Viewing cable 06VILNIUS909

06VILNIUS9092006-10-04 08:23:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0909/01 2770823
P 040823Z OCT 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000909 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/03/2016 
     ¶B. VILNIUS 789 
     ¶C. VILNIUS 850 
     ¶D. VILNIUS 879 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Section Chief Rebecca Dunham for reasons 1.4 (b 
) and (d) 
Summary and Background 
¶1. (C) Post continues to seek a solution to the controversy 
over possible new development of the old Jewish cemetery site 
in the Snipiskes area of Vilnius (ref A).  In recent months, 
a new governing coalition and stepped-up efforts by the 
city's mayor to develop the site have led the Embassy to 
launch a new offensive to push the parties involved to find a 
solution acceptable to all sides.  Since the Ambassador's 
arrival in August, we have used his courtesy calls on 
ministers and others and a series of high-level visitors as 
opportunities to educate the new government and to reinforce 
to old players the seriousness with which the USG views the 
situation.  We have emphasized that any development of the 
former Snipiskes Cemetery site needs the input and agreement 
of the international Jewish community; any decisions short of 
this will only lead to further outcry.  We believe that our 
efforts are beginning to find traction.  End summary and 
Ambassador's Courtesy Calls 
¶2. (C) The Ambassador took the opportunity in no fewer than 
three meetings during his first three weeks to raise 
Snipiskes with those involved in the issue, including the 
Foreign Minister and Mayor of Vilnius Arturas Zuokas (ref B). 
 He continues to raise the issue with key contacts.  On 
October 3, he discussed the matter with Culture Minister 
Jucas, whose Ministry will participate in the commission that 
will review the issue from a cultural heritage perspective. 
In each case, he told his interlocutors that the USG will not 
seek to impose any particular solution; all parties involved 
need to talk to one another and come up with a solution that 
all can live with.  He has emphasized the need for Lithuanian 
authorities to involve all segments of the Jewish community, 
including those outside of the country's borders, in the 
decision-making process. 
EUR DAS Pekala 
¶3. (C) All of DAS Pekala's interlocutors expressed the 
government's will to reach a negotiated settlement on the 
cemetery during his September 8 meetings (ref C).  All 
parties agreed that the Mayor has an important role in the 
future of the site, as the city of Vilnius still plans to 
purchase the land.  Zuokas, for his part, seemed more willing 
to compromise on the issue than in the past.  He agreed to 
host and work with international experts to conduct a 
scientific examination of the cemetery, a possibility echoed 
by presidential advisor Baliukonas the same day.  Zuokas even 
said that he was willing to consider limiting any building on 
the site to the footprint of the sports arena which stands 
there now. 
CODEL Hastert 
¶4. (SBU) Representative Eric Cantor used an opportunity 
during the September 17 - 19 visit of Speaker of the House of 
Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert, to remind Parliamentary 
Speaker Muntianas, Prime Minister Kirkilas, and Vilnius Mayor 
Zuokas (who attended the Ambassador's reception in the 
CODEL's honor) of the significant level of interest in the 
United States in finding a solution to the status of the 
Snipiskes Cemetery site (ref D).  Muntianas told him the GOL 
continues to work on property rights issues.  He added that a 
new working group is looking at the cemetery issue and hopes 
to determine the precise extent of the former cemetery, and 
then plan next steps.  Lithuanian parliamentarians know that 
it's a problem, and were trying to solve it, he said.  Zuokas 
indicated his willingness to work with Jewish groups to find 
a broadly supported way forward on Snipiskes. 
American Jewish Committee 
¶5. (SBU) American Jewish Committee (AJC) Director for 
International Jewish Affairs  Rabbi Andy Baker and the DCM 
met with Vilnius Mayor Zuokas to discuss the issue September 
¶28.  Zuokas noted that a Lithuanian bank continues to own the 
site, and argued that international Jewish groups' interests 
would be better served if the municipality obtained the site. 
 Zuokas provided more details of his vision for the cultural 
center that he would like to build on the Snipiskes site.  He 
said that it would include a modern art museum, an artist's 
workshop, audiovisual space, and a permanent exhibit on the 
city's Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) heritage, perhaps providing 
a "virtual tour" of Vilna (Jewish Vilnius).  Zuokas said that 
he remains in contact with the Guggenheim and Hermitage 
Museums about plans to develop the site, but expressed 
concern that the controversy over the old cemetery could 
inhibit those museums from working with the city. 
¶6. (SBU) Rabbi Baker encouraged Mayor Zuokas to work with 
representatives of international Jewry as the municipality 
contemplates the site's future.  Zuokas took the point, and 
said that he would reach out to a few religious and technical 
experts from the international Jewish community to work with 
the municipality and Lithuanian Government on the issue.  The 
mayor also said that, if the technical work demonstrated that 
the cemetery and the cultural center could not coexist, he 
would locate the cultural center elsewhere, using the 
Snipiskes site for a lower-impact project. 
Analysis and Comment 
¶7. (C) Many in the GOL seem to recognize the importance of 
taking the international community's feelings into account on 
this issue, and have demonstrated their seriousness by 
meeting with outside groups (such as FM Vaitiekunas's 
meetings with the AJC and B'nai Brith on the margins of UNGA, 
and the high-level meetings granted on short notice to Rabbi 
Baker on September 28-29).  However, there appears to be no 
one who wants to take the lead on this issue.  That said, we 
believe we are making headway with the most difficult player: 
the Mayor of Vilnius.  He is still intent on developing the 
site, but now talks about doing so with consideration for its 
religious and cultural history, and in cooperation with 
outside experts.  This week, he acknowledged to us for the 
first time that his dream of a gleaming new cultural center 
could be built somewhere else besides Snipiskes.  His 
newfound flexibility could go a long way toward assuaging 
those -- especially in the Orthodox community -- who oppose 
any use of the site. 
¶8. (C) The MFA's request to the PM that its Vice Minister no 
longer hold the chair of the intra-governmental working group 
on Snipiskes is, in part, a reflection of the "hot potato" 
nature of the subject.  The Prime Minister recently tasked 
the Culture and Environment Ministries, along with the 
Vilnius regional government, to compile a report of the 
working group's conclusions on how to establish the 
cemetery's true boundaries and proposals for next steps.  We 
have reason to believe that, with the Mayor's desire for 
development restrained by our latest offensive, the report 
and its proposals could head in the right direction.  Our 
next tasks will be to ensure that they do, and that the Mayor 
does not later derail them.