You may suspect me of pandering, but my friends in Sirvintos, a town of approximately six thousand people in central Lithuania, say that the town is a great place. Tidy, cosy, compact with a new leisure infrastructure on the rise, and Vilnius, the capital city, and Kaunas, the country’s second-largest city, are at a stone’s throw, Sirvintos is picked by both families and singles to live. However, the Mayor of Sirvintos, Zivile Pinskuviene, the bright Northern star in the country’s mayoral sky, often goes against the grain in defending interests of the town and her values. The Baltic Times Magazine sat down with Z. Pinskuviene to talk about the municipal affairs, the local community, what it takes to be a strong woman and yourself.
What are your most favourite and most important projects implemented in Sirvintos Municipality in recent years? And which were the most exhausting? Why?
Big or small, every work and project is important insofar as it responds to the needs of a particular social group. Of course, Sirvintos is best known for the big projects: the football stadium, the swimming pool, the multi-purpose sports hall, the landscaped public spaces, the trail around the pond – they are important for the needs of children, young people and active lifestyle enthusiasts growing up in our district, and they open the doors of Sirvintos to visitors from other districts. But the smaller works are just as important – the improvement of schools, sports halls, new groups at kindergartens, universal sports grounds in all the elderships, asphalting gravel roads, street lighting in towns and villages, upgrading the social services centre, strengthening health services, building a moose sculpture park, or creating an open-air stage for amateur performances in a remote town. After all, each of these works is welcomed by the people, solves their problems, changes their lives, encourages them to choose Sirvintos as their living location, to raise children, to work, to create businesses.
You often go against the grain in defending Sirvintos interests and your values. I guess that makes it uneasy to strike a chord with officials in Vilnius, doesn't it? Why are you so blunt and straight-forward without the plum in your mouth? Where does this come from?
I believe it can look like that from the side. It's because I'm blunt that I don't know how to wrap words in glossy paper. I do not put up with lies and injustice. Silence is definitely not for me. But just because I am vocal does not mean that I am some kind of malicious person. Perhaps it is difficult for those civil servants who spend their days in Vilnius, in front of computers, in modern offices, to understand what is going on away from the capital or other big cities. But that is why people elected me, to bring their problems into the open and to find solutions. I want public money, the budget, the money allocated to municipalities to be used to solve these problems, to open up opportunities, to reduce social exclusion. I think that people understand this and they see it very well, because I have managed to win the direct mayoral elections 3 times in a row and by an increasing margin.
What has shaped you as a person and a politician?
Of course, my family, my parents, my home country, my work experience, my political path. All these experiences, both the best and the worst, have made me the woman, the politician I am today.
Very often you openly express your love for your husband Jonas, who, by the way, is the Chairman of the Party of the Regions of Lithuania, of which you are a member. Has everything in your life been all roses?
We have been married for 25 years and I can honestly say that I am a happy woman. My husband and I often say that we are meant for each other. He is a calm, diplomatic man with a Samogitian stubbornness, while I am a " safety match", an impulse, an emotion. Sometimes I manage to ignite him with an idea, sometimes he puts me out and makes me think. Besides, we are both politicians, our children are grown up, so we understand each other well and respect each other's choices.
I have no doubt that the Party of the Regions of Lithuania is preparing for next year's elections to the Seimas and the European Parliament. What messages is the party sending out to hope for seats in both?
I am really happy and proud that the Party of the Regions of Lithuania, although a relatively young political force, has a clear line of values, where strong families, reducing regional exclusion, and strengthening healthy lifestyles and sportsmanship are its top priorities. For me personally, it is very important that party members, and even more so, the members of the Seimas, mayors and vice-mayors who represent us, would reflect these values not only in their speeches but also in their actions. I think that in this way our Regional Party of Lithuania is very different from the others. After all, very often on TV screens and in the headlines of articles, we see politicians crying, but when it comes to doing something, to raising one's hand for a decision that is really important for everyone, then the position changes, or even there are those politicians who, in such cases, as I joke, vote with their "little feet".
Let’s switch the tune. What do you miss in the work and communication among this Government, the Seimas and the President?
Most of all, communication among each other. It is difficult to see and listen to the constant bickering and contradictions. And, of course, the unfulfilled promise of the ruling parties remains the strengthening of the regions and the reduction of social exclusion. If the President has shown initiatives, the executive branch of the government, unfortunately, has not.
As Mayor, which novelties of the Local Government Law, which entered into force at the beginning of this year, disturb you? Do you think they are excessive or even inappropriate? Why? How many orders do you sign in an average working day as Mayor?
To say it vividly and figuratively, the new law has buried all mayors in stacks of paper. The mayor, a politician responsible for decisions, must now not only read all the documents he receives in the municipality, but must also look into all the areas involved. For example, there is a crisis in a family, there are specialists working in many fields, a commission, and they come to the conclusion that it is necessary to remove a child from the family. What is done? At the last moment, the final decision is brought to the mayor for signature! Who will take it and sign it without looking into it? After all, this is not a case of taking a kitten away. So you sit, you look, you analyse – there are only a certain number of hours in the day. In fact, if it wasn't for my trusted team and the relationships I have built up over the years, I could hardly imagine the job.
For me, who has lived in America, Sirvintos is like a Republican stronghold state with a lot of conservatism. You have even banned the Life Skills curriculum acquainting pupils with the various forms of sexuality from being taught in your district. Why?
Let us not mislead people. This programme, even without the catchy name, was being taught in Sirvintos district before all this. The only direction we have chosen, and we have certainly agreed unanimously with all the headmistresses of kindergartens and schools, is that the greatest value is the family. We are not homophobic – people can choose, love, live and make love with whoever they want. But let's face it – children are born, i.e. the state is created, by a woman in union with a man. So let us leave it the way it is, and we can certainly leave the fairy tales about the two princes who got married and were happy for the rest of their lives out of the nurseries.
When Vilnius could not find a place for a monument to the famous poet Justinas Marcinkevicius, Sirvintos hastened to say that they would be happy to erect one in their town. When will it be erected? Have all the issues already been agreed on?
I am sure that culture, literature, and the personality of Justinas Marcinkevicius, who uplifted the whole of Lithuania during the Sajudis (national independence movement) years, are worth uniting, not dividing. As I have already said, it would be an honour for every city to commemorate the poet and his work. I am glad that the first stages of the competition have been successfully passed in Sirvintos, that the winners of the competition, the sculptor Liutauras Grieze and the art critic Laura Kesyte, are already at work, and that we hope that the sculpture "The Reading Girl", which is dedicated to the children's lineage of Marcinkevicius' work, will be unveiled in Sirvintos in the spring of 2024.
Forgive me for my sexist question: you are a fascinating woman. Do you hear that often? Does it help you? Is it now a sign of bad taste or political incorrectness for men to compliment a woman's appearance?
Since 2015, my team and I have done a lot of work to transform Sirvintos from a gloomy, empty, grey town to a well-known, attractive destination. But I'm still judged mostly by my appearance! It really annoys me. Among my friends and relatives, yes. It's very nice to hear it from my husband. But at work, no. I'm sure that in a business meeting no one really starts a conversation with a man by sayying – how handsome you look.
Where does your working day start? And what and when does it end with?
Early morning, around 5 - 5.30 am, I am with a cup of coffee in my hands and a discussion of current affairs in the family bed has already been started (smiles). And the end is around midnight – with a phone in hand in the same location (smiles).
What are your leisure activities?
I work both evenings and during weekends. But I chose this path myself because I consider it important to be with people and among the people. To feel their moods, to feel the pulse of life of Sirvintos district. This is very important to me, because we make all the decisions in relation to Sirvintos district.
I will not lie – I have no free time. On top of all the responsibilities I have, I am also a woman who still has a household, housework and at least a few corners of the house in her hands.
Because I am addicted to sunshine, I go on holiday to warm countries once a year during the cold season. Even though the municipality is at the height of its business in the summer, it is a real treat to escape to the Lithuanian seaside for a weekend or two.
What is your long-term vision for Sirvintos District?
My team and I went into the 2015 municipal elections with some serious “homework” done. With a clear vision and the slogan "For Changes" to illustrate it. Indeed, it is very good to see that changes have become a reality, and that those changes are followed by new, even higher goals.
A safe, comfortable, homely and family-friendly neighbourhood. The emphasis on sportsmanship and health has been, and remains, the basis on which we are focused when planning our work. I am convinced that an active lifestyle and sport are the best preventive measures, both for young people, because of all the dangers of drugs and e-cigarettes, and for seniors, in order to maintain their independence, mobility and sociability for as long as possible, as well as for the whole family, as a means of communication and close relationship.
What do you expect from 2024?
I am certainly not alone, many of us have the same wish, the same prayer in our hearts – that the chaos, the turmoil, the wars in the world will finally end. So that when we turn on the TV, we could wonder without tension who got married, where and who was born, who created what, who invented what.
2024 is also an election year in Lithuania, and I would like not only to wish, but also to ask people to do their research, to analyse, to read, and not to be guided by emotion alone. So that when the time passes, you don't have to blame someone again, to be angry that it's "not them", "not like that"...
Of course, I would like to wish everyone the greatest happiness in his or her life – stay healthy and successful.