The Guest of the Magazine
Vilnius City Mayor Arturas Zuokas answers the questions of Business & Politics
By Karolis DINEIKA
What does Vilnius represent to you, Mr. Mayor?
Vilnius is one of the cosiest and the best accommodated cities in the world for the people to live in. If you want to live in a safe and healthy environment, to have access to a high level cultural life, to have clear costs without overpaying for life in any other city, as well as to be able to find a good and interesting job and to be in convenient geographical latitude, where you can easily reach other cities, which you would be interested in, then Vilnius is “a good place to be”.
Latterly Riga is boasting an abundance of tourists. What do we need to make the people from all over the world to travel to Vilnius and to make them wish to visit Lithuania?
First of all, there is a lack of good transport service in Vilnius. A very important thing is the tourism infrastructure. I welcome the fact, that the hotel construction will be commenced by the Norwegians in vicinity of the railway station.
Of course, we need a cultural structure. I’m talking about world-class centers of attraction, which would be understandable to people who speak the language of the world. A very important direction is conference tourism. Recently, the number of conference rooms is growing, but we do not have a Conference Congress Center – so far…
Aren’t you sometimes feeling lonely in seeking to beautify the face of the capital?
I am pleased that we have a good dialogue with a number of ministries, which we have to work together with. These are the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Environment. We have already worked with them more or less together.
Working purposefully, in collaboration with the Government and the Seimas, we will seek to make Vilnius an international business, scientific and cultural center. A city, which is just convenient to live, to work and to create in, where the people are sure about the future of their own, and the future of their children.
What caused the disagreements in the coalition? Have you felt a pressure from the side of the Labour Party leader V. Uspaskich?
A lot of things are determined by understanding, discussion and views of the coalition from the very beginning. At present we have an extended coalition and none of us is dependent on a single coalition partner, as it was before.
This, I believe, will guarantee a better stability and the basis for more active discussions before decisions are made. We have already made many decisions demanding strong political will, which the previous term of council failed to adopt.
Do you, as the Mayor, see any problems of ethnic minorities in Vilnius?
I don’t see any problems. Vilnius is really a rare city in overall European context, where different nationalities have the same opportunities and rights as the Lithuanians. It should be also noted, that most of the representatives of ethnic communities in Vilnius can learn in their native language, all of this is funded by taxpayers.
This really distinguishes Vilnius as a tolerant city which is acceptable for representatives of ethnic community to live in. How many people of other nationalities are employed by the city municipality?
Current Vilnius population is by 68 per cent formed by Lithuanians, and the rest part – by Poles, Russians and other nationalities. I believe that there are no more than 30 per cent of people of other nationalities working at Vilnius City Municipality.
Before the municipal elections, you said that Vilnius is oppressed by debt burden and unemployment rate. What can local authorities do for the sake of business development and job creation?
I have projects for 2 billion Litas lying on my desk. This is the theoretical amount, but we have to do everything to begin making use of those 2 billion opportunities.
I hope that real estate and housing construction business will recover, but the quality of housing will be improved and the construction will not reach such grandiose scales, as it was so far. I have no doubt that next spring you’ll see cranes moving and working in Vilnius. Our goal is to be able to manage those investments. Today, many business permits issued by us are taken to entrepreneurs in their offices by ourselves.
Can you list the main activities of this tenure?
Wait a few months and we will really have good news for you. The main work, of course, is the arrangement of heat. I want to fix it so that the prices are such that people are able to pay. In the near future we will begin the second phase of western bypass construction.
Urgent affairs are car parking, street management and upgrading of public transport. In September, this year, we will have an additional three hundred of places in kindergartens. I hope that soon we will be able to report good news about the establishment of principal air carrier.
Why do you create a new political party? Instead, seek the direct election of the mayor and be, according to some residents of Vilnius, the city manager for life…
We have established the first ever public movement „Taip“ (“Yes”) in Lithuania, which is largely an online political movement, there are great and good people, who want to be more active in political life. However, Lithuanian law does not permit the exercise of such activity by the personalities and the people. Therefore, the only opportunity to fully participate in political activities is a party, a political organization.
Your wife Agne is a Member of Seimas. How is the life going on in a family, where both husband and wife are politicians?
Is it good, that both husband and wife are politicians? Neither good nor bad, it’s normal. Although I am not a Member of Seimas, but the concerns of the Parliament are well known to me, since I talk to my wife, we have discussions and exchange the views, especially when we are talking about health. What is important to me is that my wife likes this work and she is concerned about particular fields – health and women’s rights.
Your children have grown up: where would you like them to study?
I would not see anything wrong; perhaps I will even encourage them, if they study abroad. However, in no way I am saying that the University of Vilnius and other Lithuanian higher education institutions are inferior. I think that a reasonable formula would be such: Bachelor’s studies in Lithuania, MA – abroad.
And are you looking forward to the European basketball championship?
Yes. Everything important to the fan: not only the championship, but also the place and environment in which it takes place. I think that those fans that come to Vilnius will see the highest level basketball, will have a good leisure time, and will experience positive emotions, as the city is ready to welcome the fans.
Even if their teams fail to win, fans will surely take away good mood with them. It is important for us to invite people to come to Vilnius city. Statistics show that everyone leaves Vilnius greatly satisfied and carrying good feelings.