Our balmy days were now well and truly over as mile after mile the winter closed in on us. Darkness filled most of the day and a general gloom hung over everything. The sun was almost gone at 3 pm then well and truly dark by 4. The drive to Vilnius took about five hours and Daniel and Davor rejoiced at their escape from hillbilly heaven. Personally I liked Poland and would love to come back in a summer but probably agreed with them that a better hotel could be found. Still, it fulfilled the main criteria, it was cheap!
Driving into the Baltic States felt like a degree of pressure was beginning to lift from us. The traffic wasn’t so bad and the capitals aren’t so big that you get lost in them. The GPS seemed calmer too as we made it to our hotel easily. The hotel was a little cheap and cheerful just behind the Irish Embassy. As the Irish were again hosting us it made it very easy for us in setting up for the press conference there in the morning. The rooms were great but the one Mette and me had stank of very stale cigarette smoke. It really stank! We gagged as we came in the door but with the window open for awhile it became quickly more habitable.
All of us seemed to be feeling the ware of our time on the road and were starting to run a little slowly. We also had the continual pressure of lack of budget as the promised budget had still not been paid to us. Credit cards were bursting at the seems and another financial collapse was only days away.
A walk around town revealed a really beautiful city. Everywhere had classic architecture and in great condition. Something that really stood out was the complete lack of graffiti. Graffiti is a pet hate of mine particularly in old historical classical cities like this where gangs of teenage youths usually trawl the cities tagging any clean wall they come across. My response to this would be to either catch them and have them publicly scrub the walls clean, or run them off with a stock whip. Sadly, the politically correct climate we now live in means neither are acceptable.
After dinner we were back in the stinky room with windows open and the seasons first snow falling outside. We had to be setting up in the Irish Embassy at 9.30 am so set the alarm for 8.30. Just after the alarm sounded Davor called our room.
“What time is our meeting in the Irish Embassy,” he asks.
“9.30,” was the reply.
“It’s 9.30 now,” he says.
Panic blasts us out of bed at the realisation that we have entered a new time zone when crossing into Lithuania. Dressed, out the door and hauling pictures up the back stairs of the Irish Embassy in under 5 minutes.
Every country has their own problems and the Lithuanian problem is a new government being formed today. This soaks up a lot of press and political engagement. With the room at the Irish Embassy set up we wondered if anyone would come. Four journalists arrived and into the talk we went. More attending would have been better but one great article is better than a bunch of little scraps of news. The journalists who came got right into the story and we were able to discuss the issue in real depth. One journalist was also somewhat hostile and negative about the treaty and the lack of Russia or America coming. A detailed discussion of the concept of stigmatisation ensued and the example of the landmines treaty was with us again. By the end of the discussion all were convinced and went away to write.
Our next action was to be a public one in the main square across the street. Mette had gone there when I started the press conference and had the Ban Bus and what photographs I didn’t use set up around it.
So much happening in Vilnius and our next surprise was in the central square was to be a big army parade today. Lithuanians stopped and looked at the photos and were really interested in what it was all about. Universally we were told that they thought a treaty was essential. I don’t think we had done a public action before that had such a positive impact with the local people.
The army turned up in busses and parked behind us. They looked at us and the photographs and seemed somewhat uncomfortable by the subject matter. This just made me laugh as an army parade would be held with a backdrop of cluster bombs and injured people. That’s beautiful! The busses all unloaded and the companies formed up on the square.
A ranting official came over in a fluster and said we couldn’t be here and that we had to go and this was an army day and the parade would take place here. No problem, we can share and they were most welcome to do their parade with our backdrop. Not good enough for him, we had to go. I had no intention of going anywhere and handed him our written permission to hold our action. He looked at it and said it meant nothing to him and we had to go. I asked if he could read Lithuanian and offered a translation if that would help. This enraged him even more. I told him our approval meant a lot to me and we weren’t moving and by the way, who the hell was he and did he have some identification. This really made him boil as he couldn’t produce an ID.
“Then you mean nothing to me,” I said. “Some guy walks off the street and tells us to go and can’t produce any official authorisation. We aren’t going anywhere.”
The crowds were forming and more and more people were looking at our display as Adolph gets more and more agitated.
“Call the police and have us arrested if you are so sure we are breaking the law or find someone with authority and identification to talk to us,” says me.
This annoys him even more and he starts to dial numbers. Finally he calls the guy who issued our approval and he is partly beaten.
“Ok, you can be here, but not there,” pointing to some photos on the pavement.
We move the few offending pictures and he storms off in a huff. He single handed did more to publicise our event than anything we could have done.
The square erupted into men marching up and down and up and down. One bit of brass walked all the way over to us just so he could walk all the way back again and take a salute. Stomp stamp thump clunk, turn two three, thump clink clank stomp stamp and back and forth they went.
The brass band blasted out the theme from Star Wars and all adjourned for a smoke on the rise behind. A plume of blue emerged from the masses. We were getting towards dark, although we had now gained an extra magic hour, and packed up till it was time for the reception to be hosted by the Norwegian Ambassador at his residence.
Only the house keeper of the Norwegian Ambassador was home and she let us in and gave us the run of the place. Photos were distributed everywhere and the projector set up. All was ready for a mystery amount of guests.
The Ambassador arrived and was afraid that we were about to crash and burn as the formation of the new government was keeping them in parliament both day and night. The Austrian Ambassador arrived to lend extra diplomatic weight as did a few key NGO’s. I was pleased to see the arrival of representatives from Foreign Affairs and then a representative from the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament.
We didn’t have the numbers but did have the quality so once more into the fray we dove to leave them all with no question but a ban being the only way. The dynamics of working a small crowd came into play again as they all felt that were getting the individual treatment. It really didn’t take too long till a few tears were shed by some as I was at them at full speed.
The end signalled a round of drinks and finger food as we all chatted and met. The girl from the parliament was very pleased she came and was looking forward to getting back to her work and spread the word about Lithuania signing with renewed vigour. I am sure they will sign but the message to them is that they need to overcome their government change and just get the Lithuanian Ambassador in Oslo to be at the ceremony on the 3rd and sign.
Lithuania was our last country that was sympathetic to a ban so far. The rest were all either on the fence or openly hostile to the treaty process. The morning would get us to Riga in Latvia.