Police harass beer drinkers

  • 2001-08-16
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Lithuanian police now have the opportunity to teach good manners to beer drinkers. People who are caught drinking beer in a public place and not in an outdoor café can be punished with a fine or even a jail sentence.

The Lithuanian Administrative Court's ruling, made at the end of July, states that policemen can give either a verbal warning or punishment with a fine from 30 litas ($7.50) to 50 litas to those who drink beer in public places. If they repeat the offense, beer drinkers could face fines of up to 100 litas. A third strike can cost from 150 litas to 300 litas or a 30-day jail sentence.

The court made its decision after complaints from Palanga's police chief Romualdas Stankevicius, who was not pleased with the noisy behavior of young people drinking beer in the streets of the west coast sea resort. Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas fueled the issue by stating last month, "Young guys gulping beer from bottles create the image of an aggressive town."

Earlier, police could not legally prosecute beer guzzlers, because of a contradiction in Lithuanian law. Alcohol usage outside bars or restaurants has always been forbidden. However, some laws state that beer is alcohol, but other laws maintain that only spirits are alcohol. In the end, the court decided that beer was alcohol, too.

Vilnius police took their first ride hunting for beer drinkers on the evening of Aug. 10. Erikas Kaliacius, Vilnius' police chief, instructed policemen not to hurry dishing out punishment as long as drinkers were not behaving like hooligans. Luckily for these guzzlers, it was a rainy evening and nobody was out drinking in the streets of the capital.

The next day young people were sitting on benches and drinking beer on the central boulevard Vokieciu Street, which has many outdoor cafés where beer drinking is legal and even encouraged by Zuokas.

"It's cheaper than drinking in a pub. Young people drink in this way all over Europe,"Rita, a student at Vilnius University, complained from one of the benches. She and her two friends had just broken open a beer each.

"It creates a free and democratic atmosphere. Sure, we won't drink here if police decide to be tough on this matter. I think Zuokas just wants to increase the income of restaurant owners. Rich folks help rich folks,"she continued.

"Students and other young people will want to drink cheaper beer anyway,"Eduardas Mosunovas, manager of the Finjan restaurant on the same street, told The Baltic Times. "I don't think this idea will be increasing my income."