It is important for Lithuanians to see not only historically, but also a politically close country in the neighborhood.
When “Chernobyl” TV show was released, which was shot in one of the dormitory districts of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania became a place of pilgrimage for tourists who want to look at what is very similar to the town of Pripyat before the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
In early October, exercises were held in Lithuania where the activities of the Lithuanian services were practiced in the event of a possible accident at the Astravets NPP, and somewhat earlier this situation was worked out in Vilnius. The capital of Lithuania is located 50 kilometers away from the nuclear power plant under construction in Belarus, and this is no longer a Netflix show.
“From the highest buildings of Vilnius, the nuclear power plant is visible to the naked eye. What we see does not reassure us. There is no confidence in whether everything has been done well,” emphasizes Remigijus Šimašius, the mayor of the Lithuanian capital. He spoke about this, life and development of Vilnius, and common heroes for Lithuania and Belarus in an interview with Charter97.org.
- According to a recent study, there have become more rich people in Vilnius over the past 5 years. Has it become so good to live in the Lithuanian capital?
- Of course, Vilnius is a city of success for Lithuania and for the whole region, therefore the number of rich people is growing. These are people who earn very good money. And with new economic trends, transnational corporations in Vilnius, the number of economically successful people is growing. Of course, we can only rejoice about this.
- What became the basis for this?
- There are several aspects. From the point of view of the economy, now is a very good time in the world. And Vilnius takes advantage of this. Our policy is to strive to be more open, to be faster than others. This means that people whose activities are associated with new economic trends feel good in Vilnius.
By the way, we sometimes even compete with large megacities regarding investments and new technologies. Vilnius represents the capital of large companies in the field of financial technology, as well as successful startups. If we take in quantitative terms the number of banking licenses in the EU, then Lithuania is second after the UK. And if the British leave the EU, then Lithuania will be the first. And all these processes mainly occur in Vilnius. We use it.
- Is it good or bad if Britain leaves the EU?
- This is bad. Before the referendum, I held a personal campaign - I tried to find the British to hug them, thus expressing the idea that we are well together. But if they decide to leave the EU anyway, then even this should be used.
- People have become richer, you have listed more points on which the Lithuanian capital is developing successfully. Has it become more convenient to live here?
- Based on the data of the EC and the Eurobarometer of the last 2-3 years, we can say that the residents of Vilnius are the happiest among other cities of the EU countries. 98% of people say they’re happy to live here. It sounds, of course, like the Belarusian election …
- Are the numbers alarming?
- In the EU, there are other cities with similar indicators. Stockholm, Copenhagen - there this figure is 97%. Of course, we are happy to live here. And if we continue to talk about the advantages of Vilnius, then they are manifested in many ways: the economic life is developing well, nature nearby is also good, and cultural life does not stand still. But the mayor still has things to do, and something to strive for. We live in a good city.
- The Chernobyl mini-series received Emmy awards in several nominations and the director thanked Lithuania in his speech. The series was shot also in Vilnius, and after the show was released, tourists were attracted to the area of Soviet development Fabiioniškės. The attention to the dormitory districts of a bygone era, of course, is a positive moment. On the other hand, this is a problem. How do you work with this?
- There are two aspects here: the film industry and the dormitory districts themselves. The film industry is also a very important thing, because it is no coincidence that the show was filmed in Lithuania.
We have very good conditions, this industry is developing very fast in Lithuania. As for residential areas …
You need to understand that the city of Pripyat was a gem of the Soviet era, it was well planned, people wanted to live there. Now, of course, it looks different.
We also have districts remaining from the Soviet times. Sometimes they look better than then, sometimes worse. And for us it is a big challenge to make young and well-earned middle-class families want to live there. For me, this is one of the most important issues.
We want people to live in these areas in Vilnius and prosper. In this regard, we do a lot - we are engaged in improving the functioning of services in general, public transport services, we are equipping the public space - we are making public gardens, parks, etc.
- This is what you went to the elections with.
- Yes, I try to do what I said.
- What would you call the main problem of Vilnius?
- Problems and opportunities often go together. I have already mentioned some problems, but if I single out one, I would single out the sphere of education.
Time goes forward and we need free, open, creative people. It’s hard to say that our system is sufficiently prepared for this. How to improve the situation remains a big question.
I think this is the most important issue both in the world and here. This is the foundation of life and prosperity.
- A considerable number of foreigners, including Belarusians, live in Vilnius. Is it easy for the guests of the city to find what works where, and how it works?
- Firstly, I am very proud that Vilnius is the only city outside of Belarus where there is a full Belarusian school from 1 to 12 grades. We appreciate and support it. Secondly, yes, we have programs for immigrants coming to Vilnius. For example, in the field of healthcare, housing, transport.
In addition, the policy of Vilnius is to speak the languages of its citizens, therefore in the municipality we serve in Lithuanian, English, Polish and Russian.
The Lithuanian language will always be of help, but the fact that we speak Russian also helps people from Belarus. Obviously, they all speak Russian.
- Does any business come from Belarus?
- It’s a rather difficult question, since the expansion of Belarusian business in general to Western countries is not as great as the Western or Chinese business.
If Belarusian business wanted to go to Europe, Vilnius and Lithuania would be a starting point. But some things happen differently. I meet with Ukrainian, Russian entrepreneurs. They say they want to try doing business without government patronage and corruption. We also have problems, but the conditions for doing business here are better. Vilnius is a very good place and I invite all Belarusians to do business here.
If we talk about relations between the EU and Belarus, Lithuania and Belarus, then for me, as a citizen of Lithuania, the mayor of Vilnius and a patriot of Lithuania, it is very important that Belarus remains a sovereign country, and not a satellite of Russia.
We hear more about this. For hundreds of years, Lithuania and Belarus were in the same state, and what is happening now in terms of our historical heritage, the reburial of the remains of the rebels of 1863-64, is very important. These are our common heroes, and we need to remember what we fought together for back then. And it is important to have not only a historically close, but also politically close country. Unfortunately, this is not a fact. I would like this to become a fact.
- 50 kilometers away from Vilnius, the Belarusian NPP will start working soon. How do you, as the mayor of the city, look at the processes around this?
- From the highest buildings of Vilnius, the BelNPP is visible to the naked eye. What we see does not reassure us.
There is no trust in whether everything is done well. We monitored the process and the information was not always open, incidents occurred, we do not know if security measures have been taken. And it bothers us, we are not happy that this station is located on the border of Lithuania.
But we are preparing for everything. In the case of even the worst scenario, we know what threatens us, and prepare for it. But we should not forget about everyday problems - the quality of water, for example, we would like to have sensors to monitor the level of water radioactivity, to keep an eye on the groundwater.
- Thank you for this conversation.