Mayor of an international port city

  • 2001-07-19
  • Mark Uribe
Rimantas Taraskevicius, 52, was elected mayor of Klaipeda on March 1 this year when the previous mayor, Eugenijus Gentvilas, moved to Vilnius to take up a government position. Taraskevicius is the only member of the current Town Council to have served on all four councils since Lithuania's independence. A former construction engineer, he now welcomes the opportunity to leave his mark on the city's administration. Interview by Mark Uribe.

TBT: What do you enjoy, and what do you not enjoy, about being mayor?

Taraskevicius: Enjoy? Everything. I am not a revolutionary and I value the good things that were done by my predecessors and hope to add to these.

TBT: What are the biggest problems facing Klaipeda today?

Mayor: Klaipeda is one of Lithuania's economic centers. Traditionally it has had a below average unemployment record and an above average income level. But problems do exist here. Although Klaipeda contributes approximately 11-12 percent to the state budget every year the current government's investment program doesn't reflect this. Thus, in the last few years, investment in the social infrastructure of the city has been less than we would have wished for in order to meet our residents' needs. However, in discussion with the government a 10-year development plan is being prepared to tackle these problems. The main priorities of the program are the creation of jobs and attracting investment, developing infrastructure, education services, and improving the residential parts of the city.

TBT: Klaipeda has an unusual history. Is it a German, a Russian, a Lithuanian city, or even something else?

Mayor: The administration of Klaipeda has indeed changed hands many times; Lithuanian, Prussian, French, Hitler's Germany, Soviet Socialist Republic, and finally Lithuanian again. It would be easy just to say "it's a Lithuanian city" as it was originally founded and inhabited by people living in the region of Lithuania Minor. However, economically, politically and especially in the mentality of its residents, it is a European city, striving to develop its international role and prove itself a reliable and trustworthy partner. It is not an accident that Klaipeda has direct relations with 14 cities throughout the world.

TBT: Lithuania is moving towards Europe. How far down this road will Klaipeda be in 10 years time?

Mayor: Looked at from the perspective of the international cooperation and attitudes of the residents of Klaipeda, we are already in Europe. Today, we already receive considerable European Union financial support for major projects in the town, and soon, together with the Taurage region, we will benefit from the PHARE 2000 program.

Klaipeda never was far from Europe, and we are a strong partner with the government on the road to the European Union.

TBT: What happened to the planned free economic zone in the city?

Mayor: A considerable sum has been invested so far in developing the infrastructure, and it is my belief that these investments will not be allowed to go to waste. We are still working on fulfilling all the legal requirements and I am confident that it will become a reality.

TBT: How do you hope to attract further investment to Klaipeda?

Mayor: Investment goes to those places where there is a stable political and legal environment, as this reduces business risks, but also important is the quality of life and even the natural environment. Klaipeda possesses all of these and has the advantage of its geographical position. In addition, it has long had a reputation for a skilled but comparatively inexpensive work force. Within the town there are still many undeveloped and unused sites suitable for commercial use. The city administration plans to offer special tax exemptions to investors who create new workplaces. We welcome all investors equally, whether they are local or foreign investors. This is understood by such international companies as Philip Morris, Siemens, Carlsberg, Penninox and Radisson SAS, who have invested and continue to invest here.

TBT: Finally, what is so unique about Klaipeda?

Mayor: Its position as the only port in Klaipeda gives it the same kind of economic strength as, say, Gdansk has in Poland. It is only through Klaipeda that Lithuania can realize her ambitions as a maritime nation. Klaipeda has always been a multicultural city - Lithuanians, Germans, Jews, Russians and others have lived here, and each culture has enriched the city. It is a pity that after WW II the German cultural heritage was almost completely destroyed, but it is a pleasure to witness the friendly and business contacts again been established between Klaipeda and German cities such as Lubek and Kiel. Together with the German organization FULDA we hope to restore the remains of the old Klaipeda Castle, built as long ago as 1252. The people of Klaipeda are a free and easy-going people; this can bee seen most clearly during the Sea Festival, which takes place every year.