Organizers clash and Vilnius Days is scrapped this year

  • 2000-06-01
  • By Peter J. Mladineo
VILNIUS - For the first time in five years, there won't be a Vilniaus Dienos (Vilnius Days) festival to mark the end of summer in Vilnius.

Instead, there will be a new, larger event, Sostines Dienos (Capital Days), an experimental amalgamation of small festivals, happening in September instead of August, that will pose a greater risk to the Vilnius municipality.

This change came about because of differences in the way that chief organizer and founder of Vilniaus Dienos, Patrick Lion, and the Vilnius municipality wanted to run things. Disputes over money, timing and professionalism are the main bones of contention.

Lion, a Frenchman with ties to Finnish Lapland who runs a Baltic-based travel agency, is fuming. He refused to organize this year's event, and even quarreled with the city in its attempt to use Lion's Vilniaus Dienos moniker.

"After five years I am fed up," he said. "They will do something because I refuse to do something. There was some conflict with the municipality about the way to run it: non-professional versus professional. In the condition they do it now there's too much amateurism. It's not professionalism. There's no marketing. You can do nothing without a preliminary marketing plan. We shall see what the new people of the municipality will do after this one."

The biggest problem, Lion maintains, is money.

"Mainly it's a budget problem," he said. "They do not understand that you have to start to plan a budget a year in advance. All the time there were question marks because the municipality's budget is being reduced all the time."

To Lion, the municipality's substitute plans are not cohesive. Sostines Dienos will feature from 17 to 18 separately managed festivals occurring in Vilnius simultaneously. Lion says there is inadequate sponsorship.

"Imagine that many festivals fighting to find sponsors. I couldn't even imagine such a thing," he said.

The municipality says that some of the festival organizers already have sponsors.

"There are directors who have already established long-term contracts with sponsors," said Edmundas Zalpys, director of department of culture and education with the Vilnius City municipality. "The contracts were established previously and are still in effect."

The municipality is also touting the fact that Sostines Dienos has received the imprimatur from Rolandas Paksas, who returned to the city's highest post this year after a brief stint as prime minister. "We expect that everything will work out successfully because the main supporter of this event is the mayor of Vilnius, Mr. Rolandas Paksas. He gave his firm promise that he is going to be a patron of this particular event, and they think this will be a benefit, bearing in mind that Mr. Paksas is a very popular personality," Zalpys said.

One of the biggest contentions between the city and Lion is the timing of Sostines Dienos. Lion is adamant about the need to hold it in summertime. The city says that it's unfair to hold the city's major festival then and won't fund a festival happening during vacation season.

"The city doesn't want to donate funds for an event in a season when the majority of citizens are on their holidays," Zalpys said. "And another reason would be that it's a summer holiday time for other people whom we usually invite for Vilnius Days - our sister cities and cities with which Vilnius has cooperative agreements."

Sostines Dienos will occur September 8 to 24, a time that could see the beginning of a cool, rainy autumn or an Indian summer. Lion is sure that the weather will not be conducive towards the festival. The municipality doesn't hide the possibility of some wash-outs during those weeks. "We hope that September will be a nice month with nice weather and the possibility of rain will not spoil the mood," Zalpys said.

Another rationale for the municipality is that September is an important month in the legendary origin of Vilnius. The 24th of September, the day of the equinox, was the day the iron wolf howled on Gedimino Hill, explains Angele Sabauskiene, the city's cultural information center.

On that day Gediminas, on a hunting trip in the hills around the future location of Vilnius, dreamed about an iron wolf howling on a hill. Says Sabauskiene, Gediminas went to an oracle who informed him that such a dream was a prognostication about the importance of the location.

"The howl meant that this place would be a prominent city, renowned for its handicrafts, trade relations and culture. Finally this dream came true," she said.

The city acknowledges the inherent risks in making such drastic changes to what was once a successful city festival.

"Of course we are taking a risk but it will be the first time we arranged this kind of event. It could be a kind of rehearsal for a next successful event next year," Zalpys said.

He adds that Lion would be welcomed back to organize the 2001 event.

"We lack the assistance of Mr. Lion and we would be glad if he would agree to take care of the arrangement of this event. And we are ready to communicate with him - if it is not possible this year, than maybe next year he will agree," Zalpys said.

"No problem," Lion said, "but give 20 percent. I'm really fed up of paying out of my pocket."