Whom Does the “Lithuanian Jewish Community” Board Really Represent?



OPINION  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE  |  GOOD WILL FOUNDATION

by Josifas Parasonis

Professor Josifas Parasonis (Vilnius Gediminas Technical University) contributed this opinion piece in Lithuanian earlier today. This translation is provided by Defending History, with Prof. Parasonis’s consent, for our readers’ information (with hyperlinks provided by DH). In the event of any query arising, the Lithuanian version alone is authoritative. Prof. Parasonis is one of the twenty-one Vilnius Jewish Community council members elected on 24 May 2017. See also the letter signed by him and nineteen others, addressed to the Good Will Foundation last July, and, in reverse chronological order, Defending History’s section on Vilnius Jewish life. DH opinion pieces represent the views of the author.

Methods of authoritarian and obtuse governance, evident for many years in the management of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC), have recently reached the public sphere. Despite the fierce resistance and brutal interference of the chairwoman of the LJC (and, until recently, of the Vilnius Jewish Community, too) Faina Kukliansky, the Vilnius Jewish Community (VJC) [on 24 May 2017] organized a general conference of Vilnius Jews according to all legal procedures — with, incidentally, record-high attendance — and elected its new council [of 21 members] democratically. But the notion that Jewish people solve their problems in a wise manner, although prevalent in society, demonstrably did not take root in this case. As a former deputy chairman of the LJC (2000–2005), I feel an obligation to share my thoughts on why this has happened. It seems to me that I have a moral right to share these thoughts.

This conflict has been brewing for a long time.

It reached its boiling point when the chairwoman of the LJC, acting after the end of her current term [in April 2017], and, with the knowledge that she had lost the confidence of most members of the VJC board, illegally changed the procedures for elections by members of the Community at the LJC general conference (which used to go by the rule of one representative for every one hundred members) to a system of one  representative for each city covered  plus for each and every of the  organizations that are part of the official “LJC Association.”

There are around 3,000 Jews in Vilnius, but only 2,200 of them are formal members of the Community. This means that instead of at least 22 representatives [from Vilnius], only one remained. Then, if we look into the number of official Jewish organizations in the “LJC association” (some of which in point of fact exist on paper only) that have one vote each, too, but are financially dependent on the LJC, we see that this was the pathway for the chairwoman to make sure that she will be “democratically” re-elected for another term. The chairwoman herself had three votes (those of the LJC and the VJC — the newly elected chairman of which was not allowed into the building — and of the cynically named Good Will Foundation). Kaunas’s representative Gercas Žakas also had three votes, and several other people had two votes each. Thus, the attendance of around 20 participants was “sufficient” for the LJC “general conference” to take place. During the [28 May] LJC conference, the office of the Community was blocked by a hired security service that did not allow “outsiders” (Vilnius Jews, including delegates elected by the [24 May] VJC conference) into the building!

This kind of method of arrogant and selfish management was one of the reasons why, twelve years ago, I left the board of the LJC. But that was not all. I had worked for the Community on a voluntary basis; I was heading a department at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) and another NGO at the same time. Between 2003 and 2005, among other issues, I would take care of the process for achieving restitution of community assets. I would often get criticized by colleagues in the Community on how “detailed” my approach to this issue had been. “There are not too many of us left,” I was told, “Do we really need all of this?” My explanations as to why it’s an important issue for us, and that it’s an important issue for our ancestors who had resided in Lithuania for centuries, were not understood. I started thinking that this issue may best be left alone, as its successful “solution” could have unintended consequences for the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the good citizens of Lithuania in general. After leaving the board of the LJC, I tried my best to intervene on behalf of the  Community’s aims of achieving financial compensation instead of obtaining restitution of actual property. I made proposals to various government institutions suggesting they could prepare a state-approved program to fund particular projects.

However, when I left the board of the LJC, and Faina Kukliansky became the Deputy Chairwoman of the LJC, she managed, with the aid of state institutions, to solve this issue in a rather different way. Later on, she became the chairwoman of the LJC, and has been wasting the funds (for example by hiring security services and for paying the legal expenses of her court cases against the VJC, and so on), all this from funds granted to the Community by the Lithuanian government for several years now. The main criterion by now for achieving any support [for a project] is demonstration of personal loyalty to Faina Kukliansky.

There are almost no ethnic Jews left in the LJC administration.

Those who had given their very best for many years were driven out. The board of the LJC has become a subservient body funded by state authorities. The Piramónt Jewish Cemetery [in the Šnipiškės district of Vilnius] is open to all sorts of projects coordinated with the chairwoman of the LJC. The Great Synagogue of Vilna site seems in no need of preservation as heritage. Nor is the memory of the erstwhile Jerusalem of Lithuania of much use either.

The last straw that compelled me to leave the board of the LJC was the brute force, including use of “the boys” to apply physical harassment, to maintain absolute power at the VJC conference of early 2006 by the then chairman and deputy chairwoman of the LJC. That deputy chairwoman is nowadays still the deputy chairwoman under the new LJC chairwoman, when VJC chairman Prof. Adolfas Bolotinas was removed and Simonas Alperavičius was “democratically” elected as the new chairman of the VJC. By the way, Alperavičius back then was already chairing the LJC, the religious Jewish communities of Lithuania and Vilnius, as well as the charitable foundation.

So, the consistent “democratic” government of the Lithuanian Jewish Community by leaders of Soviet-grade power structures has, finally, become intolerable to Lithuanian Jews.

I believe that we can now finally be freed from this style of governance.

I would only note in conclusion, that due to my venerable age, I have no ambition to return to the board of the LJC.

 

  • Prof. Habil. Dr. Josifas Parasonis
  • Vilnius, 20 September, 2017

 

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