Viewing cable 08VILNIUS479

08VILNIUS4792008-06-18 14:26:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0479/01 1701426
R 181426Z JUN 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000479 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/17/2018 
Classified By: Ambassador John A. Cloud for reasons 1.4 (b) 
and (d) 
¶1.  (C) Summary.  Lithuania continues to struggle with the 
legacy of the Holocaust and how to honor its once vibrant 
Jewish heritage.  More than four years after joining NATO, 
Lithuania has yet to restitute Jewish communal property in 
any meaningful way and there are no signs of moving forward. 
After two years of delays, there are signs of slow progress 
regarding the protection of an historic Jewish cemetery that 
has been threatened by development, though the issue is far 
from resolved and delays continue.  The Prosecutor's office 
continues to move forward with investigations of anti-Nazi 
partisans based on minimal evidence.  Since January 2007, 
there has been a sharp increase in anti-Semitic and other 
racist incidents with only lukewarm efforts by GOL officials 
to condemn such acts.  End summary. 
Restitution:  Promises, Promises 
¶2.  (C) The GOL has told Post and Jewish groups prior to each 
of the last four legislative sessions (dating to October 
2006) that it would introduce legislation on Jewish communal 
property restitution in the upcoming session.  The 
legislation has never been introduced.  Local and 
international Jewish partners, including the Lithuanian 
Jewish Community, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, 
the American Joint Distribution Committee, and the American 
Jewish Committee (AJC), have worked on this issue with the 
GOL for years in good faith.  However, their patience has 
worn thin.  An AJC official has told us that, unless there is 
real progress soon, a wide range of Jewish organizations will 
take the issue public.  This will involve media attention and 
a call for a boycott of the "Vilnius:  Cultural Capital of 
Europe 2009" events.  Currently, Jewish groups are trying to 
convince the President's office to introduce legislation 
because they have given up on the Government doing so. 
Cemetery:  Slow Progress after Three Years of Blunders 
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¶3.  (U) Since 2006, American and international Jewish groups 
have been outraged at the GOL's handling of development at or 
near an old and venerated Jewish cemetery in the Snipiskes 
neighborhood of Vilnius. 
¶4.  (C) After two years of delays, the GOL took its first 
concrete step to protect the cemetery on April 8 (reftel). 
The Council on Immovable Properties declared the cemetery a 
cultural heritage site, which gives it some legal 
protections.  These protections, however, are not 
comprehensive and can be turned back if the Ministry of 
Culture's Cultural Heritage Department grants permission to 
build on the site.  This loophole is significant in light of 
the fact that it was the Cultural Heritage Department that 
gave approval for the construction of the second building in 
the office complex in February 2007.  Moreover, the land 
under the current development and under the existing Sports 
Palace arena is not included in the designation because, the 
Council reasoned, the extensive excavations for these 
buildings already removed any remains of the cemetery.  The 
GOL will begin a geophysical and archeological study on June 
25 in cooperation with an Israeli geotechnical consultant, 
Arieh Klein, and the London-based Committee for the 
Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.  After squabbles 
over language that gave the GOL absolute authority to halt 
the study at anytime, the GOL and Klein signed the contracts 
for the study on June 12, minus the "veto" language.  Results 
of the study should be ready by mid-August. 
¶5.  (U) A different private developer, Ukio Bank Investment 
Group (UBIG), part of Vladimir Romanov's business empire, 
presented its plan to develop a 13-hectare site that includes 
the entire cemetery area, except the area of the current 
construction of the King Mindaugas Apartments (reftel).  The 
developers told us on June 5 that they are waiting for the 
results of the upcoming geophysical study and will agree to 
protect whatever boundaries are accepted by that study. 
War Criminals and Double Standards 
¶6.  (C) Many Jewish groups believe the GOL has a double 
standard for prosecution of war criminals.  These groups 
believe that anti-Nazi, Jewish-Lithuanian partisans are 
investigated based on the flimsiest evidence, but the 
Prosecutor's office pays only cursory attention to mountains 
of evidence that could lead to conviction of many ethnic 
Lithuanian Nazi collaborators.  Efraim Zuroff, director of 
Israel's Simon Wiesenthal Center, is the most vocal critic, 
but representatives of Jewish groups such as the American 
Joint Distribution Committee maintain this as well in private 
conversations with us.  The American Jewish Committee and 
B'nai B'rith have expressed their concern about the case of 
Yitzhak Arad (details below) in a letter to the GOL. 
¶7.  (U) While the Prosecutor's office has been lackluster in 
investigating Nazi collaborators, it has been actively 
pursuing investigations into several anti-Nazi, Jewish 
partisans.  The most prominent case involves Yitzhak Arad, an 
anti-Nazi partisan who was born in Lithuania and moved to 
Palestine in 1945.  He later became a brigadier general in 
the Israeli Defense Forces and was director of Yad Vashem, 
Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Authority, for 21 years 
(1972-1993).  He was also a member of Lithuania's 
International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of 
the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes.  The Lithuanian 
Prosecutor's office began an investigation into Arad in May 
2006, allegedly based upon something Arad himself wrote in 
his book The Partisan over thirty years ago.  The 
Prosecutor's office has said publicly that Arad, as a 
partisan in service of the Soviet NKVD (precursor to the 
KGB), may have conducted crimes against humanity, including 
killing civilians and prisoners of war.  The case has caused 
an uproar in the international Jewish community and led to 
Arad's resignation from the International Commission, the 
resignation of another member of the Commission (Martin 
Gilbert), and the suspension of meetings of the Commission as 
a sign of protest by the Commission's director, MP Emmanuelis 
¶8. (C) Several other Jewish anti-Nazi partisans are under 
investigation, including Fania Brantsovsky.  The "evidence" 
against Brantsovsky appears to be based on a statement in a 
book of memoirs by one of Brantsovsky's co-partisans, Rachel 
Margolis, that places Brantsovsky at a partisan attack on the 
village of Koniuchy (now Kaniukai) in January 1944. 
Brantsovsky has said she was not at Koniuchy during the 
Tepid Reaction to an Increase in Anti-Semitism and racism 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
¶9.  (U) On March 11, Lithuania's independence day, a group of 
approximately 200 skinheads marched (without a permit) on 
Gedimino Avenue, Vilnius's main shopping boulevard, shouting 
slogans that included anti-Semitic chants.  The march has 
become an annual tradition, at least three years running. 
This year was widely covered in the media, including the fact 
that although police were present, they only ushered the 
skinheads onto the sidewalk and allowed the march to proceed. 
 A multitude of other racist and anti-Semitic events have 
occurred since, including the burning of a wooden Holocaust 
memorial, vandalism of the Jewish Community Center in 
Klaipeda, other vandalism and the display of a Nazi flag in 
Klaipeda, anti-Semitic articles in the second-tier daily 
Lietuvos Aidas, and vandalism involving swastikas in Vilnius 
(septel).  The GOL response has been slow in nearly all cases 
and absent in many, despite Post's frequent discussions with 
GOL officials about the importance of immediate and clear 
condemnations when anti-Semitic and racist acts occur.  After 
the skinhead march, one member of the Vilnius city council, 
former mayor Arturas Zuokas, condemned it immediately.  The 
Prime Minister condemned it on March 18 (one week after the 
march) and the President condemned it on March 20.  On June 
17, a Vilnius court fined two participants in the rally 1300 
Litas (590 USD) and one participant 2990 Litas (1360 USD) for 
incitement of hatred. 
¶10.  (C) Since accession to NATO, the GOL has shown its 
commitment to solving its "Jewish issues" to be limited, at 
best.  The GOL is uninterested to begin with and allows 
itself to be paralyzed by a xenophobic electorate, a 
nationalist right wing, and disobedient lower level 
officials.  It does not take the opportunity to use these 
issues to educate the Lithuanian public and garner positive 
attention on the international stage.  Even when top 
officials tell lower ranking officials to take action, it 
does not always happen.  On several occasions when PM 
Kirkilas has instructed his Ministry of Culture to take 
action regarding the Snipiskes cemetery, his orders were 
ignored or ineffectively implemented. 
¶11.  (C) In our regular conversations with international 
Jewish groups, we sense their increasing distrust of the GOL. 
 Even signs of progress are viewed with cynicism.