Viewing cable 07VILNIUS167
Title: SNIPISKES CEMETERY UPDATE: NEW DIGGING CAUSES

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
07VILNIUS1672007-03-09 15:37:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
VZCZCXRO1265
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHVL #0167/01 0681537
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 091537Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1078
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VILNIUS 000167 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR EUR/NB AND EUR/OHI 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/08/2017 
TAGS: PREL SCUL LH
SUBJECT: SNIPISKES CEMETERY UPDATE: NEW DIGGING CAUSES 
UPROAR 
 
REF: 06 VILNIUS 985 AND PREVIOUS 
 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Rebecca Dunham for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d 
). 
 
¶1. (C) SUMMARY.  The sudden appearance of heavy machinery and 
a large new hole in the area of a former Jewish cemetery 
burst into the media the week of March 5. The media attention 
to a scuffle involving a local rabbi may turn out to be a 
silver lining to an otherwise terrible incident: other 
members of the diplomatic community may finally engage on the 
issue, and the GOL finally convened its cemetery working 
group.  The GOL plans to proceed with small-scale 
archeological digs on the site to ascertain cemetery 
boundaries, but regrettably is not involving international 
experts at this time.  End Summary. 
 
Background on recent digging 
---------------------------- 
 
¶2. (C) The Ambassador and emboffs explored the grounds of the 
Sporto Rumai on the site of a former Jewish cemetery in the 
Snipiskes (shnip-ISH-kis) neighborhood of Vilnius on March 6. 
 To our surprise, we found a large, new excavation adjacent 
to the Mindaugas apartment complex.  If the maps that the 
Lithuanian government has previously provided are accurate, 
then the hole (like the existing apartments) is outside of 
the boundaries of the former cemetery.  Nevertheless, Post 
was previously unaware of any plans for a second building. 
 
Local Rabbi injured by door 
--------------------------- 
 
¶3. (C) We received a call from Chaim Bershtein, the Chief 
Rabbi of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, on March 7, 
following his visit to the site.  He initially claimed that 
"the bones of (his) ancestors" were being desecrated, but 
backed away from this allegation when pol/econoff said she 
had been to the site the previous day, and had seen no 
evidence of bones.  He also alleged that he had been 
"attacked" by the site's security guard.  When asked for more 
information, he said he had been struck in the head by the 
gate of the construction site fence opened by the guard. 
 
Working Group Update 
-------------------- 
 
¶4. (U) We met with Vice-Minister of Culture and head of the 
PM's Snipiskes working group, Gintaras Sodeika, together with 
Albinas Kuncevicius and Algimantas Degutis, Director and 
Deputy Director of the MoC's Cultural Heritage department, 
respectively, on March 7.  They showed us a binder full of 
the original plans for the Mindaugas apartments, including 
architectural drawings and permits.  The new digging is a 
part of those plans; a four-story building will be erected in 
the footprint of the excavation.  All of this was approved in 
2004-2005 along with the now-finished and partially occupied 
first building. 
 
¶5. (C) Our GOL interlocutors also updated us on the work done 
to date by the Prime Minister's working group on the 
Snipiskes cemetery.  The group had not met since September, 
but most of the archival work had been done.  The Lithuanian 
History Institute had not, however, completed its examination 
of maps of the site.  The working group would hold an 
emergency session on March 8, they told us, in part because 
of the uproar that had been raised following Rabbi 
Burshtein's visit and resulting injury.  (Engineers and 
architects involved in the building project held a press 
conference on March 7 in which they asserted that the 
construction site was not on the site of the former cemetery. 
 We also understand that news of Burshtein's injury made it 
into the Israeli press.) 
 
¶6. (C) Vice Minister Sodeika repeatedly expressed the GOL's 
desire to be open in its research of the site.  He described 
some small-scale archaeological digs that were planned for 
the area.  We pressed him to include international experts in 
this.  Initially, our interlocutors replied that they felt 
they had the competence to do this alone.  We were candid 
with them about the lack of trust that exists regarding 
Snipiskes; if Lithuania does not involve international 
experts early, the working group's findings might not be 
believed. 
 
¶7. (C) The working group met on March 8.  Jolanda 
Kriskoviciene, the group's MFA representative, told us that 
the group decided to recommend that the Government request 
that the Vilnius municipal government suspend any 
construction activities at the Mindaugas Apartments site 
 
VILNIUS 00000167  002 OF 002 
 
 
until the History Institute completes its ongoing study.  It 
is unclear to us at this time whether the government can 
force the construction to stop, or merely ask. 
 
¶8. (C) Simonas Gurevicius, Executive Director of the 
Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC), also was at the meeting. 
He told us that the group decided not to include outside 
experts in their research now.  Instead, they will draw their 
conclusions, but label them as only "preliminary."  These 
will then be shared with outside experts for comment. 
Gurevicius told us later on March 9 that the LJC issued a 
statement to the press calling for a moratorium on building 
on the site and the establishment of an international 
commission to determine the cemetery's true location. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
¶9. (C) The media storm and the anger of the local Jewish 
community over the events of this week has led other members 
of the diplomatic community -- including the British and 
Israeli Ambassadors -- to indicate to us that they will 
engage on the Snipiskes issue.  We will also continue to 
press the GOL -- at both the working and political levels -- 
to include international experts in their research as a way 
to ensure buy-in later. 
CLOUD