Vilnius turns on beggars

  • 2001-03-01
  • Rokas M. Tracevkis
VILNIUS - Regimantas Paulionis, head of Vilnius municipality's Department of Public Order, has compiled a list of streets in the capital where it wants begging to be forbidden.

The department made similar proposals to previous city governments. They have always been rejected. Paulionis hopes the new ruling right-wing coalition of the Liberal Union, Conservative Party and Polish Electoral Action that dominates the Vilnius municipal board will be more receptive to the idea.

"We're speaking about aggressive begging and those beggars who lie on mattresses in the streets together with their dogs. I'm just not sure we have an adequate legal basis to take action against them.

"We need to talk to the politicians about it. There used to be police patrols in the past that would ask beggars to leave the central area of the city, but these programs weren't consistent," Paulionis told The Baltic Times.

An anti-begging campaign was approved three years ago on the occasion of the inaugural ceremonies for Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.

Paulionis said that police in Western European capitals are much more decisive about kicking beggars out of tourist areas. As an example, he said that begging is forbidden in a seven kilometer radius around the center of Paris.

Vilnius' unfortunates seem more willing to defend their rights. Local beggars complain about human rights abuses and police are reluctant to disturb them, Paulionis claimed.

According to recent "surveys" in the Lithuanian press, the average income of a Vilnius beggar is 60 litas ($15) per day. The point of these reports was to state that beggars get a higher-than-average salary in Lithuania.

They have increased public support in the country for taking action against begging.

One beggar sitting near Cathedral Square in Vilnius, gray-bearded and very old, said he was blind and that "a good woman" took care of him and gave him shelter.

He helped her to pay the rent by begging in the vicinity of Cathedral Square. The woman takes him to the square every day and brings him some food while he's "at work."

He also told The Baltic Times that he is a Russian-speaking Lithuanian, but that he knows the local and other languages.

"I'm blind. So I need to listen. I can even hear the difference between the English and American accents," he said. He added that he knew nothing about the plans of Vilnius municipality to ban beggars from certain areas.