It’s not so often a video from Lithuania goes viral or even semi-viral, so I can’t avoid calling more attention to a recent stunt pulled by the mayor of Lithuania to convince people not to park in bike lanes. The video has since been picked up by many media, including the Guardian, but I saw it first, of all places, on an environmental website in the U.S. called Grist. It’s now been viewed by almost 1.4 million people. Here, take a look:
While I’ve seen readers debating whether this is real or not, the Guardian said his spokeswoman admitted that the car was bought specifically for the stunt.
“Mayor Zuokas wanted his message to be loud and clear that the city will not tolerate brazen and disrespectful behaviour by drivers who disobey parking rules,” said his spokeswoman, Irma Juskenaite.
“The mayor hopes that he will not have to repeat his performance to have drivers heed his message, although he says that he is prepared to do so,” she added, with a smile.
The episode got me thinking about another mayor of Lithuanian origin known for his stunts, but this time on the other side of the world. Somehow, I only recently heard about Aurelijus Rutenis Antanas Mockus Šivickas — a Colombian mathematician, philosopher, and politician — who is the son of Lithuanian immigrants.
Antanas Mockus, as he’s better known, is a real character, who actually mooned students when he was president of the National University of Columbia. While he eventually had to step down over the scandal, the publicity helped him in his subsequent mayoral campaign. He ended up serving two terms as Bogota’s mayor, leading a transformation of the city (according to his Wikipedia entry):
Under Mockus’s leadership, Bogotá saw improvements such as: water usage dropped 40%, 7000 community security groups were formed and the homicide rate fell 70%, traffic fatalities dropped by over 50%, drinking water was provided to all homes (up from 79% in 1993), and sewerage was provided to 95% of homes (up from 71%). When he asked residents to pay a voluntary extra 10% in taxes, 63,000 people did so. His market-oriented social policies were much less successful. Poverty and unemployment levels were high throughout his tenures and continue to be a pressing issue in Bogotá’s social life.
Famous initiatives included hiring 420 mimes to make fun of traffic violators, because he believed Colombians were more afraid of being ridiculed than fined. He also put in place one “Women’s Night”, on which the city’s men were asked to stay home for an evening to look after the house and the children. The city sponsored free open-air concerts, bars offered women-only specials, Ciclovia and the city’s women police were in charge of keeping the peace.
I’ve also heard good things about a Danish documentary about him and another Bogota mayor called Cities on Speed: Bogota Change:
A vaccine against crime. Weapons melted down for baby cutlery. »Bogotá Change« is the story of two charismatic mayors, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa who, with unorthodox methods, in less than 10 years turned one of the world’s most dangerous, violent and corrupt capitals into a peaceful model city populated by caring citizens. With Mockus and Peñalosa and key members of their staff as first hand witnesses, the film uncovers the ideas, philosophies and strategies that underlie the changes in Bogotá and which are now being exported to cities worldwide.
OK, that doesn’t have much to do with Central and Eastern Europe, though it would be nice to hear about the region’s mayors experimenting more with innovative ways to increase the quality of living in their cities (and not just using tanks to crush fancy cars perched in bike lines). But it is interesting that at least some Lithuanians consider Mockus, who apparently speaks Lithuanian, one of their own: In 2004 the Lithuanian worldwide daily Draugas chose him as Lithuanian of the Year.
Antanas Mockus photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum.