Martynas Starkus, born in 1973 in Vilnius, is a journalist and a TV programs producer who has managed to achieve what everybody tries to reach, make a living out of his passions. Everything started in 1990 in M1, which then was the first independent radio station in a country occupied by the Soviet Union. Twenty years have passed since the music played by Martynas started to reach the radio sets of thousands of Lithuanians eager for freedom. As time went by, he moved to the TV studios, where he developed a successful career as a sports journalist and TV show host and, more recently, as a travel documentary films producer for Lithuanian public TV. Martynas took time out of his busy schedule to meet with TBT.
Do you miss working in a radio studio?
Yes, I do miss it. Sometimes I receive offers to go back to radio, but it requires too much time and I do not have it. I look forward to the day when I can come back to radio. In 1995, I worked both on radio and on TV at the same time, but then, as if it was the song “video killed the radio star,” since the space to fulfill oneself was bigger on television, I had to leave radio.
What are the differences between working on radio and on television?
Television is harder; on the radio, at least when I worked, there used to be a routine every day. You work for three or four hours on your program and every moment you know what you are doing. On the radio everything is more personalized; on TV you are part of a big team where everybody is connected, from the camera operators to the TV director.
What do you want to show to the viewers with your trips?
When we started to think about it, we wanted to create something closer to a trip documentary. We were used to seeing one broadcaster who finds himself in some famous place, then he shows nice monuments and how tasty food is cooked or how beautifully certain people grow vineyards and so on. Our idea was to let the viewers feel as if he was traveling together with us, among all the dust and the inconvenience of the trip. All the senseless communication between people, all the unpleasant things that take place are a real part of the trip.
You always visit Lithuanians during your trips, why?
It is very interesting to see how a Lithuanian ended up in Mauritania, Morocco or Chicago. Those small stories give a touch of identity. Those people we meet, they are always glad to have compatriots as guests and they are willing to talk about everything. It is much easier to speak to emigrants than to the ones living in Lithuania. Emigrants are even bigger patriots than those who are here, because abroad they love their homeland through distance, they miss it and they value their country more than the ones living in it.
Which mentalities were the most similar, and the most different, to the Lithuanian mentality?
As strange as it may sound, I would say that the American mentality is the most distant from ours. They assume that everything will be given. Here in Europe we went through more wars and more miseries, so we are more adapted for survival than Americans. Perhaps since there are only a few of us we have to fight for ourselves and, somehow, Americans wait for everything to happen automatically. Opposite to that, I think that the Chinese mentality is quite similar to the Lithuanian mentality. We, as with the Chinese, were under the Communist oppression, we lived in the same kind of houses they live, they get coupons for food as we used to... There are certain historical parallelisms which make both cultures closer to each other.
Do you think the traveling TV programs you make can increase tolerance and respect towards other cultures?
I really hope so. Since we show that the world is friendly, we can get familiarized with it. There are several reasons why wars begin. One of the reasons is fear, and fear comes from ignorance. When you do not know something, you are very scared. That means you fear the unknown, so the more you share the information, the more you contribute to make the world friendlier. So I hope a lot for this, because Lithuanians, they are not very tolerant. Particularly people living in small villages, but only for one reason, because they live in their small world, so everything scares them.
Which place surprised you the most and which place was the most disappointing?
I am very happy that I had a chance to visit Iran. I really enjoyed being there and I left with some indelible impressions. I always put the places that I have visited in two categories: places that I would love to return to and places that I do not want to go back to. Iran and India would be among the places that I would like to return to some day, but I definitely would not want to go back to Mauritania. It leaves the impression of a poor and eerie place, and to make things worse, there was a sandstorm at the time of our stay. It was also very unpleasant to hear that the Paris-Dakar rally was canceled due to the fact that people got killed at the exact same place that we were living in. It certainly didn’t leave a positive impression.
Do you play football during your trips?
Yeah, we played a little in Iran and some other places. We always had a ball with us. We actually planned to go this year to the World Cup, because we still have unfinished business with Africa. We finished our first trip in Western Africa in Mali and we still have to go to the south. So there was this idea to start from Mali and go to South Africa, playing football in every country with some village’s local football teams. But that remained just a dream.
As you did during the World Cup, you have worked for a long time as a sports journalist. What do you think about sports journalism in Lithuania?
Sports journalism is dependent on the sport itself, so when the sport is not at the peak of its popularity, sports journalism remains in the background. Nowadays the ruling topics are criminal publicistic shows, pedophilia scandals, in other words yellow press, tabloid press. It is fast and cheap. You just chew it, throw it out and it is done. In Lithuania, sports journalism is remembered when we win something, and since the situation with our sports is quite weak, there is no sports journalism. It is really hard for a sports journalist to survive. There are some top quality specialists in several sports fields, but what is the use of it? Where can they show their knowledge? The World Cup comes. They can comment on it; the Olympics come, they can show themselves, but it is only from time to time, and that is sad. A good thing is that our sports journalist community is very friendly, very united, but it is a pity that usually there is nothing to do.
Did you like the World Cup?
Yes, I liked it. Before the first round I was a little bit worried that it could be boring. Maybe teams would play carefully, defensively, but the game pulled me in and I enjoyed every single game. I was really happy about the fact that I could work broadcasting the championship. I could watch every game without anybody disturbing me. Of course, just as after any other championship, you get some bad feelings when your favorite team loses, but after all, it was a really good championship, a great month.
Do you think Lithuania will play in the next Football Euro Cup?
I don’t know about that, but I would be very happy indeed. But I am a person who thinks that the less you hope, the less pain and disappointment you experience. I always try to be cautious about what will come next. I am happy about one fact at least, that all the best Lithuanian footballers want to play and always come to play for the national team. That is very important. It is really easy to play on a team that always wins, but to play for a team which wins only occasionally is not an easy commitment.
If you had to choose one, what would you give up, travel or football?
That is like choosing which hand I should cut off.