Vidas Rachlevičius. Presidential elections: let’s not pose nonsensical questions to the candidates

Vidas Rachlevičius

Lithuania, as if a hopeless romantic and naïve person constantly lives in cycles of constant waiting, disappointment and new hope. We are now at the starting phase of a new cycle – the presidential elections.

The president is typically associated with excessive hopes. It is probably the trait of a Catholic country that has an immature democracy. Watching the electoral campaign brouhaha and the candidates, many probably dream: "Oh, if only I were president, I would establish order quick. Chance these, fire these, jail these, change everything..."

Let's play a little game: the presidential elections, second round, night time. You're one of the candidates with real chances to win.

You are surrounded by a varied crowd – your close friends, team members, volunteer assistants, journalists, politicians of varied calibre, public figures and groups of completely unfamiliar people. And here's the dreamed of moment – it is now clear that your rival will not catch up. Tens of cameras and lights from all around, calls of "President, president..." The crowd of institutional greeters, bootlicks and others grows with every moment – you didn't even expect you had so many friends and acquaintances.

But the euphoria settles down eventually, things go silent, the preparatory period ends, making your oath. And here's the first day of the presidential term in office. You arrive at the Daukantas Square palace, you already know the way to your office. You sit down into your chair at a massive table, the door closes and you are left alone with your promises. Now what?

Regardless of what powers a president may be granted by the Constitution, it is clear that one of the main tools and means to accomplish your goals is leadership.

Let us consider the political heritage of Dalia Grybauskaitė. As usual in Lithuania, much hope was associated with her. She exploded into the country's political skies as if a comet, completely unlike her predecessors. However, an individual, who occupies a lofty position and office does not automatically become a leader because the key of leadership is completely different. What is it?

Real leaders do not doubt their views. They stand by their own rules and values no matter the circumstance. They communicate this to the people clearly, which creates an atmosphere of trust.

Real leaders do not control their people, they present their rules and values, outline clear directions and limits and inspire to do great things.

Leaders feels responsibility for their people, apply the highest standards to themselves and expect the same of others. Real leaders never raise their own interests above those of the ones he or she serves. The great goal of a leader is not to glorify themselves, but being able to see the potential of others and uplift them.

We can probably talk about D. Grybauskaitė's paradox because we know practically nothing about the values and views of the president, who is now finishing her second term. Everything we saw and heard was a strict tone and a unique hard-handed policy, which intimidated many Lithuanian institutions and has eft them in respectful fear.

But this is not real leadership, it is just a style of administration. Already movies will be filmed about the president, articles and thick, wise books will be written, but I would like to highlight a fact I believe is the foundation of her political heritage.

"Our position on Nord Stream 2 is united that it is a geopolitical project without an economic basis, which makes the main, largest European countries an entire 80% dependent on supply from one country – Russia," D. Grybauskaitė said during a press conference after a bilateral meeting with Polish president Andrzej Duda in spring 2018.

It would appear that Lithuania's position was clear and monolith, in this regard, one could feel the president's leadership: Nord Stream 2 is a clearly geopolitical project of Russia, which does not suit the national interests of Lithuania and Europe.

It appeared that there is national agreement and that it is an unquestionable fact of our foreign policy. How many years have we spoken and fought this project?

Politicians, diplomats, experts, journalists and public figures worked diligently, but suddenly – a bomb: Lithuania capitulates against Russia and Germany's "gas Molotov-Ribbentrop pact". But this was not the first real bomb, just a silenced gunshot because everything happened as if "under the carpet" – the president would not explain anything, the country's top officials were silent, as was the legion of the court's political scientists.

In this case, I care not, why the EU energy policy failed, turning out to only be Eurotattle. The president was right – neither Lithuania, nor Poland had any chances to directly halt the development of the gas pipeline, but what is most sad and terrible is that history is repeating: just like in 1940, we did not fire a single shot, not even any symbolic resistance.

One could doubt this was a well thought through and unilateral decision by the president and she consciously chose the "even then we worked for Lithuania" variant.

If we look at this capitulation in the prism of the president's potential career in Brussels, such pandering to the uncrowned queen of Europe Angela Merkel is a completely logical step, but looking from the towers of Vilnius, it is the downfall of consistent, principled and moral policy, which we need now more than ever.

How will the people react when someone will, perhaps earnestly, from a tall podium urge to be proud and trust your country? On the other hand, it is a very bad precedent, which will have serious consequences. Can Lithuania be viewed as a reliable partner in serious affairs after such manoeuvrings?

And more.

"Lithuania's interest, according to the positions presented by the president is that the nuclear power plant would not begin operating [Astravyets NPP]. We see possibilities for this, the cabinet should not seek to shed responsibility for resolving this matter, international formats should be used to raise these questions," presidential advisor Mindaugas Lingė said on Žinių Radijas already after the Nord Stream 2 capitulation.

According to him, it is important to not forget that Astravyets NPP is a geopolitical project, which threatens Lithuanian national security. Heard this before, haven't we?

According to the president's advisor, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis should discuss this matter with the Russian president. Hence, the Presidential Palace, pretending that nothing happened regarding the gas pipeline, is now thrusting all the responsibility over Astravyets onto the cabinet.

Furthermore, the president's advisor knows well that it is not within the prime minister's competences to negotiate with the head of state of another country, instead it being D. Grybauskaitė's prerogative. Thus, pushing the completely inexperienced S. Skvernelis into negotiations with Vladimir Putin appears to me like a suspicious political game.

Furthermore, recent movements by the prime minister and a group of members of Seimas over Astravyets is only the rattling of empty pots, the imitation of political activity and part of the election campaign because let's be real: considering Lithuania's capitulation over the gas pipeline, any talks or initiatives on Astravyets will evoke only mockery in Minsk and Moscow.

Thus, Lithuania, as never before, needs a president, who would be a real leader, an intellectual of broad views, who would have very clear values and a vision for the country's future that most citizens find acceptable. However, there is a serious problem: neither the Lithuanian business, nor political, nor education environment, nor the already developed bootlicking traditions encourage leadership and the emergence of new, notable personalities.

Now is the time of grey mediocrity and corporate, as well as political bullshit virtuosos.

Nevertheless, let us at least briefly cover a few candidates through the prism of leadership. Take Petras Auštrevičius: "Do you want to live in a European Lithuania? I invite you to support my candidacy in the presidential elections with a signature!" You could use such a slogan in elections 10-15 years ago. Bluntly put, this means, "I have no original thoughts or ideas, I'll just swim downstream." Score 0 out of 10 for leadership.

Saulius Skvernelis. With voter mentality, political culture and professionalism falling to all time lows and with favourable conditions appearing, the man suddenly appeared where he shouldn't be. Let's have at least a little self-respect and respect our country, thus there isn't even anything to say about S. Skvernelis and leadership.

Two remain. Gitanas Nausėda was one of the most often quoted economists by the news media, a real frontman, however his current stance and narratives are clearly influenced by the circumstance that for the past 18 years he was an advisor the head of a bank. Thus, he always had to remember that he is not the first individual, he is not the leader and does not make decisions, only representing the interests of a specific organisation and this internal obstruction, perfected over many years, this desire to appeal to everyone and not come into conflict comes across in his campaign clearly. According to G. Nausėda, the president should be akin to a conductor, who seeks balance.

"The institution of president, without interfering with matters directly, could form a certain social vision. Because the president is a representative of the public because he or she is elected through the vote of the whole nation," G. Nausėda stated.

Thus, he does not have a clear vision for the country or does not describe it and imagines the president not as a leader, but as a sort of negotiation intermediary or mediatory.

Such a washed-out position without clear political coordinates is perfectly illustrated by his statement "more Europe and More America," which really just wonder "what do you want?" But there are many situations when a president must show resolve, take up leadership and choose a side and take a very clear position, a sort of experience G. Nausėda lacks.

Looking historically, Ingrida Šimonytė, in how she talks and in her overall manner, creates the impression of a more resolute personality, which would seem to have more traits of a leader. She emphasises the "lack of leadership," but does not specify, what it should be and does not act as a real leader herself.

Her statements about the EU's internal problems contain a number of statements that contradict one another and one can clearly feel the Brussels style of official documents and statements where cause and effect are confused.

"Nevertheless, I am certain that Lithuania's interest is a strong and united European Union. For the sake of the European Union, where state sovereignty is protected and clear commitments to Western democracy and standards are maintained, we need agreement," the candidate said abstractly.

We must clearly tell ourselves, those close by, our whole Facebook bubble that the time for swimming downstream has ended.

If we wish to survive, we must start to think and act. I believe that the increasing disappointment among people in their own state also emerges because after entry into the EU and NATO, Lithuania was unable to form a clear vision for the future and clear long-term goals. Thus, the themes and nature of election debates has to change completely.

Now there are talks about nuances in the education system, discussions of who should calculate the demand for schools in Vilnius, global recessions are forecast. In other terms, it is talks about everything, but also about nothing.

The candidates' debates are not a discussion show, where "talking well" decides its ratings, thus let's not ask the candidates various questions, details, matters, which are not the president's prerogative and with which he or she will never deal with.

The business world rule that the higher up you are, the less you need specific knowledge applies to the president. There will never be a lack of narrow specialisation experts and executors, but we need leaders with clear values and who are able to implement specific visions.

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