Music culture under threat from new alcohol ban

The past few weeks were quite a shock for everyone in the entertainment industry in Lithuania, from the regular festival-goer to events organizers and venue owners. New alcohol restrictions have been proposed by the government, recommending the following:

Proposed alcohol restrictions

  • alcohol will only be sold at the following times:
    • 10:00 – 20:00 on weekdays and Saturday
    • 10:00 – 15:00 on Sunday
  • raising the minimum drinking age from 18 to 20
  • a ban on alcohol advertising of any sort in public events
  • a ban on selling alcoholic beverages in public events

The current government are well known for their stance on sobriety, but these proposals are among the most drastic in the EU. The music industry is understandably against the proposals, because alcohol sales are such a big part of culture and the entertainment economy.

Sydney has also tried fighting alcohol with bans, in an attempt to reduce violence and irresponsible drinking. It’s hard to find a good headline about the results of their efforts. “Sydney lockout laws a ‘sledgehammer’ to nightlife” said the Mayor.

MXF is obviously against further restrictions on alcohol

The fight should be against alcoholism, not against the entertainment industry. The aim should be to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol, not to just ban it and imagine the problem of alcoholism will magically go away.

Politicians and the music industry react

The law has not passed yet, so we asked some MPs, a rock star and a venue owner for their opinions.

Arūnas Gelūnas

“I am very sure that the banning of alcohol will hugely affect the culture industry, especially when trying to attract investments. The problem is that in most events alcohol doesn’t cause any problems. For example, jazz or classical music concert attendees act civilized after a drink or two but football fans are completely the opposite. They will easily find ways to get drunk before the match, thus escaping the law.” – Arūnas Gelūnas, MP (Liberals) and ex-Culture Minister.

We would like to agree with Arūnas, but also remind him that we have seen many gatherings of hundreds or even thousands of people who drink more than two drinks, don’t listen to jazz or classical, and still there aren’t any problems. Also we’ve seen drunk football fans being friendly.

But the point is that sometimes there is no problem with alcohol in events, so just banning it everywhere probably isn’t very fair.

Arūnas continues:

“I believe that the best tool to prevent alcohol abuse is education but it doesn’t show results instantly. Politicians need fast victories – it must be here and now.”

No one is denying the fact that there are problems surrounding alcohol, but there are other ways to lower abuse without hurting the entertainment industry.

Aušrinė Armonaitė MP (Liberal) gives more detailed recommendations:

Aušrinė Armonaitė talks about the alcohol ban

Aušrinė Armonaitė. [Image by: Martynas Ambrazas]

“First of all we need to ensure that young people are taught to love a healthy lifestyle. This is a task for the education system and the family. Secondly, we need to take care of the after school activities that keep the children off the streets. Thirdly, we need to ensure effective help for people with addictions, emotional disorders, etc. Finally, doctors should pay more attention to advising patients about the use of the alcohol. There is a lot more that we can do and I think that bans should be the last resort when everything else doesn’t work.”

Speaking of the possible issues regarding the law, Armonaitė raised the concern that there’s a chance that the bans could boost the black market.

“Such a law could only mask the problem in the short term, but the problem will persist, and the law would surely have an impact on the entertainment business.”

However, not everyone in the industry is against the proposed laws. Andrius Mamontovas, one of the most famous musicians in Lithuania says that we should consider sober entertainment culture.

Andrius Mamontovas

Andrius Mamontovas [Image by: Vytautas Dranginis]

“Largely it is a question of tradition and habit. Both of those can be changed. The world is constantly changing and the humanity is changing its habits as they go. I think that the culture of consuming alcohol can be changed too.”


But he also adds:

“I think that alcohol should be banned only in events that admit people who are underage.”

Speaking of the advertising ban, Mamontovas thinks that it won’t affect the culture industry that badly.

“The organizers will simply need to find a different source of sponsorship. There are a lot of other product manufacturers whose money can be used to fund events.”

The suggestion to go and find funding somewhere else is the most prominent in the camp that supports the new laws.

Živilė Diawara, one of the founders of Loftas, a regenerated industrial space that hosts large concerts and cultural events, says it’s not that simple.

Živilė Diawara. [Image by: Donatas Vataitas]

“If there were any other potential sponsors, we would’ve used their support by now… We have worked on this infrastructure for many years now and the fact is – it works. This model is not our invention – it works all around Europe. A higher price of alcohol and restrictions on strong liquor do help to encourage a more appropriate drinking culture, but the ban will just destroy everything“.

Živilė says that there’s no way Loftas could’ve invited big names to their venue if it was not for the money of alcohol industry.

“Artists like Moderat or Nicolas Jaar came here only because of our sponsors. We are not capable of paying their fees only via ticket money. If the bill passes, we will have to raise the ticket prices significantly.”

The owners of the clubs and festivals aren’t being silent on this issue. A few days ago they issued an open letter to the members of the parliament signed by many important names in the business. Then, a petition was launched by Lithuania’s Festival Association.

Sign the petition against the new restrictions:

At MXF we advise young musicians on how to improve their careers and make money from their talents. If Lithuania ignores the need for a vibrant cultural scene on the same level as the rest of Europe, the creative scene dies. It’s happened in other cities and it could happen here too. If the scene dies, where is Lithuania going to find great musicians to record and export?

In London, the Mayor started a Music Task Force to stop the music scene dying, and the Night Czar has a team which analyses the nightlife economy scientifically, and works with the police to keep the city as safe as possible.

In Lithuania, will MXF have to start advising people on how to emigrate to places where they can play their music and drink beer without being arrested?

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