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Snipiskes cemetery dispute drags on

  • 2007-11-28
  • By Kimberly Kweder
VILNIUS - Juozas Mockevicius is keeping himself busy with other projects as he waits for an answer from local and international Jewish organizations regarding when it's time to talk once more about surveying the boundaries of the Jewish cemetery in the Snipiskes district of Vilnius.
Mockevicius, director of the Lithuanian Geological Survey, received a letter the end of October from the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe to halt the survey until further discussions are made.

"The main point is that Lithuanian and Jewish representatives don't agree with who will be in charge of the geological survey and the investigation," Mockevicius said.
In addition to unfavorable weather conditions, the survey is being delayed because Jewish experts have raised concerns about the size of the investigated area, the choice of the contractor and the reliability of the equipment.
The cemetery became the center of international controversy earlier this year when Jewish groups claimed that an ongoing project to build a commercial and luxury complex was encroaching on the cemetery's territory.
The project's developer said the construction was entirely outside the former Jewish graveyard's territory and to prove the argument supplied media with a scheme that was approved by the Vilnius city government and county administration in 2005.

The cemetery was closed by Tsarist Russian authorities in 1831. Then in the 1950s, Soviet authorities built a stadium and concert hall on land that borders the cemetery.
At this point, there are no restrictions on the construction itself but there are plans for excavations from the Neris river to the stadium, said Edvinas Butkus, director of communications to Labradoras Group.
In September 2007, the Lithuanian Geological Survey was assigned to start technical research, compile maps of the disputed areas, and conduct ground penetration work to supply data to archaeologists.
"We are not approving or disapproving boundaries in our work," Mockevicius said. "The geological survey is only a technical assistant and we don't have any disputes with the Jewish side," he said.

"We are open to discussion. If the government decides the survey area must be bigger then we will investigate a bigger area," Mockevicius said.