status and responsibility and his role in domestic and foreign policy, this poses a menace to national security.” The report also provided evidence that President Paksas, because of his relations with Russian criminal organizations, had abused his presidential oath—one of the constitutional conditions for impeachment.

Writing in Lietuvos Rytas on Dec. 8, Rimvydas Valatka rejected the idea that criticism of Paksas stemmed from old-fashioned Russophobia: “These relations with Russian structures are not so innocent.” Because of the scandal, public support for the president has been shrinking. Lietuvos Zinios published the results of a recent opinion poll, according to which just 18 percent of respondents gave the presidency a positive rating, while 73 percent saw it in a negative light (Dec. 7). One month earlier, before the scandal, those figures were almost the reverse.

Besides domestic turmoil, the scandal has created problems for Lithuanian foreign policy. Paksas announced the indefinite postponement of his meeting in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush, planned for the first week of December. According to an editorial in Lietuvos Rytas (Dec. 8), “President Rolandas Paksas has become an obstacle to protecting Lithuanian interests internationally. The only solution is his immediate resignation.” The daily continued: “The hope that the handshake of G.W. Bush will save the president has finally failed.”

But according to Omni Laikas’ Virginijus Savukynas, writing in an article titled “The Birth of a New Robin Hood” (Dec. 3), despite his declining support, “Rolandas Paksas is prepared for mortal combat. He will fight until the last vote of support remains in Lithuania. Public opinion is the trump card in the game he has already lost.”

What does the president expect? According to Republika’s Vytautas Bruveris (Dec. 8), the president thinks that at the end of the day, everyone “will get tired of the long and dull impeachment procedure.” Omni Laikas’ Egidijus Aleksandravicius agreed (Dec. 4): “The presidential scandal has lasted far too long. Some people have had fun, some have gotten tired, others confused.”

Only time will tell if the president can cheat political death.