Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has been facing heavy criticism at home after failing to arrive to the festivities of the centenary of Latvia’s statehood.
«Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė missed the best friend’s birthday party!». «If I couldn’t have been able to fly, I’d have gone to Riga on bike». «The President is so conceited that she does not care about the centenaries of Latvia and Estonia. The only things she cares is her career in Brussels after she ends her presidency in June». «If we can remove a drunk fisherman from the ice, how come that we cannot get the President to Riga, which is at a stone’s throw?» «There must be more than just the glitch of the military plane». «If Russians invaded Lithuania again like in the 1940s, would the Lithuanian President, with the decision to flee, cross the Lithuanian- Polish border rivulet barefoot, which is what President Antanas Smetona did in 1940, when Russia invaded Lithuania? The only plane able to carry the President over the river would likely be out of order».
These are just some of the vociferous headlines and the observations that Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė has drawn following her decision not to go to Riga after a military plane, Spartan, broke down prior to the boarding. A fault in Spartan’s altitude management system was blamed for wreaking havoc in the President‘s schedule – Grybauskaitė called off her trip to the Latvian capital and congratulated Latvians on the 100th centenary of Latvia’s Independence via Skype.
The cancellation of the trip has been met bad by both the Lithuanian media and most politicians.
In the presidential debate this week between Gitanas Nausėda, former SEB Lithuania Bank chief advisor, who now tops all the presidential polls, and Naglis Puteikis, who with a surprise 9.33 per cent of the votes came fifth in the 2014 presidential election, Puteikis, now a member of Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas), excoriated Grybauskaitė, saying that she seeks her personal career in Brussels and has long forgotten «unimportant neighbours» like Latvia and Estonia.
«She obviously does not care much about their centenaries. I think this is clear arrogance,» Puteikis lambasted Grybauskaite.
Observers were quick to bring up the fact that Grybauskaitė also missed Estonia’s centenary celebrations in June too, also due to bad weather.
Echoing, Nausėda reasoned that, in the field of foreign politics, there cannot be «unimportant countries» there.
«If one means of transportation breaks down, then there are others, and they ought to be used, even if it means being late for an event…Even in difficult conditions any trip can be made if there is willingness to make it. If I were her, I would have gone (to Riga), even if I had needed to get on my bike for this,» Nausėda said.
«Even if the President had arrived late in Riga, she would have been greeted with applauses and gratefulness as a dear neighbour…Especially, that relations between Lithuania and Latvia in reality are far away from the ideal «two sisters» type of relation,»a commentary in the daily «Lietuvos Rytas» read.
Even more upset about the President’s failure to show up in Riga was Laimonas Tapinas, a prominent Lithuanian journalist and founder of Laisvės TV (Freedom TV).
«If we can lift a drunk fisherman off the ice, so it should be a synch to fly our president to Riga,» he said on his show this week.
He recalled that Grybauskaite missed the Estonian centenary celebrations too, also due to a breakdown of the Spartan plane.
Tapinas also reminded all that, being unable due to bad weather conditions to fly to Warsaw to attend the funeral of Lech Kaczynsky, who died in a plane crash in Russia, Grybauskaite, according to him, «dashed» to the Polish capital in a record time.
«Latvia is our closest friend and neighbour, one which celebrates something very big. Our President had to do all she could to show up in the celebrations in Riga,» Tapinas said.
Meanwhile Audronius Ažubalis, former Lithuanian Foreign minister and, now, a parliamentarian, said he was «surprised» that Grybauskaite failed to attend the centenary celebrations both in Riga and Tallinn. «Such things do form certain opinions and standings on a range of issues, which are very important in working out mutually necessary deals and arrangements,» the politician said.
Both Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid participated in the centenary celebrations in Vilnius.
Following the Spartan plane breakdown, Nerijus Aleksiejūnas, the President’s foreign policy advisor, told Lithuanian media that the delegation had waited for two hours at the airport for the aircraft to be fixed, leaving too little time for going to Riga by car.
«When we were informed that the Spartan would not fly, there was too little time left for us to reach (Riga) by car in time for the main events to congratulate Latvia and the Latvian people, that is, the flower-laying ceremony and the military parade. We had no chance to drive there in time,» he said.
The scandalous decision not to go to Riga reminded the President’s trait that many would like not to talk about – her stubbornness, the daily «Lietuvos Rytas» wrote in its commentary, reminding the history of futile attempts by Lithuanian Government to obtain a plane serving the country’s leaders.
«The glitch-prone presidential plane is the best example how bad Lithuania needs the NATO alliance’s assistance,» the «Lietuvos rytas» commentator accentuated, reminding that, after repairs last Sunday, the Spartan next day broke down in Brussels, where it had taken PM Skvernelis to meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
«Such a situation is shame to the state itself. How did Lithuania allow itself to fall so low? In fact, President Grybauskaite has contributed herself to the quandary having derailed the leftist Government’s initiated procuring of a state aircraft to carry top officials,» «Lietuvos rytas» concluded in its commentary.
The daily also reminded that the Lithuanian President has travelled with a low-cost air-carrier in the past (to be precise, to attend the funerals of the late UK Premier Margaret Thatcher) and then she emphasised necessity to save.
«However, how come that now our frugal president decided to fly such a short haul instead of using her presidential motorcade? It is obvious that it would have cost many times less than the flight,» «Lietuvos rytas» commentator asked rhetorically before adding: «Her explanations that, in this case, she would have been late for the official events are not worth anything…Even her tardy appearance at the Riga events would have been greeted with gratefulness.»
The Lithuanian army has three Spartan transporters, with one of them still under repay following a failure last year. Both Grybauskaite and Skvernelis have said this week that Lithuania must find alternative air transportation for its leaders following two incidents with its military planes in two days.