On Tuesday of this week, I was fortunate enough to attend an event organised by the Vilnius Liberal Youth students which gathered the three frontrunner candidates for Vilnius Mayor in the upcoming elections. The event was a “World Coffee Forum”, and involved the three candidates sitting around the room and speaking to designated topics for a specific amount of time. The students could choose which candidate to listen to at any point in time, and could also ask questions while the candidates spoke. The event was very interactive and was targeted at youth without being partisan, and attracted over 50 university students as a result. The dialogue was all in Lithuanian, but my friends were able to translate the ideas that the candidates were speaking about. The main electoral issues include heating supply, the quality of public transport, the possible sale of the municipality-owned airline and the development of Vilnius’ river properties. I was lucky enough to get the current Mayor of Vilnius, Arturas Zuokas, to take a “selfie” with me – he is a self-proclaimed social media expert who often posts selfies whilst out in the community in his role.
On Friday evening, I travelled by train to Minsk in Belarus with two Australian friends. The divide between Lithuania and Belarus is taken very seriously, as Belarus is not a member of the European Union. As such, nobody that I knew had ever travelled to Belarus – not even my Lithuanian friends who live only three hours’ train from Minsk. While we were warned to expect Belarus to be very culturally different to Europe or Australia, we were pleasantly surprised by the city and found the people to be very polite and helpful. After exploring some of the main sights in Minsk, we drove to Brest (south Belarus) on Saturday and back to Minsk on Monday, stopping to snowboard for a few hours. In Brest, we were fortunate to witness a military demonstration involving two soldiers who laid stones at a war memorial site every morning. This simple demonstration reminded us of how lucky we are to come from Australia and never have seen a war fought in our country.