Lithuanians Prefer Blonde

Here's to the start of a beautiful friendship...

Here's to the start of a beautiful friendship...

The results are in and on July 12th silver-haired old Valdas Adamkus will exeunt, stage left, to be replaced by peroxide bombshell Dalia Grybauskaite, stage right.

I was at Grybauskaite’s campaign headquarters on the evening of May 17 as the results of the presidential election rolled in, and a strange night it proved to be.

Annoyingly, my computer refused to log onto the wi-fi network at the Artis Hotel, forcing me to run up the road and sit in the gutter outside La Boheme restaurant (which had a network my computer had more affection for) to file copy in the warm rain.

But stranger still was the somewhat stultified atmosphere inside the Artis despite the fact that Grybauskaite was clearly winning an absolute landslide.

Exit polls had predicted 69 per cent of the vote for her, a figure that proved to be spot on. But if anything, more attention was being paid to the voter turnout figure to see if it ticked past the 50 per cent mark that might mean a second run-off vote would be required.

Turnout ended up at 51 per cent, but by the time that became clear it was very late and we’d already experienced several semi-celebrations that petered out when some killjoy pointed out yet another statistical possibility.

It was a different matter at Grybauskaite’s press conference the next morning when she quickly started laying about her, naming which ministers were rubbish and generally throwing her weight around. There’s something about her high-pitched, machine-gun delivery that’s initially compelling but quickly becomes wearing.

The lady's not for turning

The lady's not for turning

I can’t help wondering if she will copy Margaret Thatcher (one of her political heroines – Lithuania, you have been warned) and wind up having elocution lessons to lower and slow down her voice in a bid to gain gravitas.

On a couple of occasions I managed to pose some questions directly to her and barely remembered her replies once she had fixed me with her exceptionally piercing green eyes. Staring at you from beneath her platinum barnet you feel like the back of your skull is being etched by these glowing orbs.

As to the future, we’ll have to wait and see if Grybauskaite can justify the massive mandate she won. She quickly identified corruption and oligarchy as two of her main targets – which always risks making a politician a hostage to fortune.

She also made some vague promises about slashing her presidential salary on the understanding that Brussels will make up the difference (did you know EU Commissioners get paid for 3 years after they step down?) which were short on detail, and could easily blow up in her powdered face if she doesn’t follow through on them.

And you sense that while Prime Minister Kubilius was happy to play mine host on Sunday night, there was just a hint of worry in his deadpan face about this unpredictable blonde bombshell.

Running as an independent, she’s not beholden to any particular party line. She clearly has more than a few populist tendencies and on occasion will find it very useful to cross swords with the government or give it a presidential kick up the arse – whether it is deserved or not.


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