The Judge Fails to Stay Bought: The Corrupt President Is Backed Only by the Old and Poor. in Lithuania, That's a Lot of People

By Almond, Mark | New Statesman (1996), February 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Judge Fails to Stay Bought: The Corrupt President Is Backed Only by the Old and Poor. in Lithuania, That's a Lot of People


Almond, Mark, New Statesman (1996)


It was standing room only in the old Soviet house of culture in Sakiai on the evening of 12 February. More than 500 people filled its tiny theatre; scores more blocked the doorways and flowed out into the freezing street. After barely a year in office, Rolandas Paksas, Lithuania's president, is fighting allegations of sleaze and packing them in as he tours rural Lithuania putting his side of the story.

Paksas has made a career out of resigning--until now, that is. Three times in Lithuania's short post-communist history, he seemed to get almost to the top of the greasy pole before throwing in the towel, twice as prime minister and once as may or of the capital, Vilnius. But now the iron nerve he showed as a stunt pilot has returned and he is refusing to bow out.

Paksas's critics in parliament and the opposition media claim that the president is supported only by the old, the poor and the uneducated--a pretty formidable share of the electorate in Lithuania. It served Paksas well in defeating his predecessor, the American-educated postwar exile Valdas Adamkus.

In November, the establishment got its chance for revenge on Paksas and his voters. The Lithuanian security service bugged telephone conversations between Yuri Borisov, one of Paksas's major financial sponsors in the 2002-03 presidential election campaign, and other partners. Arturas Paulauskas, chairman of the Seimas (Speaker of the Lithuanian parliament), gleefully revealed the contents in a televised session of parliament.

Paksas had signed a decree restoring Borisov's Lithuanian passport: the 47-year-old Russian businessman had lived in Lithuania since the age of six; and previous presidents had used this power more than 800 times since 1991.

But on the tape, Borisov talks of his disappointment with a president who did not live up to the promises he made before the election. His irritation with Paksas recalls Al Capone's indignant complaint: "When I buy a judge, I like the judge to stay bought."

With Lithuania about to enter Nato as well as the EU, Paksas's critics say that he has been compromised by accepting campaign cash from a dubious Russian rather than one of Lithuania's own ethnically correct dubious businessmen. With this allegation, they hope to appeal to the people's fear of Russian influence. But if anti-Sovietism united Lithuanian society 15 years ago, it fails to cut much ice today.

Even Antanas Valionis, the foreign minister, seems to have it in for Paksas. Upon his return from Washington, Valionis let it be known that the State Department was eager to see the last of the troublesome Balt. The State Department was forced quickly to deny the statement.

The drawn-out impeachment process has paralysed politics in Lithuania without producing any new evidence to damage the embattled leader. …

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