In Lithuania, where politics are synonymous with scandal and volatility, President Dalia Grybauskaitė is a figure of solidity. Nicknamed “Steel Magnolia,” the former European commissioner elicits comparisons to Margaret Thatcher, sharing with the late British leader a penchant for the acid phrase and a work ethic little changed from her student days in Leningrad when she doubled up courses with shifts at a Soviet fur factory.
Her country and her region will surely need a steadying hand in the months ahead. The election of Donald Trump brings to power a Republican who on the campaign trail consistently expressed his admiration for the Baltics’ fervent foe Russian President Vladimir Putin and cast doubt on America’s commitment to the NATO military alliance that guarantees their security.
Grybauskaitė’s strong position at home and her familiarity with the inner workings of Brussels lets her punch above her small nation’s weight. Since coming into office in 2009, the second-term 60-year-old president has picked her battles on the international stage, pushing for Western sanctions against Russia, to help Ukraine defend itself, to protect free movement of labor in the EU and on the migration crisis. All those issues are likely to stay atop the agenda in 2017.
A longtime critic of Putin whom she has, on a number of occasions, compared to Hitler and Stalin, Grybauskaitė will have to work even harder to keep sanctions in place with growing calls in Rome, Athens, Budapest and now possibly Washington and Paris to ease off the Kremlin. “If we reverse our position or succumb to Russia’s pressure, nobody knows how many more red lines will be crossed,” she writes in an email interview.
On migration, where she has pushed a marginally more welcoming line than her Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, she says the EU “must move beyond the fire-fighting approach and address the root causes of migration.” Inside the EU, she adds, “we have to focus on the integration of refugees who are already here. This is the only way to prevent the backlash in our societies.”
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Besides black-belt training in martial arts, what’s your favorite hobby? There aren’t many opportunities to engage in hobbies. I like reading, enjoy music, but my attention is always focused on my job.
What do you most miss about life in Brussels? What do you not miss? There is no time to reminisce about the past. It is more important to look ahead. International experience gained in Brussels is valuable to me and helps me work for the future.
What is your idea of a dream holiday? I do not dream of holidays. My job gives me both hard work and satisfaction. The joy to see good results in what I do — it is enough for holidays also.
Last updated 2016.12.07 10:52Back