Books on Lithuania
Update No: 289 - (27/01/05)
The Lithuanian Dubcek-cum-Gorbachev
The political landscape in Lithuania is strewn with the figurative corpses of
those who underestimated Algirdas Brazauskas. He has been communist president
and prime minister and then ex-communist president and now prime minister again.
Yet more bodies litter the ground after the ex-president and one-time communist
recently manoeuvred himself into none other than the prime minister's chair. As
a former ranking communist, the 68-year-old certainly doesn't seem to have the
credentials to lead a nation that is as devoutly anti-communist as it is
devoutly Catholic. But he has proven consistently throughout his career that he
has uncanny political instincts-a remarkable ability to quickly determine which
way the winds are blowing, and to adapt accordingly.
In 1989, he was the Dubcek of the Baltic, leading a Baltic Spring, far more
likely to outlast the short-lived Prague Spring of his Czech predecessor. He led
the Lithuanian Communist Party when it formally cut ties with Moscow, a bold
move at the time that appeared to anticipate the very collapse of the Soviet
Union. While Brazauskas started positioning himself early for the inevitable
break-up, it took most other Soviet-era leaders-not least of all Mikhail
Gorbachev-years to grasp what was happening then. (Some are still trying.)
The window of opportunity opened for Brazauskas again when the centrist
government of Rolandas Paksas suddenly collapsed in July of 2001 after the
centre-left New Union, citing differences over economic policy, withdrew its
support and formed an alliance with Brazauskas's Social Democrats. In a speech
following his approval by parliament, Prime Minister Brazauskas promised to
continue the country's pro-EU, pro-NATO course while also doing more to help the
poor. "We will seek to channel Lithuania's progress and growth towards a
socially oriented market," he said.
In contrast to typically weak-kneed ex-communists and in spite of his track
record as an opportunist, the burly, white-haired Brazauskas has at times shown
surprising political backbone. Over the grumbling of some of his countrymen, for
instance, he travelled to Israel when he was Lithuanian president to apologize
on Lithuania's behalf for the role some of his countrymen played in murdering
Jews during the Nazi occupation. When one Holocaust survivor stopped Brazauskas
on an Israeli street explaining that his family was massacred by Lithuanian
collaborators, he leaned over, kissed the man, and asked him for forgiveness.
Brazauskas was president as a member of the Democratic Labour Party, made up of
reform-minded ex-communists, until 1998. Afterwards, he spent much of his time
on hunting trips and many believed he'd stay in the political background;
convinced of that themselves, local journalists dubbed him "Lithuanian
Pensioner No. 1." Before elections last year, though, he stormed back,
helping the Social Democrats win more legislative seats than any other party. He
expressed anger when his party was locked out of power by the centrist Liberal
Union-New Union coalition.
Many average Lithuanians see Brazauskas as affable and down-to-earth. But some
businessmen worry that he'll raise taxes and delay what they say is a badly
needed war on bureaucracy. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is thought to
prefer centre-right parties; but reluctantly nominated Brazauskas when it became
clear he was the only candidate capable of winning parliamentary approval. But
Adamkus said he would be watching and wouldn't hesitate to criticize the new
Continuity in foreign and domestic policy
Brazauskas intends to maintain the continuity of the country's foreign policy,
he said after his candidacy for the post of head of government had been
submitted by President Adamkus. According to Brazauskas, the government's main
aims would remain the country's membership of NATO and the European Union and
friendly relations with neighbours.
As for domestic policy, Brazauskas noted, it should be more socially-oriented.
In a socially-oriented free market the initiative and competition should be
agreed with social justice. For a country which has unemployed and poverty
social justice is especially important, the premier believes. According to
preliminary data, Brazauskas has the support of more than 80 members in a
Passenger flows up at Lithuanian airports in 2004
Passenger flows and the number of flights at three Lithuanian airports -
Vilnius, Kaunas and Palanga - increased last year but the volumes of freight
declined, Delfi web site.
The country's airports handled 1,097,000 passengers last year - up by 41 per
cent from 2003 (778,060) and had 33,760 flights, which was 21.3 per cent more
than in 2003 (27,840). The same period saw a 26.3 per cent decline in freight
volumes from 11,910 tonnes to 8,770 tonnes, Mindaugas Inavauskas, the general
manager of Vilnius international airport said.
Vilnius airport alone handled 994,160 passengers last year - 38.1 per cent more
than in 2003 (719,850). The number of flights rose by 29 per cent to 23,660
while freight flows declined by 0.6 per cent to 5,180 tonnes. Last year, the
number of flights at Kaunas airport rose by 18.4 per cent to 4,830, the number
of passengers by 25.6 per cent to 27,070, but the volume of freight dropped by
51.6 per cent to 3,230 tonnes.
Palanga airport posted worse results in 2004. It had 5,270 flights last year,
which was 2.8 per cent less than in 2003, the passenger flow decreased by 63.3
per cent to 76,200 and the freight volumes halved and stood at 62 tonnes.
Lithuanian industry up 11.5%
Lithuanian industry grew 11.4% in the first 11 months of 2004 compared with the
same period in 2003, the country's Statistics Department said recently, New
Excluding oil products, overall industrial sales for the 11-month period
increased 7.5% year-on-year. In November sales were up by 6.3% year-on-year and
down by 4.5% month-on-month. The total volume of livestock and poultry (live
weight) bought from farms rose by 10.5% in the 11-month period, while raw milk
purchase volumes went up by 11.8%. The purchase volumes grew by 28.3% and 14.1%,
respectively, in November 2004 from the year-earlier figure.
Rural tourism grows 19% as Lithuania attracts visitors
Lithuanian country houses offering rural tourism services attracted a total of
176,700 visitors in the first 11 months of 2004, up 19.4% from 148,000 visitors
in the same period of 2003, the Lithuanian Rural Tourism Association reported
recently. In November alone, the number of visitors rose 16% year-on-year to
12,300. The Aukstaitija region, in central and eastern Lithuania, attracted the
largest number of holidaymakers, namely 5,300 in November, followed by the
Samogitia region, in the western part of the country, with 4,600 visitors, and
Dzukija in the southeastern part, with 2,400 visitors. Around 700 sites are
currently offering rural tourism services in Lithuania, of which approximately
30% are open all year round. The Rural Tourism Association groups together run
over 350 country houses. The total number of visitors is forecast to reach about
200,000 in the year 2004.