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The bravery of the Pilaite citizens (video)

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One of the most actively expanding parts of Vilnius – Pilaitė might soon become one of the most popular parts of the city. It is evolving rapidly, attracting new inhabitants and gaining fame as a comfortable, safe and well developed neighborhood.

However this might not have happened. Only a few years ago the community of Pilaitė became famous when they stood up to the Vilnius city municipality that wanted to allow the "Žvėrynas golf club" to build golf courts in Pilaitė. These would not only have destroyed the only green oasis of the then newest part of Vilnius, but also separated Pilaitė from the rest of the city, because the fields would have been fenced off and impossible to cross.

Everything begun in 2002 when the inhabitants of Pilaitė were shocked by the news, received form the municipality, that 120 ha of forest would be felled in order to build a golf course. Everyone believed that the angry inhabitants of the district, opposed to the idea, would meet their defeat, as Lithuanian laws of tend to not work when faced with big money.

Thankfully, a part of the inhabitants of the district were not afraid to act. An official community of Pilaitė was established. Together with the Green movement, this community organized fourteen protests, concerts and other mass events in two years, which attracted thousands of Vilnius’ inhabitants. The people gathered then made it clear that they do not want or need the golf courses in Pilaitė.

However none of the events then or later changed the minds of the men in power. Thus, in fall 2002 judicial proceedings began. The group acting in public interest was victorious, after 1.5 years of trial the Supreme Court of Lithuania determined that the Vilnius city municipality had acted illegally in selling the Pilaitė forest to the privately owned Žvėrynas golf club. The decision of the court is final and can not be appealed.

This decision of the court was, in a small way, caused by the efforts of the community. Presently this community is aiding other communities and the inhabitants of other city districts (Žvėrynas, Šeškinė, Karoliniškės, Žirmūnai) to defend their rights. The battle they have won is a perfect example that it is possible to defend local interests through the efforts of decisive and caring citizens.

The fight for the forest has not been the only one for the inhabitants of Pilaitė. In 2004 – 2005 a battle was waged over the beaches of the Gilužis and Salotė lakes. There was a threat that these beaches would be privatized and fenced off due to the rapid expansion of the city. Thus the community requested that these beaches would be reserved in public interest. Unfortunately, the municipality has yet to buy enough of the territory of Gilužis, thus the beaches were privatized and fenced off. The Salotė lake has been restored to its pre-soviet owners as private property, even though this should not have been allowed, a facto confirmed by parliamentary supervisors. Thus the members of this community can not yet rest. At least not until influential and wealthy people loose the ability to use legal loopholes to take away public spaces from the locals.

The Pilaitė community is famous in Vilnius and Lithuania not only through its efforts to defend the public interest. They organize Shrove Tuesday and Spring Poetry festivals for the inhabitants of the district and the whole city. The festivities have taken place in the Pilaitė forest for the past five years. This year the festival was dedicated to the goddess of love – Milda and the famous Lithuanian actor Laimonas Noreika gladly performed for all participants.

Vilnius has been famous in Lithuania for its unique Verba’s (Easter bouquets made from dried flowers), but few know that they come from Pilaitė and its surrounding area. One of the villages in the Pilaitė district is even now famous for its Verba makers.

The community has been publishing books with writings by their members “Pilaitės giesmininkai” (“The Bards of Pilaitė”) – illustrated collections of prose and poetry, written by schoolchildren and adults in Russian and Lithuanian languages. Furthermore in 2003 the community published a book titled “Pilaitė. Past, Present, Future”. It was intended to inform the readers about what Pilaitė is, the history of the district, it’s claim to fame in the past and now, what objects are located there, etc.

The results of the survey regarding the prepared project for the golf course are also presented in the book. Here you may also find out that more than a half of the persons living in this district have resided here for 5-10 or more years. The newest residents are generally young persons. Most of the respondents state that they visit the Pilaitė forest at least once a month. Only a few percent are in favour of making a golf course.

Another book they published is full of advice on defending the public interest. This district can now enjoy the created and constantly expanding infrastructure: comfortable and quick transportation, supermarkets, branches of banks, a church, plenty of shops and services – such as a laundry, pharmacist’s stores and cafés. 92 % of the locals want the forest they so vehemently defended to be declared a forest park and all economic activities to be forbidden within its boundaries.

It is most likely that only then the members of the Pilaitė community will be able to rest, knowing that no one will be able to threaten their green oasis.

Aiste Jurcyte

Translation Vytautas Jurgaitis

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