Lithuania's president: Former banker, Ukraine ally

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda speaks to the media as he arrives to wait for the results of the second round of the presidential election on May 26, 2024, in Vilnius, Lithuania. [AFP]

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda, who won re-election on Sunday, is a centre-right former banker who established himself as a pro-EU statesman and staunch Ukraine supporter during his first term in the job.

Decades of TV appearances as an economic expert have made the married father of two a household name, reputed for his moderate stances on major policy issues.

At nearly two metres (six feet, three inches) tall, Nauseda towered over his seven rivals in the presidential race which he comfortably won with more than 75 per cent of the vote, according to partial official results.

"For me, he's an intelligent man, he speaks many languages, he's educated, he's a banker, he's really presidential-looking," 67-year-old pensioner Ausra Vysniauskiene told AFP after casting the ballot for Nauseda.

"I want men to lead, especially when the threat of war is so big," she added.

Lithuania, a NATO and EU member of 2.8 million people, fears it could be next in Russia's crosshairs if Moscow were to win its war against Ukraine, and Nauseda has been a vocal critic of the Kremlin.

"The hatred fostered by Russia threatens our world order. It threatens every one of us," he said on the invasion anniversary in February.

'Youthful mistake'

But critics say Nauseda gained popularity through sticking to the middle ground and avoiding debates on controversial policy issues.

He also holds conservative views on gay rights and in the past spoke against allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

Born in the Baltic seaport of Klaipeda in Soviet-occupied Lithuania in 1964, Nauseda first studied economics at Vilnius University in the 1980s when the subject was heavily tinged with communist ideology.

After Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, he left to pursue his education at the University of Mannheim in Germany, an experience he says had a lasting impact on his views.

In 2023, local media said Nauseda belonged to the Communist party in 1988-1990.

Nauseda called this "a youthful mistake" and said he only became a member because he wanted to pursue an academic career.

"I was an ambitious and foolishly stubborn young man, and I even ignored my mother's discouragement against such a step," Nauseda said.

Doner kebab and books

Economically left-leaning, Nauseda strongly favours the welfare state and opted for higher taxes on businesses to finance the government's recent proposal to boost defence spending up to three per cent of GDP.

Nauseda is a staunch Ukraine supporter, especially after Moscow invaded the neighbouring country in 2022. He has particularly close ties to Polish president Andrzej Duda, who he met 35 times during his first five-year term.

Nauseda's political idols include WWII-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and late US President Ronald Reagan for his hard line on the then USSR.

Nauseda, who prides himself in being physically active, famously asked his bodyguards once to play football with him for lack of anyone else to play with.

He also admitted in one interview that he is a frequent visitor to doner kebab shops.

Fluent in English, German and Russian, Nauseda enjoys playing chess and collecting rare books.

The oldest tome in his collection is a history of Prussia, dating from 1518, by Erasmus Stella.

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