An expert panel has unanimously ruled that the planned construction of a conference centre (known as the Vilnius Congress Centre) in Vilnius, Lithuania is illegal, writes Pieter Muller.
The panel consisted of some of the world’s foremost authorities in Jewish law (including Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky) and secular leaders from across the globe.
Separately, a legal expert on Human Rights, Mr. Darius Butkus, said that the plan to construct the conference centre on the cemetery is a violation of the Geneva Convention and EU Charter of Human Rights.
“The Lithuanian government would be hard pressed to go ahead with their plans,” said Butkus. If they did, there would a compelling case for the European Union to sanction Lithuania. The economic consequences would be quite profound.”
Rabbi Elchonon Baron, an activist lobbying for the termination of the planned conference centre said that Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky’s ruling is consistent with one of the world’s greatest Jewish Halachic authority on the matter, the Minchas Yitzchak of blessed memory, who ruled that the sanctity of a cemetery continues, even after remains from the deceased have been removed. Rabbi Baron said: “No one disputes or argues with the ruling. There will be no conference centre,” he said emphatically. “It’s not up for negotiation.”
President Gitanas Nauseda’s recent statement emphasizing the importance for Lithuanians to embrace greater respect, dialogue and mutual trust, augers well for the probability that a settlement can be reached in this controversy.
The Lithuanian Post’s decision to issue a special stamp to mark the 300th birth anniversary of the Vilna (Vilnius) Gaon would also appear to be in line with the government’s sentiments to preserve and respect Jewish culture. The begging question which many in the Jewish community are asking is, “Will authorities walk the talk?”
Previous commitments by the Lithuanian government and a statement by Vilnius City Mayor, Remigijus Šimašius to uphold the preservation of Jewish culture and maintain respect for the Jewish religion, is a welcome indication that there is hope that the plan for the conference center, will be scrapped.
A poll conducted by an independent news agency, indicated that most Lithuanians are opposed to the construction of the conference centre on the cemetery.
Dr. Mathew Anthony Harper, a press spokesman for Christian Networks indicated that Evangelicals would boycott Lithuanian tourism, if the plan to construct the conference centre goes ahead. Evangelicals are represented by an estimated 1 billion in number. A boycott would have a significant impact on the tourist industry in Lithuania and result in the loss of thousands of jobs for Lithuanians.
Separately, the White House slammed the Lithuanian government’s plan to construct a conference centre on a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. President Donald Trump has been a strong advocate opposing the desecration of cemeteries and recently signed an executive order on combatting anti-semitism.
Activists who are familiar with the saga, remain cautiously optimistic that desecration of the historical cemetery, in which family of the Vilna Gaon and other Giants of the Torah World are buried, can be avoided.
Pieter Muller is a freelance blogger who regularly contributes to publications sponsored by Human Rights Monitor, Amnesty International and Huffington Post.
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