Viewing cable 05VILNIUS1002

05VILNIUS10022005-09-22 08:17:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 001002 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2014 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Officer Gregory L. Bernsteen for Reasons 1.4(b) 
 and (d) 
¶1. This is a request for guidance. Please see paragraph 12. 
¶2. (C) International and American Jewish groups have 
expressed concerns regarding two construction projects on or 
near a large Jewish cemetery not far from the center of 
Vilnius.  One is a multi-use building currently under 
construction and mostly complete; the second is a long-term 
development project that remains on the drawing board.  A 
2002 agreement between the USG and the GOL could be a source 
of leverage to influence the future of these projects.  We 
seek the Department's guidance on the applicability and 
enforceability of that agreement with respect to this case. 
¶3. (SBU) The Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery, dating back to the 
16th century, sprawls across a three-hectare site along the 
Neris River, across from central Vilnius, in what is now a 
prime development area.  The cemetery has been closed for 
over 170 years.  Czarist Russia, the Nazi occupation 
government, and the Soviet government each developed portions 
of the cemetery, removed some graves and grave markers, 
and/or otherwise despoiled the burial grounds.  There are no 
longer any headstones or cemetery walls, although at least 
some sections of the cemetery contain graves or less 
organized human remains.  The exact borders are no longer 
¶4. (SBU) Interested Jewish parties in the United States argue 
that this cemetery still belongs to world Jewry.  The history 
of successive appropriations of the property and vagaries of 
post-Soviet occupation law seem to make this claim untenable, 
as the cemetery grounds were already municipal property 
hundreds of years ago.  Czarist troops built a military fort 
on the site as early as 1831, and subsequently the City of 
Vilnius built a power station (now demolished) on part of the 
site in 1901.  Lithuanian property restitution laws only 
cover property the Nazis and Soviets confiscated during their 
respective periods of occupation.  They do not cover earlier 
transgressions, however odious. 
¶5. (SBU) Individuals and at least one Jewish organization 
have requested that we act on their behalf to stop the 
project.  We have consistently recommended that these parties 
work through the Lithuanian Jewish community, or 
alternatively, retain local representation to take 
administrative or legal actions to stop construction, as 
local laws allow.  These parties have told us they will do 
neither, contending they do not trust the local community and 
that they cannot afford to hire counsel. 
Development Plans 
Commercial/Residential Complex 
¶6. (SBU) The first project under contention, the King 
Mindaugas Commercial and Apartment Center, is on the site of 
a Soviet-era water sports complex.  It is already 
substantially complete.  The City of Vilnius points to 
cartographic evidence dating back to the early 1700s that 
show this present construction lies just outside the old 
cemetery grounds.  Some parties within the U.S. Jewish 
Community variously maintain either that the site is within 
the official boundaries of the cemetery, that the boundaries 
on the City's maps are inaccurate, or that, regardless the 
official boundaries, the cemetery actually extended to the 
area of the construction site and that formal graves remain. 
¶7. (SBU) The Vilnius Municipality created a commission that 
included representatives from the Lithuanian Jewish community 
and the Prime Minister's advisor for Jewish Affairs to review 
construction plans.  The commission determined that the 
proposed building would have no impact on the cemetery, and 
the Municipality subsequently issued a construction permit. 
The Lithuanian Jewish Community accepted the commission's 
Sports Palace Project 
¶8. (U) The City has released preliminary plans for a major 
riverside development on the site of an existing Soviet-era 
sports arena indisputably built on the former cemetery 
grounds.  The project is still in the preliminary stage of 
development, but plans contemplate the possible erection of a 
monument commemorating recognition of the Snipiskes Cemetery 
and/or demarcation of a remaining portion of the cemetery as 
parkland.  The timetable for construction of the larger 
project to replace the Sports Palace is still uncertain, and 
the City has not yet found funding for the project. 
The Agreement 
¶9. (SBU) The Commission for the Preservation of America's 
Heritage Abroad (CPAHA), on behalf of the USG, signed a 
government-to-government agreement with the GOL on October 
15, 2002 entitled "On the Protection and Preservation of 
Certain Cultural Properties."  (NOTE: Text of the agreement 
is available at tml.)  Articles 
4 and 5 of the Agreement require the GOL to "take special 
steps to and preservation of cultural 
heritage" and to ensure that properties of cultural heritage 
are "protected, preserved, and marked in the manner 
stipulated by valid legal internal regulations." 
¶10. (U) Lithuanian law provides for redevelopment of a closed 
cemetery if the GOL determines it to be in the public 
interest.  (Translation of relevant portions of the text is 
in paragraph 11.)  Although no City officials have referenced 
this provision, the law might permit the development of 
Snipiskes, with the City promising to incorporate a memorial 
(a park and/or monument) that will acknowledge the area as 
the site of a historical Jewish cemetery. 
¶11. (U) Begin text of the Lithuanian law allowing relocation 
of cemeteries from Lithuanian Real Estate Cultural Heritage 
Protection statute. 
IV. Abolishment of cemeteries 
Section 23 
All closed cemeteries and burial places, including all graves 
and burial places of solders, partisans and members of 
resistance movements are cultural and historical monuments. 
In special cases of national importance, city or regional 
governments, after negotiations with the senior leadership of 
concerned religious communities, the Ministry of Education 
and Culture (now Ministry of Culture), the Ministry of 
Construction and Urban Development (now Ministry of 
Environment), the Ministry of Health, the Cultural Heritage 
Inspection Service (now Department of Cultural Heritage), and 
the State Defense department (now State Defense Ministry) may 
present to the Government of Lithuania materials regarding 
the abolishment of the cemetery and transfer of remains. 
The Government's approved decision to abolish or transfer the 
cemetery must be published in local and national press six 
months before action can be taken.  An appropriate 
announcement must also be placed at the entrance to the 
For one year after the Government's decision, relatives of 
the deceased, interested persons, and organizations can 
transfer remains and grave markers to other cemeteries 
according to articles 12 and 18 of this statute. 
End Translation. 
¶12. (C) REQUEST FOR GUIDANCE. Post requests guidance on the 
applicability and enforceability of the agreement signed 
between the USG and the GOL.  We have not inquired with the 
GOL regarding the status of the agreement or the list and 
commissions under the agreement to avoid tipping the GOL off 
before we decide on a course of action.  We are interested in 
exploring the following questions: 
-- Has the agreement entered into force? 
-- If yes, and if the GOL determines that there is an 
overwhelming public need to develop the cemetery or that 
designating an area of the Snipiskes cemetery for a memorial 
park meets the requirements to "protect, preserve, and mark," 
would the USG consider Lithuania to be in violation of the 
-- Has the USG intervened to stop construction or otherwise 
influence the use/development of cultural heritage sites by 
invoking this type of agreement in any of the other eighteen 
countries where similar agreements are in place? If so, what 
strategies did the USG apply? What was the result?