Viewing cable 09VILNIUS292

09VILNIUS2922009-05-27 13:41:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0292/01 1471341
P 271341Z MAY 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000292 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/27/2019 
     ¶B. VILNIUS 258 
Classified By: Ambassador John A. Cloud for reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 
¶1. (C) Summary:  The GOL and representatives of a group that 
works to preserve Jewish cemeteries found much common ground 
and no obvious irreconcilable differences at a May 21 
discussion about protection of a historic cemetery in central 
Vilnius.  The GOL on May 18 announced its plan (ref A) to 
prevent development on the cemetery site, but had not 
discussed that plan beforehand with the Jewish community. 
Some specifics of the procedures for determining cemetery 
boundaries remain to be negotiated, and sources must be found 
for the costs of rabbinical supervision during investigative 
digging and for future beautification of the site.  The 
Jewish representatives also said repeatedly that excessive 
publicity would limit their flexibility to move forward with 
the plan.  End summary. 
¶2. (C) British Rabbi Herschel Gluck and Israeli engineer 
Arieh Klein, representing the Committee for the Preservation 
of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), met May 21 with Vice 
Minister of Culture Donatas Valanciauskas, Vice Minister of 
Foreign Affairs Sarunas Adomavicius, Director of the 
Department of Cultural Heritage Diana Varnaite and other 
Lithuanian officials to discuss the GOL's new plan to protect 
what remains of the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery, which served 
as the main Jewish burial ground of Vilnius for several 
centuries.  Construction a few years ago of the Mindaugas 
apartment buildings on what many consider to be part of the 
cemetery led to protests and condemnation from groups around 
the world. 
¶3. (C) Rolandas Balcikonas of the development company UBIG 
also attended the meeting, then met one-on-one with Klein 
later in the day.  Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the 
Vilnius Jewish Community, also was present, as were British 
Ambassador Simon Butt and two U.S. Embassy officers. 
Kukliansky said the local Jewish community would defer 
entirely to the expertise and wishes of the CPJCE concerning 
Snipiskes.  Balcikonas said UBIG's only concern was to know 
with certainty what parts of the land it owns could or could 
not be used for its planned development project (ref B).  He 
said UBIG needed the CPJCE's agreement to the GOL plan by the 
end of May in order to move forward with its next phases. 
Klein told Balcikonis that the CPJCE would get him an answer 
as soon as possible. 
¶4. (C) Gluck and Klein cautioned that final word on the 
acceptability of the GOL plan would come from Rabbi Elyokim 
Schlesinger, head of the CPJCE, but told the GOL that they 
agreed with most of the plan.  The plan prohibits any 
development on land identified as cemetery grounds, and 
requires any digging or development in adjacent buffer zones 
to be done under rabbinical supervision as well as the 
oversight of the Cultural Heritage Department. 
¶5. (C) Gluck and Klein were adamant on conditions that would 
need to be established for any digging to take place.  Klein 
suggested splitting the buffer zone into two categories.  The 
first, Zone A, would include the Mindaugas apartments and the 
1971 Soviet-built Sports Palace, which nobody disputes was 
built in the cemetery.  Zone B would include the rest of the 
buffer zones as charted by the GOL.  Klein spelled out what 
he expected the CPJCE's requirements to be for the buffer 
-- In Zone A, digging or other invasive work would be 
prohibited.  "If you absolutely have to replace a pipe, do it 
under rabbinical supervision," Klein said.  Nobody on the GOL 
side spoke out to disagree with this idea. 
-- In Zone B, once the developer was ready to begin work, 
then an agreed-upon program of excavation would take place, 
done by the developer's workers and supervised by the CPJCE 
rabbis, Klein, and the Cultural Heritage Department.  Klein, 
Gluck, and Varnaite agreed that any area in which human 
remains were found in anatomical positions -- that is, graves 
-- would immediately be declared cemetery, the remains would 
be left undisturbed, and further investigation of the nearby 
area would be conducted.  In addition, Klein said, "If 
substantial human remains are found near the outer (eastern) 
boundary of the buffer zone, then we want to go another 5 or 
10 meters farther out to see if we've really reached the end 
of the cemetery, until we're completely sure that's it."  In 
a side conversation with Klein, UBIG's Balcikonis tacitly 
agreed that expansion of the buffer zone would happen in such 
a case, if only because of the public outcry that would occur 
if it did not.  On the other hand, if no remains were found 
and the rabbis were satisfied that an area in Zone B was not 
part of the cemetery, the requirement for oversight in that 
area would end and the buffer zone would contract. 
-- Investigative digging should not go as deep as graves, but 
only deep enough to determine whether a grave is below, so as 
not to disturb human remains unnecessarily. Klein said 
digging about a meter deep would generally be enough. 
-- The threshold for an area to be considered cemetery should 
not be the presence of bodies found buried in anatomical 
positions, but "substantial human remains," regardless of 
whether they were in graves.  Scattered or individual bones, 
they agreed, could be reburied elsewhere.  The CPJCE and GOL 
representatives did not thoroughly discuss how to define 
"substantial human remains" as opposed to scattered remains, 
however the GOL seemed to agree in principle that significant 
findings of remains would be protected in situ, rather than 
removed and reburied. 
¶6. (C) A small area that is shown as part of the cemetery on 
historical maps was excluded from the cemetery boundaries in 
the GOL plan.  That area, a small section of Rinktines Street 
and its sidewalk, must be protected, Klein insisted.  If 
digging needed to be done on the road, rabbinical supervision 
would be required.  Varnaite said she was sure a solution 
could be found, but questioned how such supervision could be 
arranged quickly if emergency repairs were required. 
¶7. (C) Another condition that Klein and Gluck implored the 
GOL to accept was that publicity and public comment on the 
plan should be kept to a minimum.  The GOL had already issued 
press releases and given media interviews about the plan 
before the May 21 meeting. Klein and Gluck asked them to give 
the project a much lower profile, saying that publicity would 
limit the CPJCE's flexibility to move forward. 
¶8. (C) Klein and Gluck met with Schlesinger May 24 in London; 
Klein later told us that Schlesinger had agreed with all of 
the requirements his representatives had laid down in 
Vilnius, and Klein was drafting a list of the CPJCE's 
conditions for Varnaite, whose department will draw up the 
procedures for digging or development in the buffer zones. 
¶9. (C) In a separate meeting, Klein told us that he estimated 
the cost of rabbinical supervision of digging for the entire 
project at 100,000 USD.  It would be very difficult for the 
CPJCE to raise that amount, he said; instead, he saw UBIG or 
the separate company that built the Mindaugas buildings as a 
possible source.  He agreed with us that the GOL, rather than 
the CPJCE, should approach the developers about possible 
¶10. (C) The GOL has taken a large step forward on this issue 
by unilaterally introducing its plan to prevent further 
development of Snipiskes cemetery.  UBIG, which will have to 
forego development of a few hectares of its expensive 
land in central Vilnius, has been cooperative.  And the CPJCE 
appears to be striving for maximum flexibility -- to the 
point of accepting exploratory digging in or near the 
cemetery, a stance that would infuriate some other Jewish 
groups should they learn of it -- in order to bring this 
dispute to a successful conclusion.  With good will and good 
luck, such a conclusion could be near.