OPINION | HUMAN RIGHTS | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH ISSUES | CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY AT PIRAMÓNT | OPPOSITION TO ‘CONVENTION CENTER IN THE CEMETERY’ PROJECT |INTERNATIONAL PETITION
by Andrius Kulikauskas
Thank you once again to all who wrote emails to Lithuania’s Parliament (Seimas) to oppose the financing of the reconstruction of the Vilnius Concert and Sports Building Complex which the Soviets built in the heart of the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius at Piramont-Šnipiškės. As things stand, the budget for 2021 includes 515,000 euros to organize the contests to select the operator and the contractor for the complex, and further foresees 16,685,000 euros in 2022 and 10,173,000 euros in 2023 for the building works involved.
We now need to write letters to Lithuania’s Finance Ministry and even the President of Lithuania. Today, December 11, 2020, the new Government has been sworn in, including the Finance Minister. This new Government will have just a few days to revise the budget for 2021 before it returns it to Seimas on December 17 for the second review.
The Seimas Budget and Finance Committee received a record 54 letters from groups and individuals variously arguing against the project which calls for reconstruction of the Soviet “sports palace” along with an entirely new annex. On November 11, this legislative Committee acknowledged our many letters with a single line in its conclusions, deciding to pass the matter on to the executive Government for its consideration. However, as it turns out, none of our letters were forwarded but they remained with the Committee, invisible to the Finance Ministry. I learned this today in speaking with Budget and Finance Committee Bureau Chief Alina Brazdilienė. She now sees the problem and assures us that she will have our letters assembled and forwarded to the Finance Ministry. She adds that they received “many more” letters in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, we wrote a second round of letters to the leadership of the newly elected Seimas so that they would note in particular the proposal by Seimas member Kęstutis Masiulis to not fund the reconstruction on economic grounds. On November 24, the Budget and Finance Committee forwarded his proposal to the Finance Ministry. That same day Seimas returned the budget to the Government. The Finance Ministry then took all of the Committee’s decisions and forwarded proposals and distributed them to the relevant Ministries. This year’s budget process is complicated by the fact that the outgoing Government was today (11 Dec.) replaced by the incoming Government.
The reconstruction of the Vilnius Concert and Sports Building Complex as a convention center was placed on the list of National Priority Cultural Projects back in October 8, 2008, and then again on June 9, 2015, as a National Priority Project. On this basis the government purchased the site and building. In May, 2020, the project was included in economic relief plans. The Finance Ministry’s State Assets Management Department oversees the project, which is run by the state enterprise Turto Bankas, the State Property Bank.
State Assets Management Department Director Aušra Vivačkienė told me that she has not received any instructions from the outgoing Finance Ministry to consider the proposal by Seimas member Kęstutis Masiulis, nor has she received any of our letters. Was she neutral on the issue? She said she could not be neutral because legal acts had already approved the reconstruction.
On Tuesday, Ruta Bloshtein, and Arkadij Kurliandchik (both prominent members of the Vilnius Jewish Community) and I sent a letter on behalf of Respect Cemeteries (Gerbkime Kapines) to Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda, new Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, incoming Finance Minister Gintarė Skaistė and their budget team. We asked them to ensure that the Government would consider the arguments which the Committee received from so many people. In particular, we asked for a document which would show that the Government reviewed all of the arguments presented against funding, and also the arguments for funding, and explained how it arrived at its own conclusions. More than 52,500 people have signed Ruta Bloshtein’s international petition.
We now ask you to write the President, the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and their team so that they send you a document showing how the Government thought through its decision. Once again this will encourage the Government to take us seriously and to let go of its plans to open a convention center in our historic cemetery. We will learn if this new Government wishes to consider our arguments.
Below is a sample letter that you may modify as you think best. Or simply write your own.
TO: firstname.lastname@example.org, LRVkanceliarija@lrv.lt, email@example.com
CC: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
SUBJECT: Request for the Government’s analysis on whether to finance the Vilnius Congress Center
Your Excellency, President of the Republic of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, Honorable Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, Honorable Minister of Finance Gintarė Skaistė, Respected Members of the Coalition Budget Plans Review Team, Simonas Gentvilas, Marius Dubnikovas, Aušrinė Armonaitė, Kasparas Adomaitis, Mykolas Majauskas,
I respectfully oppose the funding in 2021-2023 of the Vilnius Sports and Congress Building Complex Project (“Vilniaus sporto ir kongresu rumu pastatu komplekso projektas”).
I respectfully ask the Ministry of Finance to contact the Seimas Budget and Finance Committee and receive from them all of the many letters from groups and individuals who likewise oppose this funding.
I respectfully request that the Ministry of Finance email me a document, in Lithuanian, which conscientiously details the many arguments that were received against funding, which likewise details any arguments for funding, and which shows the analysis by which the Government of Lithuania ultimately arrived at its decision whether or not to include funding for this project in 2021.
I appreciate if you would also send me a translation into English at your convenience.
I would be delighted if you would make public the broad and uncompromising opposition against this project.
I stand together with:
1) The record breaking number (54 and many more) groups and individuals who expressed their opposition in their letters to the Seimas Budget and Finance Committee.
2) The 52,571 people who signed Ruta Bloshtein’s petition “Please Move New Vilnius Convention Center Project AWAY from the Old Jewish Cemetery”. http://www.change.org/p/please-move-new-vilnius-convention-center-project-away-from-the-old-jewish-cemetery.
3) The ruling by the world’s senior authority among the rabbinate in the Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) tradition, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, and the rabbinical court in Bnei Brak.
4) DefendingHistory.com, its many prominent authors on the subject of the Old Vilnius Jewish Cemetery over the years, and its editor Dovid Katz, who was listed among the world’s dignitaries in “The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2020″, specifically for “countering Lithuanian government plans to construct a convention center on the grounds of the historic Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, where thousands of Vilna Jewish citizens still lie buried.” In addition Defending History provides a list of links to international Jewish and non-Jewish opposition to the defiling the cemetery.
I respectfully reject all past and future efforts by the Lithuanian government to negotiate a purported “compromise solution” with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.
I await responses from the Ministry of Finance and from the President of Lithuania.
[Full name, contact information, location]
1) The email firstname.lastname@example.org is the Chancellory of the President; LRVkanceliarija@lrv.lt is the Chancellory of the Government;and email@example.com is the Chancellory of the Seimas. They will make sure that your letter is officially registered and forwarded.
2) Adding this optional “blind carbon copy” (BCC) will let us organizers know that you have sent your letter and would like to stay in touch with us. The other recipients won’t see this. Ruta Bloshtein is the leader of “Respect Cemeteries” (Gerbkime kapines www.kapines.com) and the author of the petition which 52,000 have signed to move the planned convention center away from the Old Vilnius Jewish Cemetery.
3) The optional paragraph “I respectfully reject all past and future efforts…” is very important to include, unfortunately. The Lithuanian government has recruited the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe to legitimize the intended desecration. If you don‘t assert yourself, then you can expect to be dismissed as “a misinformed person who doesn‘t understand that we have taken all steps necessary to respect the cemetery”.
Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas is editor of Respect Cemeteries (Gerbkime kapines) at www.kapines.com.