A hearing which was scheduled for 21 January 2021 has been remanded indefinitely, until the COVID-19 lockdown ends. Given the spike in the pandemic, authorities have indicated that the lockdown could be extended until beyond March 2021.
The court proceeding to stop the development of a conference center on the Shnipishok Jewish cemetery is set to take center stage. The legal action initiated by descendants of the over 50,000 Jewish souls buried in the cemetery, has the support of the international Jewish community and several human rights groups.
The legal proceeding has drawn international attention, because if the Lithuanian courts green light the project, it will set a precedent to permit governments to officially desecrate cemeteries across Europe.
A radar scan of the area where the conference center development is earmarked to take place, shows thousands of skeletal remains. Expert witnesses and historical maps bear testimony that the Sports Palace is located in the center of the Shnipishok cemetery.
In 2005 the Lithuanian Government was rebuked by U.S. Congress and other Human Rights Groups, for the construction of apartment buildings on the cemetery. The Government in turn vowed not to pursue and development on the cemetery.
Jewish interest groups are keen to aesthetically upgrade the site and restore the cemetery as an international hub for Jewish tourism.
The Sports Palace is a legally protected site and according to Lithuanian law no development may take place which is a violation of culture of religion. An Israeli court together with leading authorities in Jewish law, have issued an injunction on any development of the conference center, stating that the project violates Jewish law.
The Lithuanian government recently won international praise when it nixed a 2021 budget allocation for the conference center development. This was in line with popular consensus. However, Government has yet to officially cancel the project.
An independent poll and a social media poll scored high percentages in favor of opposing the development of the conference center. Several Seimas members are against developing the project on the Shnipishok cemetery on account that the area does not provide for sufficiently large seating capacity. Studies have indicated that a second center will need to be built within a very short period of time, at another location. A Lithuanian economist said, “From a cost-benefit analysis perspective, a conference center on Shnipishok makes no sense. The negatives simply out way the positives. Developers are not going to get an economies of scale effect. Unless someone is taking money under the table, the project is a non-starter.”
One Seimas member stated: "The hefty sum from the state budget should be allocated to a serious public project, rather than a facility that sows division among religious communities."