Moral Crusaders, Police Raids and Freedom: why the party is not over in Vilnius

With some of the strictest alcohol laws in Europe coming into force at the start of 2018 and indiscriminate raids by balaclava clad armed police that are happy to call a couple of joints a great success – what does the future hold for a city defined by its homegrown aesthetic and sound ?

Freedom – social, political and economic –  is a theme that permeates native businesses and organisations.  From the libertatrian BBQ joint Keulė Rūkė, who gained international noteriety last summer, to the LFMI (Lithuanian Free Market Institute), ranked as one of the premier think tanks independant of government in the world.

The antiquated policies of the new Lithuanian Government, led by the Peasants and Greens, comes as a stark contrast to the perception of a progressive Post-Soviet Vilnius.

“Have you ever seen a child in national dress, dancing in clogs, singing folk songs who is high on drugs? No!”

Historically moral crusaders, like the above quoted leader of the Union of Peasants and Greens,Ramunas Karbauskis, use moral panic over a perceived alien threat to legitamise repressive policies.

Think Reagan stepping up the war on drugs in 1984 and the resulting expansion of the American prison-industrial complex, currently incarcarating over 2 million people – 22% of the worlds prisoners.

the party is over 😭 #keuleruke #karbauskis #streetart #thepartyisover

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“The party is over”-  recent streetart depicting the politicans who have campagined for extremely socially conservative laws as a troika of terrorists killing culture.

Karbauskis has spearhead comedic alcohol controls that are due to come into effect next January, restricting sales past 8PM and baring everyone under 20 from drinking and even touching alcohol. Far worse, police have unsucessfully raided various bars and clubs searching for illegal drugs, even bringing their own press photographers.

Arguably the role of the police is to protect you from others, but when law enforcement is attempting to protect you from yourself by restricting behaviour, they become the state’s moral enforcers.

Writing for VICE, Max Daly observes – 

“Unfortunately it’s not just the muddled alcohol clampdown that young Lithuanians who like a party have to contend with. It’s a crack troupe of anti-drug cops who are under the impression they are battling a drug peddling alien horde.”

A black and white, binary perception of the world – Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark  – is funadmentally flawed, as without one the significance of the other disappears. Arguably in a city with a recent history of breaking free from a respressive empire like Vilnius, any perception of a new police state results in instant condemnation, delegitamising the moral crusaders and thier moral enforcers.

Early 2016 in Ukraine, a successful legal defence by Kievan cultural center Closer over drug trafficking charges, street protests and a social media campaign broke down the moral and legal legitamcy of drug raids targetting the club.

If such a result can be achieved in crisis struck Kiev, it looks promising for the future of Vilnius nightlife.

 

Vilnius night mayor and counciller, relocated Londoner Mark Adam Harold, who’s playing a key role in organising legal redress for the police raids suggests –

“Most likely it’s a new political entity full of people who don’t know shit about harm reduction, who are just doing their honest best to combat a problem they don’t understand. They seem to be very bemused that not everybody is congratulating them about their upgraded war on drugs.”

The clumsy approach of a few politicans reacting to a relatively non-existent drug problem and an alcohol problem arguably endemic to economically deprived rural areas, is less of a step towards freedom and closer to repression. Unfortunately, there’s no doubt the new regime reinforces old negative sterotypes of Lithuaina many have worked hard to erode.

Keep Vilnius open, the party is not over.

 

 

 

 

Late Spaces: Vilnius after dark

Without the tourist numbers of the other Baltic capitals, Vilnius locals have been provided with the breathing space to form their own nightlife, defined by its homegrown aesthetic and sound.

There are many facets that fit together to form a city’s nightlife and Vilnius is no exception. From transformed Soviet industrial spaces, Minimal Mondays, disused train station platforms, workers palaces, Funktion-One Sound systems and a lot of ambient lighting – here’s my pick of where to head out in Vilnius after dark.

Peronas

Anyone arriving in Vilnius by train can’t help but notice the giant statue of Tony Soprano in his dressing gown, surveying the tracks from a far side of the station. On the same platform you’ll find Peronas. Occupying an old station building, its terrace spills out over the former platform, providing a spot to chill and observe the pulse of the station.

Funky vibes in Vilnius. #balkanaktis #peronas #vilnius #gypsymusic #brohemianlife

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Whilst the interior has a rough warm, spacious aesthetic to it, this changes when they host a night, with the floor-space filling up. On the weekend its got the perfect location for settling in and having a few, before heading to Kablys round the corner.

Kablys

Kablys is an imposing Soviet architectural relic that’s been repurposed as an indoor skatepark, hostel, restaurant/cafe and club amongst other things. This former workers palace, turned multi-purpose cultural space, is named after the massive hook that adorns the neoclassical facade.

The interior is a blend of contemporary minimalist features and faded Soviet neoclassical extravagance . It’s host to a variety of different nights – ranging from all night full on techno or DnB raves, to concert style events. The interior space is used in different ways depending on what’s demanded, so there’s a fresh set-up for big nights.

Bukowski

If your heads suffering from the night before or you’re just in the mood to properly relax with friends, Bukowksi‘s got you covered. Its tight courtyard is perfect for summer evenings and in the warmer months there’s a constant vibrant vibe late throughout the week.

Pub crawl night 😁

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Heading inside there’s a warm, laid back atmosphere, with spacious seating. It’s one of the most popular pubs outside of the Old Town and has a solid reputation locally. There’s a mix of local and premium international beers on tap, plus a gourmet hot-dog menu if you’re after some munch.

Opium

#opiumvilnius #nightlife

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Found on Islandijos street in the Old Town, Opium holds the best house and techno nights in town. You enter through a popular Asian fusion restaurant  – Briusly – then head on upstairs where it’s fitted with a Funktion-One Sound system and some seriously sexy lighting.

dabar | opium | Maichael Mayer #jagerblowout

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There’s a strong representation of local artists and labels, mixed in with major international names. Nights to look out for include Smala, the Jagerblowouts and Silence Nights. They shut up shop for the mid-summer months, so make the most of the weekends they’re open.

Minimal Mondays

Vasaros pabaigtuvės #warmevening #summer #vasara #minimalmondays #seasonsclosing #flyingcow #vilnius

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Nestled in a vine-covered courtyard in the midst of the Old Town, Vasaros Terasa plays host to Minimal Mondays. This is a weekly night that runs through the summer months, offering minimal house and techno that perfectly suits this relaxed summer space.

It’s a popular night and despite the unconvential courtyard’s size, finding seating is competitive. Meanwhile the corner space in front of the speakers is usually rammed with people till the early summer sun signals close. Minimal Mondays migrates to Kablys when the seasons closed, though not on weekly intervals. Vasaros Terasa holds many different nights throughout the week and it’s always worth taking a look at whats on, especially as its packed up once the summers over.

Distilerija

Distiliuotas

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Around the corner from Vasaros Terasa you’ll find Distilerija, a great contemporary cocktail bar.The inteior aesthetic is provided by flawless furnishings, whilst the drinks selection is inspirational. It’s the perfect setting for some after dinner drinks or settling in at the start of a night . With its central location its busy throughout the week and you’ll find a fair amount of fellow foreigners here, drawn in by the huge back-lit bar.

Misterija

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Meanwhile, hidden away down an old town side street, Misterija is the late place you can rely any day of the week. As a shots bar, their speciality is providing you with obscene trays of shots, bombs and hand grenade variations at equally obscene times in the mornings. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious have a crack at the 80% Stroh.

Loftas

Another great moment captured of the amazing crowd in Lithuania last weekend! #KIMOU #loftas #tenwalls #runemark

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Loftas is an old Soviet industrial area that’s been transformed into a performance space. It’s a vast complex and is made up of surrounding lanes, offices, warehouses and basements. It plays host to a variety of different events, with the spaces utilised in different ways depending on the night. The main performance space is a renovated warehouse, used for concerts and raves where you’ll major international names performing.

If you’re after a taste of the music you’ll find in Vilnius – have a look at the Lates Spaces soundcloud.