OPINION | VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE | LITVAK AFFAIRS | GOOD WILL FOUNDATION | DEMOCRACY | HUMAN RIGHTS
VILNIUS—The official trilingual (English-Lithuanian-Russian) website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, generously financed from the restitution funds (deriving from prewar Jewish religious communal properties) allocated by the state-sponsored Good Will Foundation, is in the nature of things meant to represent that community. Once a community chairperson’s tenure was expired and a democratic election campaign was underway, it was widely expected that the website and its editor, Lithuanian journalist Ilona Rūkienė, would take every care to ensure evenhandedness, giving the various candidates equal space and each campaign the same respect, coverage, and democratic tools for reaching the electorate, thereby enabling voters to make an informed decision.
To the dismay of both the rank and file members of the Lithuanian Jewish community and of some (especially the foreign) members of the board of the Good Will Foundation (GWF), the website has served the interests of the past — and de facto incumbent — chairperson, the eminent attorney Faina Kukliansky, whose term in office expired last month, without even mentioning the candidacy of her opponent, former longtime community executive director Simon Gurevich (Simonas Gurevičius). But the Board has not lifted a finger to call for ethical use of its allocated funds and continues each day by its silence, in many views here, to underwrite the destruction of community democracy, accountability and good practice.
But in addition to serving as the voice for only one side, that of the incumbent whose democratic term has expired, the website has failed to provide the most elementary news about events in the campaign. These have included a midcourse change to the rules that effectively disenfranchises over 2,000 Vilnius Jewish people by “recounting” all their votes as one vote (instead of around 20 as per the longstanding formula of one vote per 100 members), while adding vote-empowered “organizations” (like the new Lost Shtetl Museum in Sheduva, whose director himself now holds two votes, one for that institution and another for his “Maceva” NGO). Indeed, many community members learned of the saga from mainstream Lithuanian media, including 15min.lt and Bernardinai.lt. Meantime, the head of the Lost Shtetl Museum, himself a longtime resident of Brussels with close ties to the Landsbergis group in Lithuanian politics, instead of behaving like a museum director who wishes all the various segments of the community well, has taken to Facebook to trash next week’s democratic conference of the Vilnius Jewish Community decided upon by a majority of its board members. In the view of some here, he may be damaging the moral fabric of the Lost Shtetl Museum beyond repair — before it is even built.
Most recently, the Lithuanian Jewish Community official website has again announced, in a statement complete with red-letter highlights (we might have missed the point without the red), cancellation of the 24 May 2017 conference to be held next Thursday evening at 6 PM at the Karolina Hotel in Vilnius. Nevertheless, the majority of Vilnius Jewish Community board members who voted for the meeting, have made clear, as has Mr. Gurevičius on his Facebook page, that the meeting will indeed go ahead. Defending History has learned that some community members are even flying in from abroad for the conference, which is open to all and which promises to be perhaps the first instance of community democracy enjoyed by Lithuanian Jewry in a rather long time.
But instead of encouraging community participation in the Vilnius Jewish Community conference, the Good Will Foundation allocated resources of the website, its editors, and PR maestros have placed slick “moving headlines” within the very banner box at the top of all of the Jewish Community’s home pages — in English, Lithuanian, and Russian. Is this fitting for the top banner of a website that is supposed to represent all of a small and fragile post-Holocaust community centered in the erstwhile Jerusalem of Lithuania?
The following are paste-ins of the three banners to help readers assess their appropriateness, integrity, and indeed, communal maturity.