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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#5 - JRL 7008
From: Dick Krickus <Rvkrickus@aol.com>
Date: Tue, 07 Jan 2003
Subject: The Presidential Election in Lithuania

David: I've been living and working in Vilnius for the past nine months and I would like to share these thoughts with readers of your list.

Press reports of the Lithuanian presidential election last Sunday have dwelt upon the unexpected failure of the American-migr Valdas Adamkus to retain his presidential post. His defeat to Rolandas Paksas--a man about 30 years his junior-- can be attributed to many things: his age, the complacency of his campaign team, bitter cold weather, low voter turn out and the effective aggressive campaign his opponent waged.

But the larger explanation is that the mainstream parties in Lithuania have not paid proper attention to those in the country who have not enjoyed the fruits of the new economy. Make no mistake about it, Lithuania has made great economic strides recently as exemplified by a growth rate running about six percent and the success of new entrepreneurs who have demonstrated how to operate in a (nearly) free market. Indeed, firms selling beer, cheese, furniture and textiles are flourishing--not only in the domestic market but through exports as well.

But as is the case in other Central and Eastern European countries, many people have been left behind. It was largely from this group of dispossessed that Paksas secured substantial votes. Paksas, a stunt pilot and former mayor of Vilnius and two-timed Prime Minister, has been characterized by his detractors as a flake, a populist, an opportunist and a Lithuanian Le Pen. He clearly does not fit the last category, since there is no evidence that he is a racist, and many people who have been attracted to his campaign are serious men and women who want the best for their country. Also, there is no fear that Paksas will reverse course in Lithuania's drive to enter the EU and NATO. It remains to be seen whether Paksas is a demagogue as some of his detractors claim. For example, he promises to take steps to deal with domestic problems that are the responsilbility of the PM and the parliament, and he has promised to repay people who have lost money in past bank failures while he says he favors tax reductions.

What's more, some of his critics are uncomfortable with his stress on law and order, although they concede it a proper concern of all Lithuanians. Here again only time will tell whether their fears are justified.

One thing is clear. While Lithuania still has a long way to go to improve the lives of all of its citizens, the odds are favorable that it will do so in the future. What all of us who are interested in Central and Eastern Europe--and lands further east--should keep in mind is that we have not paid sufficient attention to those who have been left behind throughout the former communist lands of Europe. If their governments neglect them, the consequences could be grave giving rise to extremist political movements.

In our future research and journalism, we must do a lot more to rectify this oversight by looking at the plight of working people and the status of their labor organizations, and the daunting problems of those residing in small towns and villages that are distant from capital cities where economic progress has been most in evidence.

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