Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Vilnius -- European Capital of Culture (?)

A couple of years ago, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was proclaimed a 2009 European capital of culture, an honor it will share with the city of Linz in Austria. At that time, I wondered how things would be organized here. Well, the problem is that Lithuanians as a whole (I know... It's not good to make generalizations) just can't seem to finish things on time or they finish them at the last second. And in this case, being a capital of culture requires an immense amount of work organizing various events to highlight the city and entertain the flood of tourists that are expected. That means that many people will have to be organized and work together to complete the necessary preparations. Another problem, however. Lithuanians can't seem to work together. Some time ago I heard the politicians in the parliament being compared to a group of quarreling children in a sandbox. I think that characterization could be expanded... And what is it about people with their hands on the dough here??? Can't anybody work honestly? Anyway, here's the article. I found it here: The translation is mine.

"Vilnius - European Capital of Culture" Project Collapsing

The ambitious project "Vilnius - European Capital of Culture 2009" is in danger of collapsing because of the conflict between the institution set up to prepare for the event [the acronym in Lithuanian (VEKS) is strangely appropriate--I'll use it for that reason] and one of its founders, the Ministry of Culture. On 31 March, the two sides invited journalists to a press conference at which they openly argued their positions. It became clear that the ministry does not trust the employees of VEKS and that VEKS, which has not received any funding for the past three months, is not doing any work.

It was earlier reported that the Ministry of Culture stopped financing the project until an internal audit is completed. The ministry had the suspicion that the money received by VEKS was not being used responsibly and that the accounts were not being kept properly.

Events might not take place

"The work of VEKS is paralysed. We haven't been able to plan further work, make any contracts, or take care of our financial responsibilities for the past three months. We've received support from the ministry for only one project, even though we're cooperating with 125 partners, none of which we can pay", VEKS Director Elona Bajoriniene said in reaction to the criticism of the ministry.

According to Bajoriniene the debts of VEKS at the present time add up to LTL 780,000 (almost EUR 226,000).

Because of this, some projects scheduled for 2008--"Lithuanian Capital of Culture 2008", the "Childrens' Creativity Festival", "Let It Be Night", and other events--might not take place.

"We're ready to complete the preparations for these national programs, but our motivation is at an end because there's a lack of constructive work", Bajoriniene said.

List of sins will grow longer

Vice Minister of Culture Gintaras Sodeika repeated that the ministry has complaints about about the transparency of the work of VEKS.

"We aren't taking back anything we said earlier. The audit still isn't finished and the list of sins isn't complete. There will be more. We can't blindly transfer the money, even though it's getting moldy sitting here waiting for you", Sodeika said.

After being pressed by journalists to reveal exactly what problems the ministry had with the work of VEKS, the vice minister said, "Activities that couldn't be called financial crimes, but activities that are not proper for an organization that receives money from the government".

The conclusion of the ministry's audit should become clear by the middle of April.

Members of VEKS board of directors leaving

"I'm ashamed to be here. In general I regret that I brought the city of culture idea here from Stockholm. We don't know how to work together. We don't trust each other. If things continue this way, I plan to give up my position on the board of directors because I'm ashamed. It seems as if we're surrounded by fools, but this is serious work", the artist Arvydas Saltenis said after listening to the argument between representatives of VEKS and the Ministry of Culture.

"It appears that there is some kind of campaign against VEKS. Somebody is always looking over their shoulder to see whether they've stolen something", Professor Irena Veisaite, a member of the VEKS board of directors, said. She encouraged the parties to stop arguing and continue the work that has been started.

"The situation seems strange; an organization is quarreling with its founder. I suspect that the situation is actually worse than it seems now", Arturas Zuokas, chairman of the board of VEKS, said.

Zuokas, a former mayor of Vilnius and leader of the Liberal and Center Union [a political party in Lithuania], must leave his seat on the city council after being found guilty. [This article doesn't explain what he was found guilty of. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it was either pressuring or trying to bribe another member of the city council--very long story.] He said that he will likely resign from his position as chairman of the board of VEKS: "I don't think I would like to be here any longer".

Yet another audit

The city of Vilnius, which is another founder of VEKS, on 31 March announced that they planned to initiate an independent audit of that organization.

"It's to be congratulated that the Ministry of Culture is actively participating in overseeing VEKS, but we don't think that an internal audit will be enough. That's why were initiating an independent audit, which will have an unbiased conclusion", Vilnius Vice Mayor Evaldas Lementauskas said.

On March 31, the city council announced that they would be accepting bids from auditing firms interested in performing such an audit. The competition is open to all domestic and foreign firms providing such services.

The government has earmarked over LTL 100 million (29 million euros) to finance the "Vilnius - European City of Culture 2009" program.

No comments: