Rabbi Baron, a leading activist in efforts to stop the development of the conference center on the Shnipishok Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania, made an open statement to Senator James Risch, confirming that the Vilnius Jewish community opposed the conference center development targeted for the Sports Palace.
Senator Risch has led efforts to stop the development of the conference center and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery.
The Sports Palace according to an agreement which was inked by Turto Bankas, the Vilnius City Council and the Lithuanian government, is located in the center of the cemetery. The agreement provides for the development of the conference center. Both the cemetery and the Sports Palace are protected sites according to the Lithuanian land registrar. Pursuant to Lithuanian law, a protected site is subject to cultural and heritage protection conditions. Over thirty Jewish organizations, including the Chief Rabbi of Israel, an Israeli rabbinical court and several leading authorities in Jewish law, have condemned the conference center development and certified that the proposed construction of a conference center on the Sports Palace is a violation of Jewish law.
Separately, the land bank, Turto Bankas, the lead developer in the conference center project has argued that the Sports Palace is not located in the Jewish cemetery. The case is being litigated in the Vilnius District Court, where descendants of the deceased who are interred in the cemetery are bringing a class action suit against the developers to prevent the development.
Turto bankas contention that the proposed location of the conference center on the Sports Palace is not on the cemetery, contradicts their agreement with the Vilnius City Council and the Lithuanian government which specifies that it is. Additionally, expert witnesses have testified that the Sports Palace is located on the cemetery.
A court hearing is scheduled for November 24, 2020. Human rights activists are concerned that Turto bankas attempt to rezone the cemetery will set a precedent for governments, permitting them to desecrate cemeteries throughout Europe. Interest groups contend that the Lithuanian court system is rigged and that it is unlikely that a just resolution can be achieved through due legal process.
The recent election of a new government however offers some degree of hope, as the ruling coalition is perceived as being receptive to the protection of human rights.
Seimas Member Kęstutis Masiulis has lobbied to scuttle the conference center development for economic considerations. His actions have been praised by economists and human rights groups.
Additionally, results of a poll on Twitter show overwhelming support, not to go ahead with the development on the Jewish cemetery. See poll results.
More information about the saga can be reviewed here.