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Published: 2 september 2013 13:47

Rimvydas Valatka: Why Dalia Grybauskaitė's sudden liking to the United States?

Turning a blind eye to bloody events in Biržai, then rubbing her feet, together with the prime minister, on the Seimas Committee of Foreign Affairs, Dalia Grybauskaitė announced urbi et orbi that she was going to the United States to meet with President Obama. Can we truly say that what took place in Washington last Friday was an official meeting of Lithuanian and US presidents?

In actual fact, what happened was not Grybauskaitė's meeting with Obama, it was Obama's meeting with Ilves, Bērziņš, and Grybauskaitė.

Is there a difference? After all, unlike in Prague three years ago, this time Grybauskaitė was among the crowd to meet the American president.

But the difference is an essential one. If it weren't for this formula – Obama's meeting with presidents of the three Baltic States – Grybauskaitė would not have set foot in the White House at all.

Lithuania has not had a foreign policy for the last four years and therefore is of little interest to Washington – as evidenced by moving the local CIA office from Vilnius to Estonia. Second, there must be a fat black dash next to Grybauskaitė's name in State Department documents – and not just because she ignored Obama's invitation to meet in spring 2010 in Prague and sent Prime Minister Kubilius instead.

The president's hysterical demands to the Seimas to find her a secret CIA prison at any cost can hardly be forgotten. Therefore Grybauskaitė's first visit to the White House, unlike that of her predecessor Adamkus, could only happen under the heading “meeting with three presidents of the Baltic States.”

Sure, Grybauskaitė would love for everyone in Lithuania to regard it as her personal meeting with Obama. But her and her exceptionally weak team's daydreams – to switch off all critics and criticism – have not become a reality, despite some major achievements in that area.

Over the coming nine months, the president will portray herself as the best and most important person in everything she does. Even in foreign policy which, over the last four years, was only a nuisance to her.

And therefore the President's Office is still forced to play by democratic rules which allow for some popularity points to be gained from a visit to the United States. So the PR horn is blown at full volume about how it was Grybauskaitė who met Obama. Like an equal.

On the eve of the visit, the President's Office had announced that Grybauskaitė would discuss opportunities to beef up cooperation in military and energy security, the role of the Baltic States in the EU, relations with Russia and Eastern Partnership countries, EU-US negotiations on the free trade agreement. “I am really happy that Lithuania was given a mission to launch talks between the EU and US on trans-Atlantic trade treaty,” the president had said.

There is little need to wonder what happened to Grybauskaitė's hostility towards the US – something she had just recently demonstrated during the annual convention of Lithuanian ambassadors in Vilnius.

Election year is approaching. Grybauskaitė's ambition is to keep the job. And therefore she slammed the door and left Finance Minister Šadžius to fend for himself against the advisers. Because the minister refused to rush to repeal the cuts made by the previous government of Kubilius. To do that, the state would have to take on more debt.

Over the coming nine months, the president will portray herself as the best and most important person in everything she does. Even in foreign policy which, over the last four years, was only a nuisance to her.

But maybe the meeting in Washington was indeed something more than just a small geopolitical show by Obama intended to put Russia in its proper place? And hence a reference to a partnership charter signed by Bill Clinton with Baltic presidents 15 years ago? One of the headlines at proclaims: “A new stage for Lithuanian-American strategic partnership.”

What's new about it? We read: “Lithuania strives to have the EU-Ukraine association agreement signed in Vilnius summit this autumn and initial agreements with Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia.”

Interesting... But this sounds very much like the aims of the consistent foreign policy pursued by President Adamkus, one that Grybauskaitė openly mocked in 2009, saying that Lithuania interacted too much with “paupers.” What are we to make of it? Why is Grybauskaitė suddenly turning pro-Adamkus?

Having kicked of her term in office with anti-American statements, she has failed to define a new foreign policy course. Nor could she.

First, she has no smell for politics (best evidenced by her overstaying in Kremlin-controlled party school in Vilnius well after 11 March 1990). Second, defining a foreign policy is a challenging task, requiring collaboration among the president's team, the Foreign Ministry, the parliamentary majority and opposition, the business sector, and the national elite in general; to coordinate the effort, the president must bring people together, not divide them, as is much more characteristic of Grybauskaitė.

And now, in the run-up to the election, she is forced to drink from the well she has spent years gleefully spitting into.

Why all the trouble in trying to effect a chameleonic colour change of her suits? Especially in portraying her role in foreign policy in a way which is the exact opposite of the actual? After all, with Lithuania's political class all but dead, the election will not have more than one viable candidate to choose from.

Sure, it's not worth the trouble. But individuals with authoritarian tendencies are threatened by as much as a thought of an election. Fear of any, even the tiniest, defeat is the basic instinct of authoritarian leaders. A person who puts him or herself at the top of a pyramid and regards everyone else as their subordinates has a panic fear of shifting downwards.

On the other hand, every cloud has a silver lining. Grybauskaitė's trip to Washington with two other Baltic presidents has shown how democracy itself put her to her proper place. Having started her term with a refusal to meet Obama because, she thought, he should have seen her personally, now Grybauskaitė is happy to receive any kind of attention from the US president. “Together with others” is better than nothing.

And that's the point. The bad thing is that, due to one person's inflexibility, the Lithuanian state was forced to underplay its political potential. But that is the fate of a provincial country.

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