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”- 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.