Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The End of the Lithuanian Political "Patriarch's" Era: From Rise to Decline and Legacies Left Behind

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

The End of the Lithuanian Political "Patriarch's" Era: From Rise to Decline and Legacies Left Behind

Article excerpt

A political earthquake shook Lithuania on June 1, 2006, when a long-term political survivor, Algirdas Brazauskas-who served as Lithuania's prime minister from 2001- 2006-decided to resign, together with all of his cabinet members. A prime minister's departure, in and of itself a commonplace occurrence in European politics, marked a profound turning point in Lithuania's political life. On the one hand, this event signified the end of what became referred to as the country's political "patriarch's" era of rule. On the other hand, analysts both in the country and abroad began pointing to the "leaderless" Lithuania phenomenon. Why was so much attention devoted to this single politician and his departure from a political scene in a small country on the Baltic coast?

Individual studies of political leaders always tackle challenging questions: "Why should one care about a particular individual?" and "Did he or she really matter as a leader?" Before these questions are addressed, a quick clarification of terminology is in order. The term leadership, as used in this study, should not be understood as a simple holding of a high office position, but rather as a complex phenomenon that encompasses an important quality-the power to sway others and make people do things that they would not have otherwise done. Individuals in power positions are not only able to exercise leadership, but also to achieve success and leave a profound impact on their surroundings through the skillful exploitation of various opportunities (i.e., unique once-in-a-lifetime situations, redefined institutional structures, stretching of assigned constitutional powers, the political culture, or support by constituents) as well as their own personal skills.

Studies of political leadership have shown that every individual leader certainly does not matter in all situations all of the time. For instance, Anthony Mughan's and Samuel Patterson's research suggests that leaders are likely to matter more under extreme political circumstances, such as crises and wars.1 Furthermore, Timothy Colton and Robert Tucker, Martin Westlake, Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, Archie Brown, and George Breslauer have established that leaders appear to be paramount in periods of transition or considerable change that a state undergoes.2 Indeed, there is a general agreement among scholars of post-Communist states that leaders matter more when a genuine opportunity exists to change a state's policies. During such times, a leader often has power concentrated in his or her hands; institutions, conversely, remain weak, stay in conflict, or undergo administrative restructuring and are not able to obstruct a leader's policy choices and preferences. In such circumstances leaders have profound personal influence on their country's political life and policy choices.

At the same time, these windows of opportunity rarely remain open for an extended period of time, and once they close, the influence of policymakers begins to diminish while that of bureaucratic structures gradually increases and solidifies. Naturally, this is only a general tendency, and the degree of leaders' influence in the policy-formation process varies on a case-by-case basis, primarily because "[t]he capacity of actors to shape events is a variable not a constant."3 Obviously, depending on the timing, situation, and context, some of the leader's personal traits (i.e., background factors, belief system, leadership style, and sensitivity to domestic and external environments) may be of greater importance than others.4 It is simply the degree of an individual's impact or the intensity of a person's influence that differs. In other words, not all leaders are created equal and some of them matter more than the others.

Which type of leader matters and why is not a simple question to answer, either. Some leaders are considered "great" due to the profound changes that they introduce in their country. Usually, such leaders stay in power for several years5 and/or head the country during a critical juncture in time. …

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