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Lithuanian President’s New Year’s greeting draws ire

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Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

In her New Year’s Eve speech Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid highlighted the importance of preserving the Estonian language, in his congratulatory address to the nation her Latvian counterpart Raimonds Vejonis emphasised the significance of the state’s 100th anniversary. Meanwhile, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has seemingly struck the most bellicose pose among the three, underscoring that, in 2019, there are many challenges ahead and they can be overcome if her fellow Lithuanians do not allow «militant illiteracy and aggressive populism to prevail».

«An amazing and historic year is coming to a close! It has been a great year full of excitement and purpose. We realized how many friends we have worldwide: they visited, extended centennial congratulations and worked with us to promote the name of Lithuania. There are many challenges ahead next year, however – on the international arena and domestically. But we will overcome them if we do not allow militant illiteracy and aggressive populism to prevail. We will protect Lithuania, its independence, the rights and freedoms of our people. So let us stand strong and confident! I wish you all wisdom and resolve! Happy New Year!» wished Grybauskaitė in her congratulatory speech televised on National TV.

Such her New Year’s Eve greeting has been met with backlash not only from the grassroots of the ruling Farmers and Greens Union, LVŽS, and its leadership, but it also raised eyebrows of many public life commentators too.

Speaking on radio, Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) chairman Viktoras Pranckietis remarked rudely that former president Valdas Adamkus looked and acted more «presidential» than Grybauskaitė, his successor.

«He clearly hinted of her physical appearance (some note that the president is stocky and square-built). Making any remarks of the kind is rude, especially if they come from the lips of a Parliament speaker, who should understand the importance of tact and good manners much better than the ordinary John,» Vytautas Bruveris, a political analyst noted to BNN.

According to him, all politicians, and Lithuanian ones are not an exception, are prone to populism during an election campaign.

«We are seeing quite a lot of it now and there is more of it to come, so, effectively, the head-of-state did not say anything new,» Bruveris said.

Speaking on Žinių Radijas, a radio station, Pranckietis also pondered that the president had made up «a catchy phrase» in her greeting in order to be cited widely.

«I did not take her words deep (to my heart), as I have my own convictions and I believe that we have to handle issues not with bellicosity, but with calmness and cooperation, definitely not by hoisting war flags,» the Lithuanian Parliament speaker accentuated.

He doubted if her exhortation to resist populism is actual altogether.

«Populism has always been here and there. And it will linger around any election during which all tend to give more promises than they are executed in the reality,» he added.

Lithuania will hold presidential, municipal and European Parliament elections this year. Lithuanians will elect Grybauskaitė’s successor in May.

The Lithuanian head-of-state did not want to elaborate on her call to be wary of populists during her visit to the renovated Adomas Mickevičius Library in Vilnius on Tuesday, January 2.

«I said what I said,» she dropped a reporter’s question on her New Year’s Eve speech.

But Lithuanian politicians and analysts alike agree that the president should have crafted her New Year greeting more carefully.

«She (Grybauskaitė) could use the warning in another setting and on another occasion, not in her televised New Year speech, where all expect a unifying and cheering message. Now she has singled out a part of the society as presumable culprits forall what goes wrong in Lithuania,» Povilas Gylys, a Lithuanian parliamentarian told BNN.

In his words, populism can come from different parties and the layers of society, but Grybauskaite «most likely» alluded to the ruling party, LVŽS, the parliamentarian said.

«Populism can be found both on the right and on the left, among Christian and non-Christian faith-based parties. So what kind of populism was she talking about? There is always element of populism in politics, just because politicians want to be popular among the voters. I just don’t think that her New Year greeting was very appropriate,» the MP concluded.

Concurring, Bruveris, analyst at daily Lietuvos Rytas, suggested that the president should have refrained from making a message capable of inflicting indignation.

«She really has a lot of means and many other occasions to address the issue of populism and excoriate the ruling party. I do not think the New Year’s eve speech she gave this time was appropriate, to put it mildly,» Bruveris said.

«Likewise, Pranckietis’ (the Seimas speaker) remarks on the president’s physical appearance are untactful too,» he added.

Relations between the LVŽS-orchestrated Seimas and President Grybauskaitė have been sour for quite some time.

Last summer, when the correspondence between Grybauskaitė and Eligijus Masiulis, the Liberals’ former leader fighting bribery and political corruption charges, was revealed, exposing the president’s meddlesomeness and assertiveness, the traits she has always been castigated for, the Seimas’ Farmers and Greens, LVŽS, considered to set up a special parliamentary commission taskedwith looking into the texting and seeing if the president has not abused her power. The LVŽS abandoned the idea, however.

On the last day of 2019, the parliament’s Committee on Budget and Finance, chaired by a LVŽS representative, submitted questions to President Dalia Grybauskaitė as part of its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 2009 economic crisis.

Liudas Zakarevičius, a presidential adviser, told a local news wire service, the president was ready to answer the questions in writing.

Among other things, Grybauskaitė is asked to evaluate the central bank board’s performance in supervising commercial banks between 2005 and 2008 and to answer whether Lithuania’s authorities communicated with Scandinavian banks’ top executives during the crisis.

The committee wants the president to give her opinion about the government’s move to take “costly” loans from local commercial banks during the crisis and its decision to lend budget funds to the state social insurance fund Sodra at an 8 percent interest rate.

The panel also wants to know if Grybauskaitė knew back in 2009 that Bank Snoras could be insolvent. It is said that members of the Bank of Lithuania’s board provided such information to the prime minister and the finance minister.

The president is expected to say if, in response to that information, she called on the central bank governor to take steps that could have staved off several hundred million of euros in additional losses to the public sector and private creditors.

The probe is expected to be complete by April 15, 2019.


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