Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is pushing for people to rediscover a sense of connection, thanks to a high tech installation, the “Portal”. The experience is unique in Europe, as it connects inhabitants of Vilnius and Lublin in Poland. More cities are due to follow shortly to again give people the idea that they belong to the same mankind.

Through the initiative, Vilnius is looking at reconnecting with the rest of Europe. 2020 was devastating for tourism activities as total foreign arrivals dropped by 78% to just 232,000 travellers. Belarus and Poland, which are Vilnius’s largest source markets, registered declines of respectively 78.9% and 76.9% compared to 2019. While Belarusian tourists might face difficulties due to worsening relations with the European Union, Polish visitors should be back.

And they no doubt will enjoy this initiative launched by the Benediktas Gylys Foundation. The foundation was created in 2013 by a Lithuanian photographer. Its aim is to promote creativity, sciences, entrepreneurship and tolerance. Its latest project is called the Portal.

Installed on 26 May at Vilnius Train Station Square, the project has been five years in the making. According to its organisers, the Portal aims to serve as a visual bridge and a global community accelerator that brings people of different cultures together and encourages them to rethink the meaning of unity.

“Humanity is facing many potentially deadly challenges; be they social polarisation, climate change or economic issues. However, if we look closely, it’s not a lack of brilliant scientists, activists, leaders, knowledge or technology causing these challenges. It’s tribalism, a lack of empathy and a narrow perception of the world, which is often limited to our national borders,” said Benediktas Gylys. “That’s why we decided to bring the Portal idea to life as a bridge that unifies and is an invitation to rise above prejudices and disagreements that belong to the past.”

Engineers from the Vilnius Tech creativity and innovation centre LinkMenų Fabrikas built the Portal. They chose a circle, a well-known and recognised sci-fi symbol, for the visual “bridge”. 

Looking at Vilnius people from Lublin, Poland (Photo: PORTALAS)

A science fiction idea becomes reality

Resembling the wheel of time, the Portal is a large circle which is connected to another Portal somewhere else in Europe. The first city to be connected to Vilnius is Lublin in Poland. Both cities share a common history. It allows a person to travel and experience reality on the other side of the huge circle by getting in touch with another individual. The high tech sculpture connects people in real-time. Passers-by wave at each other, sing or even dance together through the screen. It looks as if a science-fi comic has suddenly come to life.

The initiative reminds visitors that people must not allow the pandemic to suspend contacts between neighbours, undermine solidarity and international cooperation. “We want to return to direct cooperation between schools, cultural institutions, local authorities from Vilnius and other European partner cities as soon as possible. By participating in the project, we want to recall and emphasise the historical role of cities in building a space of freedom and tolerance”, explains Krzysztof Stanowski, Director of the International Cooperation Centre and a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

According to the foundation, next cities on the list to be connected to Vilnius are Reykjavik in Iceland and London, UK.

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