In the public sphere, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius has created the image of someone who smiles much, but has achieved little, public relations expert Arijus Katauskas told the LRT.lt portal. “R. Šimašius is faced with real danger because a label of incomplete works and unachieved things is being attached to his name and ability to lead the city,” he states. Citizens of Vilnius appear to have not been impressed by the Mayor, who is now into the middle of his term.
In spring 2015 R. Šimašius won in the second round of elections against Artūras Zuokas, who had led the city for more than ten years. Šimašius and his Liberal Movement entered the elections back then with the slogan “Everything will be ok,” but in recent times the public sphere has been captivated by things much less pleasant for the mayor – lengthy repairs of Vilnius Street and the landslides of the Gediminas Hill.
According to Vilnius citizens interviewed by LRT.lt, R. Šimašius is, for now, unnoticeable.
“I have only lived in Vilnius for a few months, but I find specifics and character lacking. From the bad things, we probably notice Vilnius Street the most, that it is being repaired for a long time. Of the good – perhaps more cultural events,” said 27 year old illustrator Lina.
46 year old musician Donatas has yet to form an impression of the Vilnius mayor. “I can’t say anything good, nor bad. But the quality of the streets is worse, it was better with A. Zuokas,” he said.
64 year old public servant Nina did not find R. Šimašius memorable either – “I only know of him, that’s all.”
Meanwhile attorney Linas thinks that most of the things that R. Šimašius does are just a show. “At least I do not see any of his work as mayor because he is chasing public relations more, but I do not see any concrete improvement as compared to A. Zuokas. Just all sorts of lovely openings, cutting down a thuja bush– these sorts of showbiz elements. There’s no activity to be seen, real work visible to common citizens of Vilnius,” the 35 year old stated.
Nothing to boast of?
Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) political scientist, professor Lauras Bielinis’ verdict is the same as that of the people on the street – according to him R. Šimašius has not been particularly prominent, lacking any major, impressive projects, but also lacking major mistakes and scandals.
In March Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis declared that the only task R. Šimašius had done was cut down a thuja bush. L. Bielinis states that even those who pay little attention to the city’s affairs will notice that during R. Šimašius’ term, the Neris embankment was repaired and such statements by S. Skvernelis are just for public relations.
“I do not believe that one branch of government should criticise the leadership of the largest city in the country this way. There are problems as everywhere, but the city continues moving forward without halt with no major accidents,” the VDU professor stated.
Meanwhile public relations agency Nova Media senior partner A. Katauskas states that A. Šimašius is gaining the image of a mayor who smiles much, but does little.
“You cannot accuse him for everything, but it is sticking to him. Vilnius Street, Gediminas Hill and all other comedic, half scandalous events. I believe that all these circumstances are very unfavourable for R. Šimašius and this leads to many of us starting to wonder whether the Vilnius city mayor is capable of accomplishing certain actions. And that’s dangerous,” the public relations expert said.
According to A. Katauskas, if R. Šimašius wishes to form the image of a strong and reliable mayor in the public sphere, other than the repairs to the Neris embankments, he has little to boast of so far, lackinking major achievements he could use to silence critics. “Just recall the talks about Žalgiris Stadium, the National Stadium or about the deteriorating streets,” Katauskas points out how the mayor fails to achieve credit or sufficient results.
The public relations specialist is convinced that it is not overly important how the repairs of one street affect the people because they matter on a symbolic level. “We are talking about Vilnius Street not being repaired in Vilnius city and the mayor of Vilnius cannot find an explanation of why that is so. I referred to Vilnius three times in the sentence and this is strong symbolism. R. Šimašius is faced with real danger because a label of incomplete works and unachieved things is being attached to his name and ability to lead the city,” stated A. Katauskas.
Meanwhile VDU political scientist L. Bielinis is of the opinion that voters react not to what matters to the city, but to that which impresses.
“And what is impressive to voters is a cut down thuja because it looks rather comedic, a falling hill, as this is a symbol of collapse, a burst pipe spewing filth into the river – all of this will be attributed to the mayor, as if it were the consequence of the work of him and structures led by him,” he pointed out.
Not to be written off
A little over a year ago, after the corruption scandal which rocked the Liberal Movement, R. Šimašius was elected party chairman. According to L. Bielinis, the shadow cast on the party’s reputation also harms the Vilnius mayor. “All the problems facing this party are reflected in his political career and will continue to be,” the VDU expert stated.
A. Katauskas also believes that the party’s reputation is not beneficial, but he believes that looking at the public sphere, it is R. Šimašius’ position as mayor that is typically accented in the public sphere.
“R. Šimašius cannot rely on a strong political power but in the end we must consider how he copes with his direct responsibilities. When he is discussed in the public arena, R. Šimašius is less associated with the problems of the Liberal Movement and more with the problems of the city of Vilnius and being compared to A. Zuokas. I believe that this is far more harmful to R. Šimašius than the party’s reputation,” A. Katauskas commented to the portal LRT.lt.
He also states that R. Šimašius is faced with a major challenge if he wishes for another term as mayor. According to the public relations expert, voters’ expectations are high and a few cut down thujas, along with the repaired Neris embankments are not enough. A. Katauskas believes that the mayor must not yield initiative to Prime Minister Skvernelis in dealing with the Gediminas Hill problem.
“When we near the elections, we will likely see a finished [repairing] Vilnius Street and a renovated Gediminas Hill. If R. Šimašius does not yield initiative to the Prime Minister, he will have these messages. These messages, the list of accomplished tasks is fairly short and his opponents will likely make use of this because the news media is often rife with discussions of Vilnius city, comparing it to Kaunas. The challenges are massive, but we shouldn’t “write off” R. Šimašius just yet,” A. Katauskas said.
Political scientist L. Bielinis outlined three factors that will likely decide whether R. Šimašius can keep his post if he runs again.
“The most important factor is whether there is any strong competition because as of yet there is little to be seen. Secondly whether a list of problems that do depend on R. Šimašius does not crop up; problems that he and his administration will be responsible for. Thirdly, clarity in voters’ heads, what a mayor should be like and what mayor they want,” L. Bielinis said.