Zuokas defends himself thus: the previous city government did not pay enough attention to planning, so it takes more time for the current authorities to warm up.
The first thing that newly-appointed mayor Zuokas did was to check what had been done during the four years he spent away from the municipal skyscraper in the capital city. First, he introduced 12-hour workdays for many municipality employees who had to do the extra time for free. This was supposed to be their gesture of good will in helping their bosses nail down the town's problems as soon as possible.
But as soon as Zuokas got it going, he fell ill and was taken straight from his office to Santariškės Clinics, while his wife, MP Agnė Zuokienė, even suggested that someone might have tried to poison her husband. The conspiracy theory, however, soon imploded. Mayor himself confirmed that, according to doctors, the cause of his illness was banal food poisoning.
The absurdity section
In mid June, Vilnius residents heard their first good news – car parking in the capital city was made cheaper. On Zuokas' orders, the so-called Blue Zones – highest-rate parking spaces where leaving one's car costs 6 litas (1.7 euros) an hour – were left only in Vokiečių street, Aušros Vartų street, and Šventaragio Street. The rest of the city centre went back to the 3 litas per hour rate.
By no means was this the last of Mayor Zuokas' concern for the city's drivers. In August, a video of Zuokas driving a tank over a Mercedes that was parked on a bicycle lane spiralled around the globe. There were some who complimented the mayor for his excellent grasp of PR, while others mocked him for landing Vilnius an appearance in absurdity sections of TV News broadcasts around the globe.
No sooner had Vilnians forgotten the tank, when Zuokas came up with a truly utopian plan – why don't we buy a Mediterranean island from Greece and set up the 22nd municipal district there? Unfortunately, debt-ridden Vilnius did not purchase a Greek island in the end. And setting up a new district seemed even less likely, as Mayor Zuokas was determined to abolish even the existing administrative “elderships.”
Public transport and taxis
Zuokas' previous term as Vilnius mayor was marked by a construction boom. After his big return, he did not fail to remind everyone of it. Zuokas launched Vilnius western bypass into the second construction stage; he did not miss a photo opportunity at a demolition site of a concrete ghost building in Konstitucijos avenue. Both projects, however, are long-term, with most intense works probably taking place under next mayors.
Mayor Zuokas rolled up his sleeves to reorganize the city's transportation system. Changes, however, were mostly met negatively by citizens, especially when Zuokas' government cancelled three most popular microbus routes – number 2 (Railway Station-Fabijoniškės), 4 (Railway Station-Perkūnkiemis), and 62 (Railway Station-Tarandė).
A plan to set up a municipal taxi company was also met with much criticism. Critics said that it was a waste of town's money, that it undermined fair competition, that it was not the government's job. But the mayor sticks to his guns and, at the moment, a central taxi dispatcher office is up and running. In several months, a new municipal taxi company, Vilnius veža, should start operations.
A Vilnius airline idea is still in the air, too. In February, Zuokas posted a jubilant message on Facebook that he is to set up a new airline, airLITUANICA, but has not said anything more concrete ever since. Still, he insists that there will be an airline.
Vilnius Mayor Artūras Zuokas on his year in office:
“Seriously, it has been a year? I'm aghast! I haven't even noticed, thanks for reminding me. The year that went by was fast, complicated, and uneasy, but we keep our spirits up and will make sure that the city is different and its citizens are happy to be living in Vilnius. The problem is that the previous government paid very little attention to drafting projects and planning. So we need a period of time – a year, perhaps even longer – to put together projects that we want to implement. Town residents will see some more tangible achievements this summer and next year.”
|BFL/Tomo Lukšio nuotr./Gražina Drėmaitė|
Gražina Drėmaitė, chairwoman of State Culture Heritage Commission:
“I still dwell on Zuokas' previous term as mayor, when he dedicated so much attention to heritage. One of his fantastic projects was renovating wooden houses of Vilnius. The project was halfway through when he had to leave the post. Since he is back, I'm hoping for continuity. We've discussed it, he made promises. Zuokas showed great interest in restoring old Vilnius cemeteries – the Bernardines and others. I don't care much about what the mayor does on other issues, I only look at heritage and I see him as a sufficiently intelligent man who understands the importance of the city's heritage.”
Alfredas Bumblauskas, historian:
|ikrauk.lt reporterės Anželikos Stackevič nuotr./Alfredas Bumblauskas|
“I've heard something about the Gediminas avenue cobblestones, but I don't know who is responsible. I know that Zuokas drove a tank over a car. Good campaign, I like it, but what's in it for us? It's all just hot air. As for real change, I don't see any – all I see is holes in pavement.
“I would like to see more deliberate action. For example, what's the point of having the Nation House in place of the Labour Unions House? At the time when Lithuanians made up 2 percent of Vilnius population, the Nation House made sense, it was an idea by Jonas Basanavičius. But what's the significance of it when Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and all public institutions are Nation Houses? It's an idealogical mess. But the local government does not stop the project (of building the Nation House on Tauro kalnas), even though this idea belongs to some naphthalene-soaked dinosaurs. Where is the Council when it comes to strategizing things like that? It is silent. I've visited their meetings, they are discussing household trivia, like some construction trust council. And who is going to take care of the image for Vilnius?”