Comment on Nausėda: he keeps glancing at the rear view mirror

Dr. Gitanas Nausėda
Dr. Gitanas Nausėda and his wife at an Presidential Campaign event

President-Elect Gitanas Nausėda has repeated a number of times that things will be different now. G. Nausėda promises a different tone to that of Dalia Grybauskaitė in both domestic and foreign policy. However, experts contacted by the tv3.lt news portal wonder if perhaps the president-elect is far more alike the prior heads of state that may appear at first glance, Vilmantas Venckūnas wrote in tv3.lt

Based on preliminary data from the Central Electoral Commission, economist G. Nausėda won with 65.86% of the vote versus Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat (TS-LKD) nominee, MP I. Šimonytė’s 33.28%.

(Un)like Grybauskaitė

On election night, the president-elect repeated a number of times that during his leadership, Lithuania will be different too so far.

“People now watch their TV screens and wonder. What happens now? How will we live now? Will it be the same as before? Or will it be different – better or worse? This depends on what expectations those people hold. I can say that it definitely will be different,” G. Nausėda said in his address to the nation in Daukantas Square.

G. Nausėda asserted that he will be a different president than D. Grybauskaitė because based on his personality traits, he is a different person than the incumbent.

Public relations expert Arijus Katauskas noted to the tv3.lt news portal that during the electoral campaign, G. Nausėda often repeated the need for the Presidential Palace to be open to people with different interests.

“Was it a direct claim that during the Grybauskaitė years, this was not the case? You could read it that way. But Gitanas Nausėda himself is softening his tone, saying that it would be odd if all presidents were the same,” A. Katauskas said.

According to the communications specialist, talks about the Presidential Palace’s openness were a sort of communications position of G. Nausėda, but it is still hard to grasp, how this will be accomplished.

“Grybauskaitė had set certain rules and, most likely, you as news media representatives know best, how it was possible to “easily” communicate and reach the president. I believe that this will not change radically because there are certain rules. I think any radical change is hard to expect,” the communications specialist said.

Political campaign strategist and communications consultant Mindaugas Lapinskas told tv3.lt that he thinks there would be more differences between the runner up I. Šimonytė and D. Grybauskaitė than between the incumbent and the president-elect. According to the specialist, G. Nausėda rarely brought up, what he dislikes in D. Grybauskaitė‘s governance and whether he sees any sort of problems with the president’s behaviour.

“Their [G. Nausėda’s and D. Grybauskaitė‘s] main weapon and advantage is to have a good grasp of what voters want […]. Even in sentence structure, Nausėda’s are often similar to Grybauskaitė‘s. When you ask about economic upswing or teacher’s wages, both Nausėda and Grybauskaitė answer in the same words: “Yes, wages must be raised, but without creating a financial strain on the budget.” Nausėda will be similar to Grybauskaitė, at least in his rhetoric and balanced position,” M. Lapinskas is convinced.

No shocks

G. Nausėda also promised to be somewhat different from the current head of state as far as foreign policy is concerned. Nevertheless, Eastern Europe Studies Centre director Linas Kojala stated that we shouldn’t expect any major shocks in foreign policy because there is strong consensus in Lithuania’s foreign policy and furthermore, the president-elect has so far not expressed intent on seeking strategic changes.

Linas Kojala
Linas Kojala DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

“We heard about the intent to strengthen NATO and US presences in our region, a consistent stance toward the European Union, the continuity of support for Ukraine. Of course, stylistics will matter and specific new ideas, which the president will no doubt have,” L. Kojala spoke.

A. Katauskas stated that we must wait to see the new president’s team first, however it is hard to expect any cardinal shifts in the country’s foreign policy.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put in significant work and if we are to look at the core questions, be it regarding the European Union or be it regarding NATO, everything is on rails. It would be hard to imagine any sort of radical changes occurring,” the communications specialist mused.

Nevertheless, G. Nausėda promised changes even before finding out the election results. With the voting ending, he told journalists that he imagines a slightly different dialogue with Russia that is currently.

“I would like to be diplomatic and employ a vocabulary that would be a little different, compared to the vocabulary used before,” G. Nausėda said.

However, he emphasised that in essence, Lithuania’s relations with Russia will not change as long as “the situation in Ukraine remains as is now” and stated that he views Russian actions in Ukraine as aggression against a neighbouring state.

During her first term, D. Grybauskaitė also sought to employ a softer tone toward the Eastern neighbour, stating that she wishes to reboot bilateral relations. However, talks about closer relations would grow ever more silent until, in the face of the war in Ukraine, D. Grybauskaitė finally described Russia as a terrorist state.

L. Kojala notes a core difference in G. Nausėda’s and D. Grybauskaitė‘s intentions to change relations with Russia.

“Grybauskaitė spoke about it during a period when there were positive expectations toward Russia among many Western states. Medvedev was president, it seemed that Russia will seek closer cooperation with its neighbours,” he pointed out.

The current situation is completely different, L. Kojala notes. Russia is under economic sanctions for its aggression in Ukraine and it does not appear that the situation may change any time soon.

“Thus, the president-elect too has not spoken so far about political changes and only rhetoric, all without relinquishing strategic directions such as strengthening NATO presence in the region,” the Eastern European Studies Centre director said.

Calm and diplomatic

G. Nausėda stated a number of times during the electoral campaign that he views Valdas Adamkus as an example and in the last debates, he described the former head of state as the benchmark for the presidency. V. Adamkus, in whose team G. Nausėda worked during the 2004 elections, endorsed the now president-elect, while G. Nausėda thanked V. Adamkus for his advice, which apparently he gave during the campaign.

A. Katauskas states that he specifically reviewed a number of appearances by V. Adamkus during his presidency and says that he sees similarities in G. Nausėda.

“In my opinion, Nausėda is a far more emotional person than Adamkus. But certain rhetoric, behaviour, visual similarities, they can be seen,” A. Katauskas thinks.

According to the communications expert, V. Adamkus was notable for his efforts to be as diplomatic as possible, especially when talking about political processes and political figures. A. Katauskas believes that G. Nausėda is also striving to maintain a diplomatic stance and seeing this, his campaign team members sought to emphasise this similarity between V. Adamkus and G. Nausėda throughout the campaign.

“Voters would also often stress that there is a similarity, as certain presidential posture with Nausėda that Adamkus also had. I believe it is a naturally emerging similarity, which was suitably employed in the electoral campaign,” the public relations expert noted.

M. Lapinskas did not observe many similarities between the former head of state and the president-elect. According to him, V. Adamkus was a greater innovator than G. Nausėda.

“Adamkus would leave a warm, cosy home and would wade in the deep waters, at least in foreign policy. From Nausėda, throughout the campaign, there was little to hear of ideas, with which he would offer to take steps and go elsewhere,” M. Lapinskas mused.

Need to study

The previous two heads of state were visible on the international political arena, their voices were heard. V. Adamkus played a significant role during the Orange Revolution and Revolution of Roses had a close relationship with the Polish presidents and the US administration.

D. Grybauskaitė’s words had weight at the European Council, the leaders of the most powerful countries would consider her proposals, which was demonstrated by publicly expressed thanks from both Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump. D. Grybauskaitė was among the most active in speaking about the Russian threat in the face of the Ukrainian conflict.

A. Katauskas stated that so far it is hard to say whether G. Nausėda will be equally visible in the international arena as the previous two heads of state.

“Both Adamkus and Grybauskaitė brought with them very strong international experience; Adamkus from the USA, Grybauskaitė from the European Commission,” the communications expert stated.

According to him, since G. Nausėda has no political experience, notable experiences in international meetings are hard to expect at the start of the term.

“We cannot expect immediate ability to tell things to Trump, which later show up in news media outlets around the world, like Grybauskaitė,“ A. Katauskas said.

According to L. Kojala, it will take time for G. Nausėda to gain knowledge, establish links to other heads of state, form his own team and position on various questions. According to the head of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, the future head of state will find it important to establish informal relationships, for example during European Council meetings.

“The goal is likely going to be to retain visibility. Of course, this depends in part on circumstances. Lithuania was boosted by its presidency of the Council of the European Union, also its temporary place in the UN Security Council. Thus, the president-elect will also have to find niches and opportunities, also a relationship with international news media,” L. Kojala said.

However, M. Lapinskas does not expect any notable ideas from G. Nausėda or a notable role of his in the international arena.

“Nausėda is more a person, who more often glances at the rearview mirror than looks through the front windowpane,” M. Lapinskas asserted.

G. Nausėda will take office after the July 12 inauguration.

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