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Kęstutis Girnius. Political clashes resurface

Up to the beginning of the week, a political ceasefire was in place. Leading politicians maintained restraint, did not oppose one another, did not try to push blame on one another. The opposition did not rush to criticise the government’s actions.

President Gitanas Nausėda noted that there have been flaws in the government’s work, reagents and other medical equipment were not procured in time, however now both the central and local governments, as well as doctors “are doing everything for actions to be coordinated.” He applauded the self-restraint of politicians, their ability to comprehend their civic duty. In an interview with BNS, the president said that, “It is easy to just criticise, propose to take someone’s head for failing in their duties – we can do that later on many times over.”

The political ceasefire was unexpected. Over the past few years, relations between the ruling coalition and the opposition were especially hostile and tense, even considering the constant inclination of Lithuanian politicians to think of their opponents in the worst way possible. But suddenly, rhetorical cannonades ceased, as did ceaseless complaints and accusations. Restraint was unexpected even more so because Seimas elections are due in autumn.

I agree with G. Nausėda’s call to criticise what hasn’t been done, but not people themselves. The targets of criticism won’t sit idle, responding to criticism with their own retorts, which will also receive a response and soon an endless cycle of criticism would be spun up. Instead of publicly declaring criticism, it would be better to do so privately, between four, perhaps even twenty eyes and go public only when criticism is disregarded, when there’s no effort to alter course, fix mistakes.

These optimistic moods were dispelled on Monday, when “normal” politics resumed. The first to speak up was Gabrielius Landsbergis, who stated that all countries are making mistakes, but in Lithuania we have denied for three weeks that we have a problem. He called for the dismissal of State Health Emergency Situation Operation Centre head Aurelijus Veryga, asked the president to call a State Defence Council meeting regarding the management of the coronavirus. I do not know if G. Landsbergis expressed his concerns to the president and prime minister, but was ignored. I do not know his motivation, what role political calculations could have played. It was namely on Saturday that public opinion survey data was released, which showed how much the popularity of the ever present on television broadcasts A. Veryga had increased. Was Landsbergis, perhaps subconsciously, seeking to halt or slow the growth in A. Veryga, thus also the “Farmers’” popularity? There’s also another, perhaps the most important factor – over the past few days, it was revealed that the minister has described the fight against the coronavirus overly positively and that there’s particular belatedness in purchasing necessary items, that we are lagging behind Estonia and Latvia.

Former President Dalia Grybauskaitė entered the rhetorical clash with enthusiasm. During an interview with LRT, she declared that, “This minister (A. Veryga), with there being someone (my highlight – K.G.) trying to say about him that you don’t change horses in the midst of a crossing, who knows if it is possible to view him as a horse, which can pull anything along at all. He is more akin to an animal, which can only oppose, deny, prohibit and not provide.” A. Veryga did not take this in silence, stating that a “zoological comparison” is inappropriate and unseemly and during a time of crisis, a loose tongue can become a significant problem. However, the president’s criticism was less targeting A. Veryga and more so the “someone”, who did not realise to dismiss the minister, namely the president. The president is no sacred cow, he can, sometimes must, be criticised, but this should not be done by his predecessor, especially at the start of G. Nausėda’s term. Wittiness suits teenagers, but not former presidents. There are many flaws in US politics, but what I am fascinated by is how former heads of state do not criticise the incumbent, there’s plenty of others, who do.

I do not understand what D. Grybauskaitė sought with her interview. She implied that she is aware of what is happening behind the scenes in government, supposedly the management of the Ministry of Healthcare is now being fully taken over by the cabinet, but she did not say anything new or meaningful, just remarks, which were little different to what a regular analyst or political scientist could say. There are serious questions and potential solutions she could have mentioned. For example, US epidemiologist J. Ioannidis smells fiasco: the world is isolating itself, but data on the coronavirus is lacking. He could have mused on the possibility of quarantining not whole populations, only the most vulnerable individuals, allowing others to go through the sickness, thus not only decreasing its financial strain, but also forming opportunities to treat those sick with other diseases, who will likely die if all capacities are concentrated solely on combatting the coronavirus. In either case, the former president acted unpresidentially.

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius made his own statement, having consistently sought to attract news media attention as of late. He criticised A. Veryga’s demand for all residents, even those with a light form of the coronavirus to be housed in premises prepared by the municipalities. Such a ruling is excessive, those, who wish, should be allowed to remain at home. His remarks were constructive.

It is unclear how matters will develop now. Much will depend on the positions of the president, prime minister and Ramūnas Karbauskis. If they remain calm, don’t rush to perceive ill will, even if it exists, and focus on problems, not complaints, matters could turn in a positive direction. A. Veryga should yield his position to S. Skvernelis as operation lead and himself withdraw into the background and work no less important, but less visible work there. Then A. Veryga would face fewer attacks, the president and prime minister would not feel the duty to defend and support him and would not face even more criticism.

Taken from 15min.lt

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