Lithuania's president from Illinois Valdas Adamkus: Retired EPA official, 71, moves into new role as chief of Baltic republic.

January 12, 1998

WHEN VALDAS V. Adamkus retired as the Environmental Protection Agency's Midwest chief in June, the 29-year veteran of the federal government said he wanted to "enjoy my golf game, but I believe that's not in the cards." He was right: Last ZTC week, the 71-year-old suburban Chicago resident was narrowly elected president of his native Lithuania.

In Mr. Adamkus, Lithuania is getting a chief executive who is a true outsider. He is more familiar with Republican politics in Illinois than with the country he left during World War II. Those who know him, though, say Mr. Adamkus is a tough and skilled administrator. He will be helped by his ability to speak five languages, including Russian and German.

Mr. Adamkus' slim victory underscored divisions among voters in Lithuania, which in 1989 became the first republic to break away from a collapsing Soviet Union.

In the first round of year-end elections, voters rejected Vytautas Landsbergis, a musicologist who led their country to independence from Moscow. The run-off pitted Mr. Adamkus against Arturas Paulauskas, a lawyer and political neophyte supported by many influential communist-era decision makers.

Most Lithuanians, regardless of past political leanings, share a determination to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Those bodies are seen as essential guarantors of Lithuania's liberty.

After his election, Mr. Adamkus said he would make good relations with Russia a priority. He ruled out any claims on Kaliningrad, a sliver of Russia that extends to the area between Lithuania and Poland. Such assurances were needed to allay Moscow's fears about an American emigre.

At the EPA, Mr. Adamkus fought a public battle over pollution controls with the administration of Ronald Reagan, who had appointed him. The incident won Mr. Adamkus bipartisan backing that was so strong President Clinton's efforts to replace him were blocked.

In Lithuania, Mr. Adamkus will encounter a new set of intrigues. If he can keep himself above the insignificant day-to-day frays, he may be exactly the kind of detached leader that country needs as it re-enters the European family of nations.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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