Never mind free and fair
elections, independent judiciaries or respect for ethnic minorities, a country can only
really be declared democratic if its leaders are big enough to allow the erection of a
monument to the late, lamented Frank Zappa.
That, at least, is the theory of Saulius Paukstys, a
31-year-old Lithuanian photographer who, in his private life, doubles as president of the
countrys thriving Frank Zappa fan club.
During a visit to California in 1992, Paukstys was
actually granted a brief audience with the zany rock star, whose anti-establishment stance
made him a cult figure in Lithuania and much of Eastern Europe during Soviet times.
Zappas death from cancer one year later hit
Paukstys and fellow devotees hard and in a flash of inspiration he vowed to erect a
lasting memorial to his great mentor.
"We have lots of busts and statues to long-dead
Lithuanian poets and artists and I suddenly thought, Why not put one up to
Zappa?" he says.
"Okay, so Zappa never visited Lithuania and had
absolutely no connection with the country, but as far as I was concerned, this was a test
of our new-found freedom. Lithuania had just proclaimed itself to be a democratic country.
I wanted to test it and see if I would be able to realize my ideas."
Having gathered numerous signatures from artists,
writers and younger members of the Lithuanian parliament, Paukstys presented a petition to
the city government requesting permission to build a bust of Zappa outside the Vilnius art
academy. While surprised, the authorities did not turn the project downas long as
they did not have to pay for it.
Teachers at the academy, however, were less keen on
the idea, fearing that a memorial to a man still revered for his anti-establishment songs
could corrupt the innocent minds of their students.
In the end, the location was changed,
but, with some one-thousand dollars raised for its construction, the stone bust on top of
its 4-meter high stainless steel column was duly unveiled late last year.
Zappa himself would no doubt have enjoyed the irony
of the ceremony, which included a stirring performance by the citys military band, a
firework display, and plenty of toasts to 70-year-old local sculptor Konstantinas
Bogdanas, a man who was previously better known for his depictions of the likes of Lenin
and other communist heroes.
Paukstys claims that the bustwhich shows a
pony-tailed Zappa in a rather sombre mood in the later years of his lifeis the first
of its kind in the world.
It is not, however, the first example of a propensity
among Lithuanians to embrace the weird and wacky.
In 1992 the countrys basketball team achieved
international fame by defeating Russia to take the bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympic
Gamesand then by turning up at the awards ceremony in psychedelic multi-coloured
T-shirts donated by the legendary rock band, The Grateful Dead.
When the bands former lead singer, Jerry
Garcia, died last year, the Lithuanian Prime minister sent a personal note of condolence
and his spokesman said that Lithuania had been proud to have such a famous band as a
More recently, Vilnius has chalked up another first
with the opening of a bar named NATOs which is nothing less than a
celebration of the western military alliance which Lithuania aspires to join.
When NATO Secretary General Javier Solana visited the
Baltic states a few years ago, he was taken inside NATOs which, in addition
to a display of guns, grenades and mock missiles, has a menu which boasts "Red Mine
Caviar," "Demarcation Chicken" and "Remains of a Partisan."
This would clearly not be the place to bring Russian
President Boris Yeltsin for lunch, but Solana seemed quite impressed.
"This is a very particular place," the NATO
chief told local reporters. "Indeed, it is the first time I have ever seen anything
like it in my life."