President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) received a senior delegation from the Atlantic Council think tank led by former Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite on Thursday last week.
As athletes from countries including Lithuania and Latvia came to Taiwan to play in FIBA Basketball World Cup preparation games, Grybauskaite and Tsai watched a match together at Sinjhuang Gymnasium in New Taipei City. Grybauskaite gave Tsai a Lithuanian national team jersey as a gift. A photo of Grybauskaite with a national team scarf around her neck, surrounded by lanky national team basketball players, has triggered discussion back in her homeland.
Lithuania and Taiwan have much in common. Aside from being small countries and having the misfortune of being next to a bellicose neighbor, the two have a highly similar political system.
Both nations have a directly elected president, and while Taiwan’s president has a four-year term, Lithuania has a period of five years, also for a maximum of two consecutive terms. In charge of foreign affairs and national security, the Lithuanian president is also the head of state and commander-in-chief, while the prime minister is appointed by the president as the head of administrative affairs.
Grybauskaite was first elected president in 2009 and became the country’s first female president.
With a black belt in karate, Grybauskaite has been dubbed the “iron lady of the Baltics.” Amid fears of Russian aggression, she won her second term with 58 percent of the votes and became the first president in Lithuania’s post-Soviet history to have served two consecutive terms. Grybauskaite once vowed in a campaign that “she would take up arms herself to defend her country if national security required it.”
After finishing her second term in 2019, the 67-year-old Grybauskaite was once considered a potential choice to replace Jens Stoltenberg as NATO’s next secretary-general. As Stoltenberg has served two full terms, NATO members were eager to see a female take the reins for the first time.
However, after Russia invaded Ukraine, Grybauskaite’s hardline hawkish stance has become an obstacle for reaching a “NATO decision” — the collective will of all 31 member countries reaching a unanimous consensus.
She once admitted to the New York Times that her hardline stance has ruled out her candidacy. As Lithuania is holding its presidential election in May next year, Lithuanians have started signing petitions online, hoping that Grybauskaite can run for the top post again. Away from the roiling cauldron of Lithuanian politics, she is currently visiting Taiwan and seems to enjoy taking part in traditional art performances.
A few days ago, I was honored to have attended the same Chinese opera performance The Promotion of Hsu Chiu-ching (徐九經) with her at the Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林). Chinese opera has a rich cultural heritage and requires four performing techniques from actors, namely singing, reciting, acting and martial arts. Without subtitles, she finished watching the two-and-a-half hour show without leaving early. Afterward, Grybauskaite paid the actors a visit backstage and posed for photos with them.
Amid a jam-packed schedule, Grybauskaite has shown her love for the arts with her choice to sit down for a show in a theater with a local audience. The program was a “civil play” without a great deal of fighting, such as catching spears or fancy gymnastics. Her attendance has set a good example for local politicians.
Chen Yung-chang is a company manager.
Translated by Rita Wang
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