Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė has clarified that a previous announcement by the Chancellor of the Government, Giedrė Balčytytė stating that the government's decision to suspend it's plan to build a conference center on the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery, is unofficial.
"There is no formal decision, as the government has not closed any options, but it is clear that circumstances have changed dramatically since the project was initiated," said Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė as reported by the LRT. This means that until the resolution authorizing the conference development is repealed, the government can still officially go ahead with the desecration.
"However, changing market conditions in light of the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the economic feasibility of the project," she said. There is a serious probability that the development could become a black hole, sucking in millions of dollars of taxpayers funds for a project that is essentially a white elephant.
According to the Prime Minister, the nominated project executor Turto Bankas is well aware of this, as it was commissioned to assess the changed market conditions and present its conclusions.
Separately, the Save Vilna Coalition recently submitted a notice to Turto Bankas, pursuant to Rule 162 of the Rules of Procedure of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, obligating Turto bankas to propose to the 1) Prime Minister and to 2) the Minster of Justice that that 2015 Seimas resolution is a violation of the 2009 Agreement, and accordingly the Seimas resolution should be repealed.
Rule 162 states:
"The Government shall have the right to repeal legal acts of ministers, heads of Government agencies and heads of agencies under Government agencies, if these acts are found to be incompliant with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, laws, international agreements of the Republic of Lithuania, other legal acts passed by the Seimas, decrees of the President of the Republic, resolutions of the Government or ordinances of the Prime Minister. Proposals on these issues shall be made to the Prime Minister by the Ministry of Justice, advisers to the Prime Minister and the Office of the Government."
Additionally, although Ms. Faina Kukliansky Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), at inception did support the vision of the Government, they both reversed their position and no longer support the Vilnius Conference Center (VCC) project. The initiative has generated world wide opposition from Jewish and Human Rights organizations.
According to a 2009 Agreement between the Lithuanian government and the Jewish community any work on the Sports Palace edifice, located on the cemetery, requires the express approval of the Jewish community, which is clearly absent. See full details under "Lithuanian Jewish Community Cuts ties to Controversial Cemetery Project."
The 2009 agreement makes the project or any work on the Sports Palace illegal.
Legal experts contend that a 2015 Seimas resolution 597 which authorizes the international conference center on the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery, is unconstitutional.
International lawyer Alan Dershowitz, an emeritus Harvard Law School professor known for his work in constitutional law has stated:
“The 2015 Seimas resolution green-lighting the conference center on the Shnipishok cemetery in Vilna, Lithuania, undermines the provisions of the Lithuanian Constitution, Articles 22 and 26. These respective provisions in the Constitution protect religious freedom and religious institutions. Beyond raising a compelling constitutional issue, this resolution is wrong as a matter of justice, historical preservation, basic decency and the dignity of the dead.“
Adding to the growing tide of opposition, world renowned Human Rights lawyer, Professor Irwin Cotler also voiced his opposition to the development on the conference center. Professor Cotler is the Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism and a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
The former Minster of Justice and Attorney General of Canada stated:
"The 2015 Lithuanian Parliamentary resolution authorizing the building of a conference center on a 500 year old Jewish cemetery-where over 50,000 graves exist, including the remains of renowned Jewish scholars-constitutes a violation of the European Rights Convention (articles 8 & 9) and the UN convention on Civil and Political Rights (article 18); breaches the provisions of the Lithuanian Constitution itself (articles 22 & 26) respecting the protection of religious freedom; violates a 2002 agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties, which includes cemeteries; while constituting also a violation of Jewish Law as leading Jewish authorities, including the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), have ruled."
A return of the cemetery to its former glory, remains the focus of the international Jewish community. Chairman of the Save Vilna Coalition, Mr. Dov Fried said that the possibility of a museum on the cemetery is not a consideration as it would violate Jewish law. According to Jewish authorities a Jewish cemetery cannot be used for any other purpose, other than as a resting place for the deceased. A duel-purpose scenario has therefore been ruled out.