OPINION | VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE | CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS | HUMAN RIGHTS | CEMETERIES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | PETITION
by Julius Norwilla
As “the day of the bulldozers” nears, Lithuania’s state “Property Bank” (Turto Bankas, often translated “Asset Bank”) is coming close to announcing the final contracts for the planned Convention Center in the heart of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės district of modern Vilnius. The derelict Soviet building slated for conversion (alongside construction of a large annex) is surrounded on all four sides by many thousands of Jewish graves left untouched by the Soviet authorities who pilfered all the stones for building works and ballast. There has been massive international opposition, including Lithuanian-origin rabbinical authorities worldwide, in addition to a petition started by Vilnius resident Ruta Bloshtein that is close to 46,000 signatures at the time of writing.
Julius Norwilla’s impressions after a meeting with the leaders of Lithuania’s state Property Bank now managing the convention center project in the heart of Piramónt cemetery? They are willing to talk, but they are not convinced that “the Jews themselves” really care so much. In fact, a future “talking point” for a permanently controversial and damaging “convention center” will be that “Well, they found enough Jews they could manipulate to go along with it so what do you want from us?”
The takeaway? The time for major international pressure is now. The petition has attracted more than 45,000 signatures.