Pirouettes around the Vilnius mayor’s post

  • 2010-05-19
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

REMOVING RUBBISH: Vilnius Mayor Vilius Navickas cleans the Neris River bank from rubbish during the ecological action “Let’s do it” in April. Now he also speaks about his intention to clean Vilnius of the last remaining Soviet sculptures.

VILNIUS - On May 13, Vilnius Mayor Vilius Navickas promised to remove all four Soviet sculpture compositions from Vilnius’ Zaliasis Tiltas (“Green Bridge” in Lithuanian) if the Cultural Heritage Department would scratch them from the list of state-protected monuments. The statement was made during the meeting of his party, the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, on May 13, when he and his colleagues voted for who should occupy the first position on their party’s list for the Vilnius municipality election, which is scheduled for next year.

“We’ll appeal to the Cultural Heritage Department asking it to withdraw them from the list of state-protected monuments. I, Vilius Navickas, living in a state of law, and abiding by the law, guarantee to you that when those sculptures will be indeed withdrawn from the list of state-protected monuments, we’ll remove them immediately. I’m acting according to the law,” Navickas said answering a question from his party colleague regarding the future of those sculptures.

The sculptures on Zaliasis Bridge are the only sculptures remaining of Soviet ideology. They stayed in place during the mass removal of such sculptures after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Grazina Dremaite, as well as other conservationists, although having no sympathies to communism, decided that the sculptures on Zaliasis Bridge are valuable monuments of that terrible epoch. The Stalin-era sculptures appeared on the bridge in 1952. The sculptures portray Soviet soldiers, proletarians, peasants, and students. Those four sculptural compositions on the bridge are named “In defense of peace,” “Industry and construction,” “Agriculture,” and “Young people of science.”

Now the sculptures are quite rusty. In February, the administration of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov stated that it wants to renew the sculptures using Russian companies and Russian money. The Moscow municipality stated that those sculptures were built to commemorate “the Russian soldiers-liberators,” though this does not coincide with either historical truth, nor even with the original idea of the authors of those Stalin-era sculptures. Vilnius municipality answered back that it does not need any help from Moscow and will renew those sculptures itself. Then Navickas stated that there are other, more important monuments to renew, while the Soviet sculptures on the bridge can wait. The renewal of those sculptures would cost some 60,000 litas (17,000 euros).

However, on May 13, Navickas’ anti-sculpture attack did not help him to win the vote among 330 members during a meeting of the Vilnius section of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats. Navickas got 46 votes and came in third place after the vote. Raimundas Alekna, psychologist and currently adviser to Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, got 103 votes while Vytautas Sadauskas, member of the Vilnius region’s municipality council, got 69 votes. Alekna and Sadauskas went to the second round, which will be held at the end of May. Both rivals will have a public debate in the Town Hall before the second round.

Political observers are in consensus that the main obstacle which did not allow Navickas to win was Vilnius municipality’s permission to allow the gay parade on May 8, and the short-distance march of Russian WWII veterans on May 9, although Navickas, according to the media, was against the idea to allow the Russian march.
On May 14, a group of mostly elderly ultraconservatives, protesting against the municipality’s permission for the gay parade, laid wreaths with inscriptions “R.I.P. to the Christian values of Andrius Kubilius, chairman of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats” and “R.I.P to Navickas - how much did you get selling Christian values?” near the Lithuanian government’s office and near the Vilnius municipality office.

The ultraconservatives, who are nicknamed “the Taliban” by Lithuanian political observers, have strong positions on the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats. Navickas, who is also a biker, is not respected by “the Taliban.” Recently, the media published a photo of Navickas, which was made during one of the bikers’ feasts before he became Vilnius mayor: Navickas was posing with the inscription, made with lipstick on his belly, stating “Suck my […]” The third word was invisible on that photo, but it was easy to guess. Soon after that minor scandal, Navickas, seeking to please the ultraconservatives, met with Catholic Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis. During that meeting, Navickas stated that he would like to see crucifixes on the walls of classrooms in Vilnius schools.

According to media rumors, the wives of Kubilius and Navickas are relatives and this could be some kind of protection for Navickas against the ultraconservatives, which are similar to ultraconservatives living outside the main cities of the U.S., while such politicians in the EU are kind of extinct species.

Several days ago, Algis Ramanauskas (also known by his nickname, Algis Greitai), TV dark humor showman and member of Vilnius’ municipality council, suspended his membership in the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, stating that this party remains for him the best Lithuanian political party since 1926, but it failed to turn into a western-style party and suffers from “the syndrome of a room filled with a fart-smell.” Ramanauskas stated that after a while, a person living in such a room stops noticing the smell, and the same goes with the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats leaders who get used to the activities of “the Taliban” inside their party.