Bogota’s Lithuanian idol

  • 2010-06-17
  • Interview by Rokas M. Tracevskis

Colombia has three world famous icons: Shakira, probably the world’s sexiest pop star and singer of the World Cup 2010 anthem, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of the magic realism’s novel One Hunded Years of Solitude, which led him to the Nobel Prize in Literature of 1972, and Antanas Mockus, the Lithuanian-origin Amish-style-bearded eccentric mathematician and philosopher, former rector of the National University of Colombia, and two-term mayor of Bogota. Mockus, now 58, turned this Colombian capital city of eight million into a shiny and modern metropolis out of the shabby and street crime-ridden city of the third world.

On June 20, Mockus and his rival, Juan Manuel Santos, former defense minister of the popular outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, will have a run-off in Colombia’s presidential election. On May 30, in the first round, Mockus received almost 22 percent of the votes while Santos received 47 percent. Mockus’ electoral promise to raise taxes was not well received by many Colombians. The majority of other rivals, who are representatives of Columbia’s traditional establishment political parties and who lost in the first round, expressed their support for Santos. Mockus is campaigning together with the other two former innovative mayors of Bogota, Lucho Garzon and Enrique Penalosa. Mockus’ candidate for the post of vice president is Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin. Before the second round, Mockus met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demonstrate that in the case of his victory, Colombian-U.S. relations will stay in good shape.

Contrary to Argentina and Brazil, having several-hundred-thousand strong Lithuanian communities, which were formed between the two world wars when the U.S. had a strict immigration policy, Colombia is home to only 200 Lithuanians, who went there as refugees after WWII. Although they started from zero there, they are now members of the rich class mostly due to their enthusiasm to study. They even left some significant traces back in their fatherland Lithuania. In 1994, the two Colombian-Lithuanian brothers Didziulis founded Klaipedos Nafta, the terminal in Klaipeda for reloading heavy and light oil products. Later, they sold Klaipedos Nafta to the Lithuanian government. All Lithuanian-Colombians, despite their political preferences, support Mockus, although his chances on the eve of the second round seem to be rather slim. Mockus is strongly supported in Bogota but the rest of the 45-million population of Colombia could have some doubts about him. The main accent of the Mockus campaign is education for all, but the rural people could choose his rival, who puts more accent on security guarantees against the leftist terrorist group FARC, which still occupies a big part of Colombia’s country-side.

Why you are going into this election with the Green Party?
The new Green Party has its origin in cooperation and teamwork. The alliance with Lucho Garzon, Enrique Penalosa and Sergio Fajardo has triggered social mobilization that goes beyond age, social status and even specific interests. This election requires new ways of doing politics, with clean people, asking for policies based on rights, not with favors or corruption.

What will be the difference between the Colombia of Mockus and the Colombia of outgoing President Uribe?
The difference is in five key goals, they’re clear to everyone in Colombia: democratic legality (the rule of law everywhere), judges that can be trusted and access to justice for all, protecting human life as sacred, public resources as sacred ones, education with opportunities as the main spark on country’s development, and normalization of international and diplomatic relations.
The Colombian internal policies are going to be designed on the basis of democracy and participation, and the rule of law will be our main guide, taking into account as principle our Constitution and international treaties. External policies aren’t going to be supported in a speech-diplomacy, they will be state policies, based on a strong diplomatic effort, strengthened commercial relations and national interdependence with neighboring countries.

What are your biggest impressions from your visits to Lithuania?
Lithuania is a beautiful country; their people find the importance of building a new country after wars and the Soviet regime. Since March 1990, it has maintained strong democratic traditions, they fought strongly for human rights, and strengthening of the democratic rule of law. For example, it is admirable that municipalities are the most important administrative unit. Those district municipalities help Lithuanian citizens build public policy and strengthen social and state relations.

Also, in economics, it’s impressive how Vilnius recovered after the ’90s economic recession, and its financial and economic growth has been spread for all economic and social clusters, showing better income for citizens and new opportunities for workers. I agree with a good policy in science and technology. The Vilnius incentives for investment in software and technology are wonderful. In fact, they moved Lithuania’s economy to new markets and created a culture of value-added products.

How did you manage to preserve your Lithuanian language? Tell TBT readers more about your parents, please.
All my life my mother and my father spoke about Lithuania. They spoke in Lithuanian in different meetings and they used to read Lithuanian tales when I was a kid. In childhood my mother taught me the national anthem and the spoken language. Some taken clothes and artifacts from the country survived until now, and many religious traditions are still in my mind.
What kind of improvements initiated by you in Bogota would also be suitable for Vilnius?
All of them. Citizen culture was designed not only for Bogota; it’s a new way of identifying cultural problems in big cities, those having over two million citizens. Our first policy was to promote life as sacred, helping solve daily conflicts between tough people with peaceful methods. In my second term we promoted that public resources are sacred, because citizens can’t tolerate that a few government delegates steal social work benefits and people’s taxes.
Vilnius can also improve with a policy to apply education and cultural behavior in streets, taking law, moral, and culture values as a principle to good citizen’s behavior, avoiding bad attitudes like throwing paper on the street, and violent ways of conflict resolution.
We use emotions, images, multimedia, Internet resources and many other media in order to raise consciousness and have our messages and policies reach the citizenry and affect social change. Politics mixed with art is an explosive combination for cultural change.

Who are your favorite philosophers and politicians?
My favorite philosopher is Emanuel Kant, and my favorite politician is also a philosophical figure, Gandhi.

Will you initiate closer relations between Colombia and Lithuania?
Yes, in my government we will explore and expand relations with other countries. We will search for new cooperation programs as well as educational and technical exchanges, searching for both countries’ benefit.