Wednesday, 22 April, will see the inauguration of newly elected Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius.
The inauguration is also a key event for Mark Harold. The Briton was recently elected to the Vilnius City Council as an independent candidate.
While Harold has largely swapped his former profession as a DJ for political life, he will be performing a special set at the event.
Following his appointment, Harold became the first person in the history of both Vilnius and Lithuania to become the first non-national to ever be elected to the capital’s City Council.
In the run-up to Šimašius’ inauguration, the Lithuania Tribune spoke to the 36-year-old to discover why after a decade of living in Vilnius, he ended up as possibly the most unlikely member on the City Council, despite winning 2,700 votes in the election in March.
“I didn’t even know it [a non-Lithuanian running] was possible,” admitted Harold. “And [when I arrived here in 2004] I wasn’t interested in being a politician, I was more of an activist.”
He suggested that it was life under the two terms of outgoing Vilnius mayor Artūras Zuokas, a man Harold described as someone who “valued grandiose PR campaigns more than simple things like pavements”, which prompted him to take action.
Zuokas was in power from 2000–2007, then once again from 2011 to 2015.
“You see so much bullshit here that you get annoyed and want to change things,” he continued. “Then I found out that I could actually run for election [after] I started to find friends in political circles.
“All of the best people seemed to be somehow connected to the Liberal Movement party, even though I am not a member and don’t plan on joining.
“They taught me the most interesting things and helped me see how I could adapt their political philosophy to my aims.
“Other parties either completely disagreed with the idea of foreigners joining, or just didn’t impress me with their rhetoric.
“I like freedom, [and] the Liberal Movement is basically the Freedom Party.
“After going to a few of their events, Remigijus Šimašius invited me to be on the party list for the City Council elections, because he’s clever. It worked.”
Harold also attributed the following he gathered while DJ-ing in various Vilnius-based venues under the name of Mark Splinter as one of the reasons for his election.
Some of the “bullshit” referred to by Harold is the “nightlife restrictions and corruption” faced by many of Vilnius’ younger population – something he is keen to address, by applying his working knowledge of the industry.
“Until now, I think zero people in the City Council have understood what nightlife is,” he admits. “They think it’s 'going to a disco on Friday' or 'getting drunk'.”
He admitted that it would be a big task in convincing his peers on the City Council that nightlife is “a critical part of city culture and revenue”, but would need co-operation, plus law-enforcement and a shift in corrupt practices towards venue owners.
“I have to convince people that it [nightlife] is a critical part of city culture and revenue, and that I want a civilised nightlife culture, not hedonism or Ibiza.
“Then I think it will be easy to work with people to allow nightlife to flourish and to enforce laws fairly and equally for all, instead of turning a blind eye to mysterious discrepancies in tax collection and noise complaints.”
Despite having been an independent state for 25 years, and member of the European Union for 10 of these, corruption remains a hangover from Lithuania’s Soviet past – something Harold is keen to address beyond nightlife.
“I am sick of hearing how long changes will take, it’s a pathetic excuse,” he said in reference to the suggestion that corruption may take “three or four generations to flush through”.
“Young people are intelligent and powerful and can take over, if necessary.
“Also plenty of old people are liberal and have wanted a free Lithuania all their lives. Some of them even voted for me.
“I think the whole 'it’s too early' thing is a pathetic excuse for inaction on points such as same-sex partnership and anti-corruption measures.
“It’s easy to guess why people insist: 'it’s too early' [for these things]. Maybe they are corrupt homophobes?
“When I arrived ten years ago, people said: 'wait ten years.' I waited. Now I am not waiting any more.”
Harold’s passion for the rights of the young people of the Lithuanian capital, and not wanting to wait for a flushing through of generations, was made clear in his manifesto.
He spoke out in favour of LGBT rights and his enthusiasm for the ‘Jaunimo Linija’ (‘Youth Helpline’) – an NGO that helps younger generations suffering from bullying, suicidal thoughts and other issues many young people in Lithuania face.
The Lithuania Tribune asked Harold whether these beliefs were key to his election success. It also asked whether other candidates overlooked these issues, considering Lithuania is just a 25-years old as a democracy.
While stopping short of saying “yes”, he did suggest that his opponents’ failure to address LGBT and youth issues possibly hindered their chances of election success.
“I have absolutely no idea why people are scared of these vote-winning and crucial issues.
“I think 25 years is plenty of time to see how democracy works in other countries and reap the benefits in Lithuania.
He also added that the majority of Lithuanian society is “way ahead of the legislators” on such topics as LGBT rights and youth issues.
“I firmly believe that the population is way ahead of the legislators on this, and the ‘opposition’ is just a vocal minority which will have to accept modernisation sooner or later anyway.”
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