Chess player Surplys – Lithuania's first agrimin "from outside"

Giedrius Surplys

Giedrius Surplys was on Tuesday sworn in as Lithuania's agriculture minister, becoming the country's first post-independence minister without any previous links to the agriculture sector.

The new minister's fellow party members praise him as a trustworthy team member, but observers might have questions regarding his membership in other political parties.

On the personal front, he's a father-of-three, a practicing Christian who loves playing chess.

Former superiors praise for trustworthiness

"He's a person with a strategic mind, having its own opinion but also capable of accepting criticism and making adequate decisions. He's a team person, energetic and active," Interior Minister Eimutis Misiūnas told BNS Lithuania.

Surplys served in the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats' government four months in 2009, advising former Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas.

"He was a loyal, trustworthy, principled, civic, and patriotic Lithuanian citizen," Ušackas said of his former adviser.

In his words, Surplys left the team because he wanted a higher salary.

The LVŽS was not his first choice

Surplys joined the LVŽS in 2015 but it was not his first political party. Previously, he was a member of the Lithuanian Christian Democrats.

"I'm an active Christian. I contributed to the publication of the first Lithuanian Christian youth magazine Lux and also worked at the Vilnius Archdiocese's youth center. That church experience had influence on my Christian democratic values," Surplys told BNS Lithuania.

The future agriculture minister left the part in 2008 as he was against its merger with the conservative Homeland Union. The latter's member and longstanding leader of the Lithuanian Christian Democrats Valentinas Stundys confirmed it to BNS Lithuania that Surplys tried to join the Homeland Union before the 2016 Seimas elections.

Surplys acknowledges that he spoke about joint work with the TS-LKD and the Liberal Movement. He said he chose the LVŽS as "people led by their principles and ideas" work there.

Farmers expect a broader attitude

Members of the agriculture community believe the Ministry of Agriculture should be, first of all, led by a politician. They also do believe, however, it would be easier to work for a person with experience.

Aušrys Macijauskas, chairman of the Lithuanian Grain Growers' Association, believes lack of experience in the agriculture sector is not a drawback.

"I wouldn't say it's very bad. It's a Western practice. I think the ministry, first of all, needs a politician who is ready to take political responsibility. Knowledge, undoubtedly, is also necessary, by the new minister will have to form a team of people with knowledge of certain agriculture areas," Macijauskas told BNS Lithuania.

Outgoing Agriculture Minister Bronius Markauskas pledged to help Surplys to take up things as fast as possible.

"Since Giedrius is a diplomat, I think there will be no problems with that. If he needs any help with getting acquainted with what is happening at the Ministry of Agriculture, he'll receive that help," Markauskas said.

"The first thing is to build a team where people know their areas and can make changes. And the second thing is learning. And I will do this seriously and quickly. I probably need a month for that," Surplys said.

A family man from Plungė

The new minister says the family and religion are the most important things in his life. And his main hobby is chess.

"I'm married with three children, with the youngest, named Konstantinas, being only two months old. I played chess my whole childhood. And I'm from Plungė, western Lithuania. I try to be a good dad and husband but it's not always easy with all that activity," Surplys said.

"As a believer, I think that belief and having an authority and a system of values really helps in negotiating, talking, representing my position," the minister said.

Surplys, 37, served as Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė's speechwriter until the start of 2017 when he assumed the position of a vice minister of the interior, and earlier advised former Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas. He was on the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union's list of candidates during the 2016 Seimas elections.

Surplys studied political science in Lithuania and later studied diplomacy at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

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