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Published: 16 september 2013 15:58

Rimvydas Valatka: The Dalai Lama move – Grybauskaitė becomes a real politician, Butkevičius falls flat on his face again?

The president hit the bull's eye! By opting, in the last minute, to have a meeting with the Dalai Lama, Dalia Grybauskaitė has showed she can be flexible. Is she turning into a real politician? Whatever the explanation, for the first time, Grybauskaitė acted like her predecessor Valdas Adamkus. Or like the leader of a country like ours – with a long history of fighting for freedom – ought to.

The president's move helped save Lithuania's face. Unlike Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius, who has forgotten that, 23 years ago, Lithuania was roughly in the position where Tibet is now.

The prime minister went to great lengths to rationalize his refusal to pay proper respects to the figure who represents Tibet's freedom.

And in trying to explain himself, he fell flat on his face once again.

One minute he says he did not receive “such a request and offer.” The next he regrets he is so busy he can hardly fit everything into his tight schedule. Then he changes his mind and says he did not meet the Dalai Lama because it is not s prime minister's job to “initiate” (his awkward choice of phrasing is a topic in itself) any meetings.

I wonder, though, who's job it is to do that in the prime minister's stead. Lobbyists are parading creatures outside the Government's offices, while the prime minister is simply blinking his eyes? Thank heaven he did not form yet another task group – to decide whether to meet the Dalai Lama or not. Had he said he was simply too intimidated, at least he would have earned some credit for honesty.

Not to mention the parliament speaker, who did not even want to have the Nobel Peace Prize laureate enter the parliament building.

But perhaps it was wise of (Parliament Speaker) Vydas Gedvilas, Butkevičius, and (Foreign Minister) Linas Linkevičius, whose ministry instructed state leaders to eschew the Dalai Lama? Perhaps they acted like statesmen who know the ways of big politics? And the president, by contrast, made the Lithuanian business a hostage to her stunts? Because China is a great power?

No one disputes that China is a huge and very important country. But a nation that has regained freedom a little over two decades ago does not have the right to refuse sympathy to another enchained nation. Whatever the price.

Attempts to curtail our freedom for the sake of Chinese interests will not earn respect for Lithuania, not even in Beijing.

But let's leave the issue of freedom aside. Many Social Democratic and Labour politicians seem simply incapable of grasping it – if you're born to crawl, you cannot fly. What if we looked at the Dalai Lama's visit from a strictly political and economic point of view?

Had the prime minister and the parliament speaker met the Dalai Lama or not, our ambassador in Beijing would have still been summoned to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China is annoyed by the mere fact of the Dalai Lama touching the Lithuanian soil.

Businesses will suffer? Please! China is the world's biggest factory.

And what does a factory need? That goods produced in the evening are sold the next morning. However small, Lithuania is a buyer of goods produced in this factory. Can the Chinese refuse to sell their shirts and other merchandise? They cannot. Even if five dalai lamas settled in Vilnius for good.

Since 2001, when President Adamkus rushed to a meeting with the Dalai Lama straight from hospital, Chinese exports to Lithuania have only grown. And Adamkus was not alone in this. Several years ago, despite Chinese protestations, Estonia's President Ilves received the Dalai Lama in Tallinn.

China has her interests. Lithuania has her own. Attempts to curtail our freedom for the sake of Chinese interests will not earn respect for Lithuania, not even in Beijing. Therefore receiving the Dalai Lama was less about politics or economics and more about the country's self-respect.

It turns out that neither the parliamentary speaker nor the prime minister – and, by extension, the entire ruling coalition – values self-respect, nor, in all probability, do they have any.

But the president is finally becoming a real politician. One swallow does not make a summer? One could say so, if one wishes. There are arguments to support such a view. Several days ago, the president missed an excellent opportunity to remain silent when she stated she was still undecided about what to make of the Garliava story.

Did we hear it right? Absolutely everyone in the country has an opinion – reasonable or not, that's a different matter – while the state leader does not. The main character in this tragedy has hit the road – for fear that even her MP status won't protect her against charges of organizing wiretaps and perhaps even murders – and the president is still reluctant to condemn the fugitive.

Is such a stance worthy of a politician? No. Nor is the president's declarations that there is no need to negotiate with Gazprom on cheaper gas, because we will get it once Lithuania wins the lawsuit with the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal.

Really? Because Russia has always felt deep respect for law and Gazprom, a tool in her geopolitical adventures, will go running to execute Stockholm's ruling? Even if such a miracle were possible, wouldn't it be better to get cheaper gas this winter? Why spend one or two more years paying for expensive gas and even more expensive litigation, when there's a chance, however small, to retrieve 5 billion litas, that Lithuania demands in damages, today?

The president is very inflexible in this and sabotages any attempts to negotiate. And although examples like that are aplenty, by receiving the Dalai Lama, Grybauskaitė has managed to transcend her limitations – and that is an important event in the swampy lagoon we call our foreign policy. Can the dull bureaucratic duckling turn into a beautiful political swan? One must not give up hope.

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