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What the court decision really means

VILNIUS - On May 10, 2021, the Vilnius District Court in Lithuania rejected a claim by over 160 plaintiffs to prevent the development of an international conference center, on the old Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt, in the Shnípeshok district of Vilnius (Šnipiškės), by state-owned bank Turto Bankas.

International human rights organizations and Jewish groups expressed dismay that the court had failed to protect the cemetery and give due consideration to cultural considerations and Jewish law. A spokesman for the plaintiffs indicated that the court decision would be appealed.

The judgement relates specifically to the claim by the 160 plus plaintiffs, descendants of Lithuanians, who are buried in the Jewish cemetery. The court did not deal with the legality of the project and whether project developers Turto Bankas, has a right to develop an international conference center on the legally protected property.

Law experts have acknowledged that the Turto Bankas initiative violates the Geneva convention, the EU charter of fundamental rights and is contrary to Jewish law.

Most of the more than 50,000 tombstones were desecrated by the Soviet regime, after the war. There are contemporary moves to restore the cemetery and give the area a facelift, outside the framework of the Turto Bankas initiative.

A local Vilnius resident said, "Everyone agrees that the Russian built Sports Center is an eyesore." In that respect Jewish groups are very much in favor of a proposal which will aesthetically improve the area. However, they oppose a project like the international conference development that violates Jewish law.

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