Lithuania's Iron Lady axed state glamour, but it could make a comeback

Dalia Grybauskaitė was notoriously modest for a president, opting to fly Wizz-air and never going on holidays. Will her successor bring back lavish spending and luxurious receptions?

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Lithuania's Iron Lady axed state glamour, but it could make a comeback - NewsMavens
Kuhlmann /MSC - https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/image/dalia-grybauskaite-2/

Why this story matters:

Posh receptions on Statehood Day, which commemorates the first and only Lithuanian king, Mindaugas are used to attract numerous politicians, along with the cultural, diplomatic and sports elite. They were candy for tabloids, allowing famous personalities to show themselves in public and network. The austere President Grybauskaitė, who came to power during the economic crisis, believed that such a display of elite glamour was inappropriate when budget cuts were gnawing at the little wealth that the general population had.

"Traditions are created, and they depend on specific situations," she told the press as she cancelled these elite receptions in 2010. "If we, as well as the government and politicians, believed that we can only compensate [for the cuts in] pensions from 2014, let's start dreaming of balls only from 2014," she maintained.

Following two terms under her guidance, Lithuania has now elected Gitanas Nausėda, an economist embodying a neoliberal success dream for the Baltic country. Journalists are wondering whether the departure of the ascetic Wizzair-flying president, who was known not to go on holiday nor use any perks of the office, will mean the return of elite glamour to the president's palace again. Nausėda says he will consider the question once he is sworn in.

Many articles in Lithuania are currently dedicated to the so-called "Iron Lady's" legacy. Before ending the tradition of elite receptions, she also stopped inviting religious leaders to the president's palace for a prayer breakfast -- a custom introduced by her predecessor, Lithuanian-American Valdas Adamkus. Unlike Grybauskaitė, Nausėda has a spouse, and conservative commentators are already brimming with joy that Lithuania has a first lady again.

Without much fanfare, Grybauskaitė dissociated the presidential institution from emphatic displays of religiosity, familism, and elite glamour. With her gone, will these elements return?

Details from the story:

  • 2009 was the last year that the president's palace was open to a fancy ball to celebrate the Statehood Day on the 6th of July.
  • 2500 guests attended the last such reception, which was serviced by one of the poshest restaurants in Vilnius.
  • Under Grybauskaitė, solemn receptions were only organized when prominent guests from abroad, especially heads of state and monarchs, were visiting.
  • Left without a presidential reception, rich people gathered and organized their own ball in 2011.
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