Press Ganged

Religion lurks behind the three presidents in Lithuania

Religion lurks behind the three presidents in Lithuania

Press conferences are strange things. All start from the same point – a row of chairs facing a microphone – but from then on, each has its own life. Some stutter and die almost immediately, others unexpectedly develop a momentum that transforms them from mere commentary into important events in their own right.

I experienced a strange one on Friday that started slowly, began to get going and then simply disappeared in a puff of brimstone-smelling smoke.

The reason for being in Siauliai was what was described as the annual meeting of the Baltic presidents, though in reality they seem to meet one another only slightly less regularly than the number 10 tram rumbles past my window.

Speaking at the very beautiful art deco Chaim Frenkel Villa in town (well worth visiting) the Pressies said they had had their best-ever discussions, without going into too much detail about exactly how or why that should be the case.

"Have you got a question for the presidents?"

"Have you got a question for the presidents?"

The only real story of note came when ‘Uncle’ Valdas Adamkus said work on the new Ignalina nuclear power plant would definitely start this year. The Baltics will have a business plan in May and will be “digging the ground” maybe as early as the autumn, he said.

We’ll have to wait and see – Ignalina has had more false starts than a caffeine drinkers’ Olympic sprint and Adamkus has made several well-intentioned predictions in the past that have failed to materialise, most notably at the Vilnius energy conference of 2007 when all of the major deals originally on the agenda (including Ignalina) became elusive chimeras.

Speaking of which, Poland’s Goblin King Lech Kaczynski failed to show up as promised (again) in Siauliai, instead sending a defence ministry representative who was much less important but marginally taller than himself.

The Frenkel Villa exchanges were notable for a couple of other things, too. During the presidential photoshoot, Adamkus cracked a joke as the cameras flashed and clicked. “Let’s stay here until they run out of film,” quipped the old duffer, forgetting that the digital age arrived a decade or so ago.

"Shall we call it a day and have lunch?"

"Shall we call it a day and have lunch?"

And just as the subsequent press conference threatened to get interesting, some twit from presumably a rabidly Catholic publication asked the stupidest press question of the year so far.

“Are you in favour of this teaching homosexuality in kindergartens?” a weasel-faced reporter asked Adamkus, probably in reference to a story in his own putrid publication.

It was Ilves’ reaction that I noticed more than Adamkus’. The colour seemed to momentarily drain from his face and I’m sure he clenched his teeth. As a former journalist himself, as well as a thoroughly civilized man, he of course knew what was going on and his heart must sink when he hears such guff.

Disappointingly but predictably, Adamkus danced around the question in order not to upset the self-righteous religious lobby.

Ilves chipped in saying his country didn’t have such problems (the implication being that it was more inclusive) and Latvia’s Zatlers said his country had no such problems (the implication being that he didn’t want to talk about it).

Come the Riga Pride events in May, we’ll see if Latvia has a problem with tolerating homosexuality or not (Clue: it does).

Sadly the grubby Grub Street interjection knocked the press conference on the head and everyone seemed keen to leave before the nut asked if AIDS was God’s punishment on the sinful.

One flag too many outside the Chaim Frenkel Villa, Siauliai

One flag too many outside the Chaim Frenkel Villa, Siauliai

Maybe the rodent-featured Bible basher had been worked into a state of religious ecstasy by the paintings hanging on the walls depicting saints in various modes of rapture and torture, some of them even clutching young children to their beatified bosoms.

Certainly he had failed to contemplate the possible consequences of hysterical intolerance of others mixed with rabid propaganda in a beautiful building with the decidedly un-Lithuanian name of Chaim Frenkel.

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