When Marc Augé wrote in The Future that ‘Every protest is a form of research’ he could have been describing the artwork(s) / protest / civil disobedience / celebration / sit-in that was the Pro-Test movement set up in Lithuania to prevent the closure of the former Soviet modernist cinema the ‘Lietuva’ in Vilnius.
This event/artwork/protest has every kind of human exploration and contradiction The Drouth thrives on: cinema, civil rights, politics, artworks, bad music, writing, protest, history, architecture, and dogs getting their own say.
Since independence in 1990, Lithuania has been caught up in a mad period of privatisation, property development and demolition. Like a Wild West land-grab or a gold rush, speculators and real-estate tycoons have joined forces with corrupt municipal bureaucrats to redevelop the country at an insane pace. Profit has been their only motive. Public space, landmark buildings, cultural life and public opinion have been the principal victims. Their method is simple: Tell the population that market economy is good for everything. Convince them that capital is king. Remind the public that making Lithuania look like Shanghai, Rio or Bilbao is the best way to erase the Soviet past – and to make the country attractive for even more investment and development.
Cultural and political change shattered Lithuania as all of post-Soviet space was hit unexpectedly by the ultra-rapid implementation of a shock doctrine. The transformation from the Soviet planned economy to capitalism mixed neo-liberalist privatization with the affects of globalization with the potency of a Molotov cocktail. Today, all would agree that “independence did not bring freedom”. Freedom and modernisation in post-Soviet space is uniquely understood as the free market and privatisation. The concept of a free market serves, here, as an imperative which guarantees that one’s “Western tutors will not be disappointed”. Put simply: The totality of one regime has been exchanged for another. This totality became a natural law implemented by a new ideological institution: the notorious Free Market Institute – which exerts undue influence over government.
Under this rubric, public space, landmark buildings, cultural life, and public opinion have been the main victims. What is the need of a municipal park, an alee of trees, an ancient woods in the light of wild capitalism? Under the former Soviet regime the idea of public space was introduced via notions of modernist architecture and urban planning that captured the contemporaneity of the moment during the period of ‘Socialism with a human face’. Cultural entities, facilities for recreation and sports, and premises for gathering and socializing used to be planned in the centre of the city. Despite their modernist heritage (aesthetic) value, and utility, soviet architecture is now considered to be derelict monuments of the past, memorials to Soviet ideology.
There were those who hated Soviet architecture, hated modernism, longed for the multiplex experience, those who claimed that public squares were a deformation affecting the old (bourgeois) parts of the city.
The idea of Soviet modernist common space infrastructure was suddenly reconstituted in an idealization of privatized, closed-off space. Without being romantic about the past or defending modernism, a thorough assessment of the ideological premises – of today’s destructive rhetoric – that replaced it is required.
During the Soviet period, cinema was crucial to the cultural life of the country, with huge movie theatres being built in the centre of many Lithuanian cities. These cinemas played an important role as places for public gatherings. After independence, as Soviet structures crumbled in a wholesale fashion, cinema buildings became a focus of attention for the real-estate market. In a short period of time, private enterprise managed to take over and destroy almost all the cinemas in Vilnius, turning them into apartments, supermarkets, casinos and shopping centres.
More than twenty cinemas disappeared, including such urban landmarks as the Ausra (Dawn), Zvaigzde (Star), Spalis (October), Pionierius (Pioneer), Pergale (Victory), Tevyne (Motherland), Kronika (Newsreel), Aidas (Echo), Planeta (Planet), Neris (river), Vingis (park), Lazdynai (forest), Vilnius and Maskva (Moscow). As a poor replacement, and echoing the tragedy of cities the world over, two huge multiplex cinemas were constructed: the Coca Cola Plaza in the suburbs and the Akropolis Cinemas beyond the city limits. The latter, which is part of Lithuania’s largest shopping mall, is representative of the ’mallification‘ of the country. With the multiplexes came multiplex Hollywood movies: Thus, the demolition of cinematic space encoded the dismantlement of independent film programming.
It is symbolic that the last cinema to be privatized and destroyed since the re-establishment of independence is named after the country: Lietuva.
What is Lietuva?
On the lost battlefields of privatisation Lietuva has become a significant rallying point. The Lietuva was built in 1965 as a piece of Soviet modernist architecture, becoming the biggest cinema in Lithuania with more than 1,000 seats and a 200-square-metre screen (offering an ideal image size). It was home to the Vilnius Film Festival and as such has played an important role in the imaginative life of a whole generation of local people. Its name, Lietuva (Lithuania), is also an important signifier of national identity, as it never bore any Soviet overtones (i.e. it wasn’t called the cinema of the Soviet Republic of Lithuania). To say to somebody “Let’s meet at the Lietuva” really meant something during the Soviet occupation. In front of the cinema a vast public square offered an ideal space for gathering, debating, chatting and hanging out.
In 2002, the Vilnius municipal authorities quietly sold the cinema to private property- developers with a caveat that it had to operate as a cinema for a three-year period. That term ended on July 1st, 2005.
Is it not strange that during all these years no voices of protest were raised in Lithuania? Why were people silent, indifferent, during this time of change? Why has there been no protest at all since the years of the “Singing Revolution”?
It might be thought that the cultural, urban, activist practices that call for protest, for the reclaiming of public space, come from the Western cultural tradition of democracy. A totalitarian past simply erased such activities from people’s agenda. Nowadays, the discourse of protest and questioning of privatization is not possible. Protesting means looking over one’s shoulder, longing for a past; it connotes Bolshevism and the massive repression deriving from the Gulag. Hence the notion of protest, disobedience, and critical Leftist practice as such, has a negative meaning for many people in the post-Soviet world.
The state and market forces also stand in the way of protest. But democracy is conflict and antagonism, not consensus. Are we maybe dealing here with an imitation of democracy that rejects antagonism? Neo-liberal conformity means, of course, avoiding antagonism while at the same time making use of it. In such a context it is very difficult to speak of protest.
If protest is impossible, if resistance is unimaginable, what kind of artistic strategy might be used in order to generate some kind of protest? And if there is no protest, can we maybe bring it about, make it happen? How do we open up the contradictions hidden on-site?
What was the Pro-test Lab?
In March 2005 the former Lietuva ticket office in Vilnius was squatted and converted into a ‘pro-test’ lab inviting people to propose different protest scenarios; to both inspire action and make it happen. Beginning as a case study of the destruction of the Lietuva – the largest Soviet modernist movie theatre in Lithuania – it has developed into an action space and an archive of various forms of protest (and legal proceedings) against the corporate privatization of public space.
The Pro-test Lab has performed the function of a recording device, and gradually built up an identity and a scenario for both space and archive. Referring to the early model of the Lumière brothers’ camera, which had a twofold function (to shoot film and to project it), this recording device has generated actions and registered diverse forms of protest. It captured the protest, which accumulated, matured, and yet remained unidentified, unvoiced, ever in search of a format and a way of becoming vocal. It has developed into a rallying point that extends artistic claims into civil disobedience.
Artistic practice ought to reflect change, let’s say. Although the question is, once more, how does it contribute to change, in fact? Is it possible to construct a work that wouldn’t just analyse or reflect change but actually generate it? How does one organise the capacity to provoke it?
Right from the outset the Pro-test Lab addressed collective production and participation and was aimed at creating a community to activate people’s cultural and political imagination. A people’s movement called “For Lithuania without quotation marks” was founded in support of the cinema and the project. The citizens of Vilnius who’ve joined the Pro-test Lab come from different, sometimes antagonistic, communities and social groups, young and old, students and pensioners, intellectuals and workers – but all trying to imagine what a positive kind of protest might be. With a bit of dash, turning pro and test into action, they have constructed a new identity for the place, as well as creating a site for testing the potential of protest.
To set the ball rolling we initiated a mailing-list forum that scripted scenarios and a space to do with the search for contemporary forms and formats of disobedience against the narrative of a single system. The online debate took shape just before the onset of social media: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter started just around the same time. Pro-test Lab rendered their discourse, debates and programming using a mailing list. We would send out an email to 400 people using this simple ’90s technology. By the end of 2005, one of the members of the Lab said, “Why don’t we all move to Facebook? It’s an amazing tool for organizing actions.” For better or worse we never migrated to Facebook or Twitter.
At the same time the online forum and physical site were both opened up to conflict, as small groups of heritage experts, students from architecture, theatre and film schools, Green Party activists, vegans, anarchists, cultural producers, social democrat party members, neighbours, community leaders, casual passers-by and regular hangers-out opposed, collaborated, argued with and resisted each other. This was a space to socialise and make mistakes, not a place of consensus but one of production.
The Pro-test Lab Archive
The Pro-test Lab Archive is an art project that organises a collection of images and props, and the relationships they produce with the act of protest. The archive maps the attempts to stage an autonomous platform for action through an art project that can penetrate reality through political acts. This develops both inside and outside the art system by simultaneously considering the tension that such a relationship produces.
The archive is constructed through the events of artistic production staged as a campaign of reclaiming public space as their method of protest. It acts to initiate the debate elicited by the conflict between privatization and publicness, art and ethics, activism and production. Starting as an art project that investigates the energies of the productive side of protest, the Pro-test Lab is archiving all the possibilities of impossible protest that rally people against the specific situation of the privatization of public space.
From Art Project to Real Juridical-Political Process
It was apparent from the outset that the public effectiveness of the Pro-test Lab would be tested against its profile in the mainstream media. Popular media in Lithuania – and around the world – is retreating from hard news coverage and in-depth issue-based reportage. And a strategy for finessing the media to put a positive – and constant – spin on an essentially insurrectionist project was needed. The Pro-test Lab had to make sure that the media was regularly supplied with enticing and newsworthy material – so a series of performances and events that manipulated populist forms were developed to keep the project in a constant state of animation and ‘going public’. (The inverse is also true, property developers and neo-liberal politicians can bury information by ’not‘ scripting a press release and ’not‘ posting information on websites).
The Internet has become a bona fide news source and stories that come to life in cyber-space are re-reported in the dailies and on television – so significant efforts were also channelled into building a constant electronic information profile for the Pro-Test Lab. And the profile of the Internet chat resource, and linking to other sites and discussion spaces, were constantly being built: as was the issue of public space via constantly commenting in the weblog resources of other web portals on related issues. In this way, a shadow identity for the Pro-Test Lab could be constructed within the public discussion taking place in other quarters. At a certain point an online interview was republished on several websites and in a number of newspapers – so which medium led to the broader public dissemination of information?
The invitation to participate in the international exhibition Populism – taking place in Vilnius, Amsterdam, Frankfurt am Main, and Oslo – also delivered a strategic platform to the project. Firstly, the Pro-Test Lab would be reported about in the frame of the exhibition (and at ‘home’ Lithuanian media always concentrates on the local participating artists) and would be delivered to a larger international audience. (The Pro-Test Lab archive has also been presented in major exhibitions in Austria, Italy, Korea, and Russia). Appeals could also be made to international solidarity as the issue of redevelopment is a contested topic throughout Europe. Moreover, as in many small countries, Lithuanian corporate executives, politicians and bureaucrats place disproportionate store in international opinion – lest it threatens future inbound foreign investment. And high levels of investment are drawn from Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany where Populism was being presented.
As the electronic and media profile of the Pro-Test Lab began to rise new names and new activists began to appear within the web community specifically journalists associated with the project. This was manifested in June 2006 when a call for a public citizens’ meeting of cultural producers was held at the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC), Vilnius, and 60 participants attended: with the aim of generating an alternative vision for the site of Lietuva cinema – that culminated in a weekend-long workshop. Though we were arguing that the aesthetic stage is providing a cool cover, a kind of Trojan horse for political struggle. Synchronously, opinions began to appear accusing the Pro-Test Lab of instrumentalizing, or becoming, “the authority of protest” and “privatizing” the discourse of protest and recuperating it to an artistic event or harnessing the potentials of networking to a selfish end. But what if the artistic project was our way of generating an opening for a movement, and we had to step through that opening in order to make it a political project, with all of the legal aspects and so forth? As political theorist Jodi Dean suggested, “it seems like the artistic aspect literally changed the terrain so you could act politically.”
In the summer of 2016 the new owners of the Lietuva site, Plot 17 Pylimo Street, made their mandatory public presentation of the plans for the site. Outside the municipal offices appeared several figures dressed in full black burqua-like costumes, staged by a new group of protesters associated with the Pro-test Lab. In Lithuania (which is mono-cultural) the sight of a burqa potentially triggers associations with Islamist terrorists, among them a group known as “Shahidi” or “black widows” that were first active in Afghanistan and in Chechnya. The following month the citizens’ movement “For Lithuania without quotation marks” – addressed an open letter to the members of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee expressing concerns that the building was being developed in contravention of the Vilnius World Heritage Protection Order. Cinema Lietuva is located within the boundary of the World Heritage Zone. In stark contrast, the Lithuanian Green Party, supposedly representative of shared concerns, repressed a protest action by Pro-test Lab coinciding with an official protest action that Greens were making (and had got proper permission for): arguing that the artistic action staging banners such as “UNESCO – protect Vilnius from Lithuanians” – “would throw them into bad light.”
The next step, and a reflection of the growing public support for the actions being taken a public petition “For the cinema LIETUVA and the cultural policy related to it” was launched with the intention to present the petition to the government, requesting to initiate two laws: one to pursue a definition of ‘public space’ and the other to define ‘public interest’. Within one month the petition was signed by almost 8,000 citizens and was presented to the government of the Republic of Lithuania; for mandatory future deliberation.
At this point, entering the national legislative arena, the actions of the Pro-test Lab began to test the limits of an art project and also defied the temporal limitations of what is commonly understood as the work of art: a clearly defined and delineated gestalt object and action (concerned with aesthetic institutions). It also began to question the matter of public interest and who, if anyone is responsible for it in Lithuania as 8,000 signatories represent a voting block or constituency large enough to influence a public election – yet no member of parliament or official political figure associated themselves with the movement. It also opened a debate about what constitutes public interest, which has a right to represent public interests, and its proper value in relation to private concerns. (Profit and not the people remains the mantra). So why not an artist as a public representative?
The movement “For Lithuania without quotation marks” began a campaign of writing open letters to the shareholders and trustees of the holding company controlling the cinema Lietuva site (to deflect attention from the ultimate owners of the concern). Private space, in this case, is equal to privacy – as corporate directors don’t want to besmirch their public political image and damage possible future influence over future matters involving the public domain. And their profit motives want to maintain the status of Lithuanian public space as ‘for sale’ to the highest bidder. 
From October 2006 to January 2007 the Petition Committee of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania addressed itself to the petition of July 11th, submitted by the movement “For Lithuania without quotation marks”. The Committee instructed the Ministry of Culture to form an advisory sub-committee on the matter of the nature of public space and cultural artefacts (that included members of “For Lithuania without quotation marks”).
It was obvious to us that in fully exercising their citizens’ rights – artists have rights too – the movement “For Lithuania without quotation marks” made a submission to the Vilnius District Administrative Court pursuing an ‘abrogation of responsibility by the Vilnius District Planning Commission for rewarding redevelopment rights and building consent for the cinema Lietuva site’. And on May 8th, 2007 the four principal members of the movement were subpoenaed to appear before the court to address their submission to stay the development of the site. And in support of the claim, the Pro-test Lab made an action at the site, measuring the effects of the granted permissions in terms of scale, to prove to the public just how intrusive the proposed new building would be: obscuring the view of neighbouring properties and subsuming both the square and footpaths used by thousands of pedestrians every day. Their daily commuting routes, and space, were clearly set to disappear into the belly of the developer’s beast.
In counter-claim the developers counter-sued the four principals of the movement in the District Civil Court for loss of trade valued in the hundreds of thousands of Euro as development has been halted while the courts make their findings. And that is where the process stands – straddling the legal divide: in a public face-off between a commercial Goliath and an activist citizens’ David.
The Lithuanian political and legal system is being forced to confront the monster and decide between the spatial will of the agora or the atrium – a simulation of public space enclosed within a commercial complex. Is public space a space of ambulation and aggregation free of the commercial imperative or is the space to wander necessarily linked, in the future, with the necessities of consumption. As private sheet-glass and steel monuments to consumption start to hem the Lithuanian Parliament House and monument to the fallen independence heroes – it is becoming an urgent question for Lithuanians and their politicians.
This was relevant when Vilnius was going to be caught in the glare of being European Capital of Culture in 2009 – a politically motivated project that was supposed to celebrate the national spirit of creativity and the Lithuanian national culture and thus required public spaces. And it is yet relevant now, as Vilnius’ rival Kaunas is prepping for the European Capital of Culture in 2022. And not the havoc wreaked by the forces of privatization and consumption.
After a series of negotiations, the peace agreement between the representatives of the citizens movement and the developers was signed in December 2011 with a condition all the sides fulfil their duties to take back civil and administrative claims, which would end all the litigation. Since 2014 few architecture competitions were organized for the vision and program on the site of cinema Lietuva. In 2015 art collector Viktoras Butkus announced his plan to build the Modern Art Centre. As a result cinema Lietuva was demolished in February 2017. The building was cut in small parts, dismantled piece by piece and removed from the site in less than two months. As was the community that was bound to the idea of the commons catalyzed by Lietuva.
Newly erected Modern Art Centre (MO) was opened at the of 2018. Sharply cut rectangular shape of the building designed by starchitect Libeskind supposed to symbolize “Cultural Gates to the City”. ” In the words of the architect “It is basically a three-dimensional plaza, it’s a three-dimensional public space…”Perhaps that is a happy ending for politicians who consistently try to manage conflict and agonistic spaces in the city. Folk got a sanitized and privately owned version of public space with a cultural function.
Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas are artists, educators, and professors at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology. In addition, they are visiting professors at CAFA in Beijing, VDU in Kaunas, NABA in Milan, and luav in Venice. Urbonas are founders of US – Urbonas Studio that combines the disciplines of new media, urbanism, social science, ecology and pedagogy into an integrated artistic practice. Their work has been exhibited at the São Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, Lyon, Gwangju, Busan, Venice biennales; Manifesta and Documenta exhibitions. In 2018 they curated the “Swamp pavilion” – a future learning environment at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale.
Further reference: http://www.vilma.cc/lietuva-timeline/
 Klein, Naomi 2007: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 1988: Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography, Oxford.
 Žižek, Slavoj 2004: What Is To Be Done (with Lenin)?
 The statute of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute clearly encourages that freedom is the right of access to a free market, the rights of the individual to own private property, the rights of the market to set value (https://en.llri.lt/lfmi)
 A process of mild democratization and political liberalization that would still enable the Communist Party to maintain real power. Wikipedia.
 By the time that Lenin dispatched agit-trains (with Dziga Vertov films onboard) to propagandise about the revolution, cinema was already considered to be the most important of all the arts in the Soviet Union. As part of Communist policy, but also due to Stalin’s personal fascination for cinema, a great many film theatres were built around the Soviet country. It would be too reductive to say that cinemas were merely places of ideology. Those built-in Soviet Lithuania played a crucial role as places for public gatherings and for the production of cultural awareness.
 The Lietuva was privatised by the holding company VP Market. In addition to retail and shopping worlds, VP Market has made inroads into other fields, such as real estate, pharmacies, energy sector, etc. As well as its overall domination of the Baltic market, it also extends as far as Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania and (allegedly) UK and USA.
 The Singing Revolution is the commonly used name for events between 1987 and 1990 that led to the regaining of independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Wikipedia.
 Here we should mention that all Leftist discourse in Lithuania smacks of Stalinism and of Soviet state-controlled demonstrations. It just so happens that since the restoration of independence no serious attempt has been made to reintroduce Leftist discourse into politics. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the one-time communists became hardcore capitalists. They were capitalists in the Soviet period, too, having all the privileges that European Union bureaucrats have in Brussels today. After the re-establishing of independence, the ex-communists merely changed the name of their party, since the CP was made illegal, just like the National Socialist German Workers’ Party was after WW2. The communists became social democrats. And those communists who did not change their name are in prison now.
 The site is always structured symbolically, architecturally and ideologically, and the job in hand (of artists and cultural producers) is to reveal hidden contradictions.
 We started discussing the idea of creating an experimental model for resilience in the autumn and winter of 2004 with the curators of the Populism exhibition, that was slated to open in Vilnius in spring 2005.
 More than seventy events have been organized at, or in relation to, the Pro-test Lab from April 2005 until 2008.
 As part of the Pro-test lab program, on the August 23rd, 2005 there was a TV bridge between Vilnius and Oslo organized by OCA in collaboration with Atelier Nord – both Oslo based institutions. It brought together artists, architects, planners, activists and politicians from both countries for comparative study of gentrification processes in Norway and Lithuania and how they render the privatization of public space.
 The three-day-long workshop titled Bezpridel was organized to discuss the proposal for the section of Gwangju Biennale curated by Cristina Ricupero. Reflecting upon the notion “the abundance of Asia” we found it productive to think about the constraints framing Europe and Asia. This kind of thinking about two positions is essential for local – Vilnius and the Baltic context as it is striving to resolve historical bounds with Russia often associated with Asia and articulate its relations with Western Europe. It is considered that Europe is constituted as a constant building of borders, whereas Asia is borderless, as it could be framed as Bezpridel, hard to translate from Russian, it is a “go-as-you-please” notion.
 Jodi Dean in the interview for Public Space? Lost and Found, eds. Urbonas, Lui and Freeman, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017
 Several participants dressed as “black widows”, with their faces covered except the eyes, walked through the main streets of the capital, visiting a large shopping mall, spending some time at the Parliament, etc. An hour after they paid a visit to Parliament’s square, the participants were apprehended by Security services.
 Appeal to UNESCO Concerning the Destruction of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Open Spaces within a Cultural Heritage Object: the Historic Centre of Vilnius was presented during the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s 30th session in Vilnius from July 8-16, 2006.
 Conceived under the auspices of For Lithuania Without Quotation Marks, the petition underlined “that the public was excluded when the administration of the Vilnius Municipality has taken decisive resolutions in relation to the land use and privatization of the cinema Lietuva”. Addressing the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the National Government, Parliament, the Ministry of Culture, the Vilnius City Municipality and Vilnius County, it was signed by more than eight thousand people and accepted by the national government. The Lithuanian version of the petition http://www.culture.lt/peticija/ was signed by more than 8,000 citizens.
 Such a discussion was organized in October 2007 by the parliamentary committee “for law and order” in collaboration with the ‘Free Market Institute’ to analyze the decree that defines the “defence of public interest” and coming to conclusion “as regarding the often occurring complex economic, social processes in society it is difficult to identify public interest and to distinguish it from private interest or interest of marginal group of people.”
 In October 2005 VP market sold their shares of the cinema Lietuva to a real estate developer, Rojaus Apartamentai (Paradise apartments), and today (as of 2011) the owners of Lietuva are: Cinema Scotland shareholders Peter Baker (Chairman); M2Invest shareholders Arthur Simonsen (Vice Chairman), Dalius Kaveckas (shareholder), Amit Majithia (shareholder), Per Moller (shareholder).
 The committee decided to partially meet the demands of the petition and to approach the government to create working groups at the Ministry of Environment to create a working group to initiate a law that would define a public space within the framework of ‘territory planning and consent’ and at the Ministry of Culture to organize a survey of cultural spaces in the urban environment.