C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000379
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/24/2017
TAGS: PREL SCUL LH
SUBJECT: SNIPISKES CEMETERY UPDATE: EXPERTS' GROUP MEETINGS
REF: VILNIUS 167 AND PREVIOUS
Classified By: Pol/Econ Chief Rebecca Dunham for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d
Â¶1. (C) SUMMARY. International and Lithuanian experts issued
a unanimous statement on May 17 warning that current
construction almost certainly falls within the confines of
the old Jewish cemetery in the Snipiskes neighborhood of
Vilnius. They called for more study and a halt of
construction until that study is completed. So far, however,
the government has not acted to stop the construction. End
International Experts Meet and Reach Consensus
Â¶2. (U) Ten experts (five Lithuanian and five foreign) visited
Vilnius May 16-17 at the invitation of the Prime Minister's
Working Group on the Snipiskes cemetery with the goal of
reaching a consensus on the boundaries and location of the
Jewish cemetery at Snipiskes. The group included Rabbis,
archaeologists, historians, cultural historians, and a
geotechnical engineer. An emboff attended the experts'
meetings as an observer.
Â¶3. (C) The experts managed to reach a unanimous consensus
despite the poor management of the process by Vice Minister
of Culture Gintaras Sodeika. Among other problems, Sodeika,
though the nominal host, participated only intermittently in
meetings, and never delivered on promised access to the
construction site. The experts issued a statement declaring
that the current construction "is almost certainly in part
within the boundaries of the cemetery" and calling for "a
complete freeze and cessation of all construction work,
digging, (and) removal of earth and rubble." They also
called for a thorough physical study of the site, including
the use of ground radar, to determine the locations of
graves. To reach their conclusions, the experts were forced
to meet on their own, outside the official meetings, in order
to avoid discouragement by their Ministry of Culture hosts.
Â¶4. (C) The Prime Minister's Working Group met on May 21 to
discuss the experts' conclusions. Rather than give an
endorsement of the conclusions and submit them to the
Government with a request for action, as Working Group member
and Prime Minister's Adviser Vilius Kavaliauskas suggested,
the Working Group decided to ask the Ministry of Justice if
there is any legal basis for halting the construction. The
Ministry of Justice has a maximum of two weeks to respond.
Embassy staff met with MOJ State Secretary Paulius Koverovas
on May 23 to discuss the legal options. He told us that the
Ministry of Justice had still not received the request from
the Ministry of Culture.
Â¶5. (C) The experts' conclusions are unambiguous, but the
Ministry of Culture still seems to be struggling to do the
right thing. With senior advisors to the Prime Minister and
President, and with the Ministries of Justice, Foreign
Affairs, and Culture, we continue to raise the experts'
conclusions and to urge a halt to construction until the
cemetery's true boundaries can be established.