In Lithuania, after a strict and early lockdown which succeeded in controlling the spread of COVID19, summer arrived and nightlife businesses were again allowed to operate all night. Outdoor events for hundreds of people were organised in cities and forests. Pavement cafes filled the streets. All of this was legal.

As Autumn approached and the infection rate started to rise, the Health Ministry announced plans to introduce a midnight curfew, seeking to close nightclubs and reduce the turnover of many bars and music venues to unsustainable levels.

Vilnius Night Alliance worked hard and won the battle against this policy. The government rejected the Health Minister’s proposals. Nightlife was allowed to stay open all night.

With other cities still locked down at night or introducing arbirtary time restrictions, we decided to share our experience advovating for nightlife in Vilnius.

How did Vilnius Night Alliance win the fight to keep nightlife open?

Public support

Politicians don’t do anything without public support.

However bad things look in your city, you should never underestimate the power of public support to change the minds of politicians you think are totally against you. In Vilnius we planned a midnight protest for the first night of the restrictions, but that was only Plan B in case we failed to stop the government shutting us down. Plan A was a safety rules campaign “We Can Dance Safely” which explained to clubbers and the general public that it is possible to create and enforce safety rules for nightclubs. We repeated the message that safe clubbing is better than no clubbing at all.

We increased clubbers’ sense of social responsibility and explained to them that the Health Ministry will shut everything down if clubbers ignore the rules. We appealed to the loyal clubbers to save their favourite places from closure.

Our message to clubbers was: Don’t be the person that gets your club shut down. Let’s show the government we are responsible people. We can do it together.

Our message to the wider public was: It is possible to make clubs safe, so we deserve a chance to prove this to you. It’s unfair to shut down all the clubs just because of some clubs breaking the rules. Shut down the bad businesses, not all of us. Anyway, if all the clubs are shut down – your taxes will have to pay for that. Do you really want to pay for closing down clubs that aren’t even breaking the rules?

Legal arguments

We argued that shutting down all clubs at midnight is against the constitution.

We hired a lawyer to write this argument in a letter to the Prime Minister. It’s a simple argument. You can’t punish people who have done nothing wrong. The midnight rule would cause huge economic damage to private businesses without any offences being recorded.

We also argued that the decision was made without consulting us. We were not invited to any meetings to discuss safety rules or possible alternatives to the midnight rule. We just turned on our televisions one day and saw the Health Minister wanted to shut us down because he “can’t imagine a way to control drunk people”.

Why didn’t he ask us? We do that all the time, it’s our job. If we don’t do that – we can lose our alcohol licenses. So we do that.

The Health Minister was ignoring democratic processes. He was talking about us, without us. Fortunately for us, a strong pro-democracy argument has been embedded in central European politics since the sixteenth century. It’s so old it is written in Latin: Nihil de nobis, sine nobis (Nothing about us, without us). It’s the Polish Magna Carta, the principle by which power was transferred from monarch to parliament. We reminded the Lithuanian Health Minister about the Polish Magna Carta. It’s just sad that we couldn’t see his face when he read the letter.

Laws cannot be made based on the Health Minister’s imagination of offences that haven’t been committed. The Health Minister showed no evidence to back up his idea, he didn’t have any studies to show it’s impossible to control drunk people, he didn’t measure the number of uncontrollable drunk people in clubs, he didn’t have any statistics showing that the virus is more dangerous after midnight. He just made a presumption.

Laws can’t be based on presumptions like that, especially when they cause private businesses economic damage without compensation. A group of people can’t be singled out and punished like that, not in Lithuania or any other country with a decent constitution. All we heard about was the attempt to shut us down, we heard nothing about the compensation we would get for that. The pandemic is not our fault, so the midnight rule is unconstitutional. As one Lithuanian MEP said: “Even Hitler compensated Lithuanians when he took their horses for the Wehrmacht”. We reminded the Health Minister that he was being less fair than Hitler.

Another important point is that the damage would be done not only to us, but also to everyone else, because people would lose jobs. You can’t just make a rule that damages society without having a very good reason. We didn’t hear a very good reason, we just heard a presumption that 100% of nightclubs have irresponsible managers and stupid drunk guests.

Another freedom under the Lithuanian Constitution is the freedom to choose whatever business or job you want to do. Closing down a sector for no good reason definitely restricts that freedom. Again, the Minister needed a good reason, but we heard none.

And the final legal argument is that the midnight rule itself would cause harm. Laws that cause harm need very strong reasons.

Harm reduction

Our main and most successful argument was this: Nightclubs are the safest place to party. Whatever you say about “uncontrollable drunk people”, it’s safer to have them in a nightclub with safety rules and security staff instead of closing the clubs and forcing everybody to party in private residences and illegal raves. We know people are definitely going to party anyway, whatever you the law says, so the safest plan is to allow nightclubs to stay open all night and take care of at least some of the party people in a controllable environment.

The Health Minister himself said it is impossible to control people in private parties. They have no masks, no disinfectant, no distancing, no capacity restrictions, no security staff, no first-aid training and no way of being caught and fined. So how can it be safe to close nightclubs and increase the number of people in such parties? One person in a house party can easily infect all the guests. That same person in a nightclub with strict safety rules might infect nobody. We have been open all night all summer and there have been no outbreaks in our clubs. There have been outbreaks in private parties. We are not saying nightclubs are 100% safe, we are saying they can definitely be safer than uncontrolled environments.

What rules does Vilnius Night Alliance recommend?

If the situation in your country is safe enough and there is no general lockdown, Vilnius Night Alliance recommends keeping nightlife open with strict, sensible and well communicated safety rules, along with strict enforcement by the authorities to crack down on bars and clubs that ignore the rules and put their clients and workers at risk.

Here is the list of rules we offered the Health Minister. An important factor is that Vilnius Night Alliance members began implementing these rules even when it wasn’t compulsory. For example, we created the InBar SMS visitor registration system even though it’s not required. We recommend voluntarily implementing safety rules as you argue for longer opening hours. Showing that you are responsible and pro-active is a very powerful negotiation tactic.

  • 1m distancing in the queue and by the bar, except for people who live together.
  • Masks at all times except while drinking.
  • Drinking only by the bar or at tables. No drinks on the dancefloor.
  • Compulsory hand disinfection at the door, at the bar and in the toilets.
  • Limited capacity to 50%.
  • One-in-one-out system when the capacity limit is reached.
  • Temperature measurement at the door.
  • Registration of all customers’ phone numbers. Data held for 21 days. Data given to the state in the event of an infected person reporting a visit to the venue while infected.
  • One warning for customers who ignore the rules, then ejection from the premises.
  • Staff health journal signed every shift.
  • Rules clearly visible by the door, bar and in toilets.
  • Additional training for staff and security.
  • Rules can only be changed with two weeks notice from the government.
  • Venues fined only for serious offences, shutdowns only for repeat offenders.

At the time of writing, the Health Ministry is monitoring the situation and will decide about these rules in two weeks if the national infection rate gets worse. They may also try again to introduce the illogical and unsafe midnight rule, but we will be ready with our counterarguments.

Compensation mechanisms

As we have already mentioned above, it’s unconstitutional to shut down a sector without compensation.

We additionally wrote to the Economics and Innovation Ministry to suggest compensation mechanisms that could be used if a time limit or a total shutdown is imposed. This is of course intended to help the Economics Minister argue against the Health Minister, because the cost of the illogical midnight rule must be considered in cabinet meetings.

Limited capacity/hours

We suggest a ticket top-up mechanism to compensate clubs for the reduction in capacity and/or working hours. Bars could also use this system if they switched to a paid-entrance model (this model also works better for visitor registration).

The system would work like this: When a visitor buys an entry ticket to the venue, the government also “buys” a ticket. In other words, the door money would be doubled by the government. Every month the venue can show their ticket sales (we suggest cards only, no cash allowed, for obvious reasons) and be compensated accordingly.

This mechanism means that compensation is paid out only to venues that organise real events, and is paid in proportion to the number of people attracted to the event. This avoids the problem of subsidising venues nobody wants to go to. The government can avoid paying places that don’t make any effort to attract and entertain customers.

We also, obviously, suggest reducing VAT for the hospitality sector and event tickets.


The most successful scheme in Lithuania during the shutdown was giving back half the previous year’s employers’ income tax contributions. This scheme worked well because it was simple, fast, and proportionally rewarded the companies who had been employing people. It was also a way of rewarding those who employ staff legally and pay tax honestly. This encouraged faith in government and the tax system.

The Economics Ministry has hinted that they would repeat this scheme in the event of a second lockdown. We could also suggest retrospectively reducing the VAT rate by giving back part of a company’s 2019 VAT payments. For example, we were asking for an emergency grant of 10,000EUR for each music venue, and one of the owners told us “that’s only 10% of the VAT I paid last year, why can’t they just give it back and save my staff and save my company from bankruptcy? Why are they requiring me to spend my time submitting proposals to all these cultural funding programs where I might not even win?”

All the funding programs for cultural innovations were considered ineffective in our sector, because the money went to those who are best at applying for and winning funding, i.e. state companies and nonprofits. The limited liability private companies in our sector lost out and were considered “not culture” but “business”.

In the event of another shutdown we will be strongly arguing the constitutional point that a shutdown requires adequate compensation.

What can you do to save nightlife in your city?

It seems like everywhere in the world there are politicians who assume it’s logical to shut down nightlife and leave daylife running. Lithuanian politicians said the same, but we managed to change their mind. At least for now.

Here’s our main tips for winning the argument in your city:

  1. Nightclubs are safer than private parties and illegal raves. Therefore nightclubs should be open, so at least some people party in controllable environments.
  2. Shutting the whole sector unfairly punishes businesses and people who have committed no offences. Therefore nightclubs who follow safety rules should be allowed to stay open.
  3. The virus doesn’t care if it’s night or day. Therefore if daylife is open, nightlife should also be open.
  4. Responsible business owners implement safety rules even when it’s not compulsory. Governments can’t demonise you if you are angels. Make your venues as safe as possible, wear masks, measure temperatures and register all customers, even if you don’t have to.
  5. Demand compensation mechanisms for your losses and explain that you need less compensation if you are allowed to work all night.
  6. Run advertising campaigns to educate your customers, increase loyalty and inspire them to behave responsibly. Make them aware that their behaviour could lead to the closure of their favourite hangouts and venues.
  7. Get together in an alliance of responsible business owners to show the government who they can work with, and separate yourselves from the irresponsible business owners who the government should be chasing.

And the golden rule:

Be useful to the government and the police, even if they don’t ask for assistance or dialogue, just go ahead and be proactive. We call this tactic “aggressive help”. Just keep helping them until they accept you and invite you to talk about working together.

Good luck in your city. Love from Vilnius, Lithuania.