Cemetery is restored in Vingio Park

  • 2000-09-07
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Civilized countries respect and take care of cemeteries, even those of their bitterest enemies. Civilized governments know that politicians, not soldiers, start wars.

But the Soviet Union, looked upon by few as a civilized endeavor, destroyed all the monuments in the military cemetery in Vilnius's Vingio Park. They built an amusement park over the corpses of the dead from World War I and World War II. Now times have changed and the dead will again rest in peace.

"There are graves of some 3,000 soldiers. Germans, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians, Tartars, and Turks who died in World War I lie there. Only German soldiers were given their final rest during World War II," said Marija Mik-ne-viciute, architect with the Institute for Monument Restoration.

Mikneviciute is in charge of the project for reconstruction of the military cemetery there, which will occupy about 5 percent of the huge Vingio Park.

Some 50 Polish soldiers were also buried in the cemetery, said Mikneviciute. They are mostly from the time the Polish soldiers fought for Vilnius in 1919-1920, but some of them died in the peaceful times - from 1930 to 1932.

However, most of the graves contain German nationals, and the maintenance in Vingio Park is financed by the National Union of Care for German Soldiers' Graves. This organization takes care of the graves of German soldiers who died in both world wars. It operates in all European countries where there are graves of German soldiers. Only in some regions of Russia do they meet with angry reactions from local authorities, according to press reports. This organization cooperates with the Lithuanian Culture Ministry.

It will not be an exact reconstruction of the military cemetery in Vingio Park, said Mik-ne-vi-ciute. Huge stone crosses will be built where at the moment only a birch cross stands to comme-morate the graves.

It's not just Catholics and Lutherans who are buried in Vingio Park. Mikneviciute is also designing monuments with Russian Orthodox crosses and Muslim crescents.

"In fact, it is a very old cemetery. Jesuits established it in the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It is a pity, but no signs of the Jesuit cemetery have survived to this day," Mikneviciute said.

The cemetery also contains the family chapel of the first Russian governor in Lithuania. The chapel looks a bit shabby, but it has survived the storms of history. This governor administrated Lithuania after Russia occupied it in 1795.

"We'll restore this chapel with German money, too. The Germans were not very happy about our demand, but they acquiesced to our request," Mikneviciute said.

It is already the second year that the cemetery has been cleared of bushes, the work performed by German and Lithuanian soldiers.

"Such common work strengthens friendship among nations," said Giedre Mikneviciene, another architect with the Institute for Monument Restoration. She said that the Germans also take care of military cemeteries in Taurage, Kudirkos Naumiestis and other Lithuanian towns.

"It is good that the cemetery is being restored in Vingio Park. It is not moral to entertain oneself over the corpses of those poor people," said Arturas Dubonis, a historian with the Lithuanian History Institute.

Emanuelis Zingeris, a Conservative MP of Jewish origin, says that the Soviets had no respect for the graves of other people. For example, the stairways to Vilnius Central Post Office and the stairways to Tauras Hill in Vilnius where the Trade Union House stands, were built of monument stones taken from a Jewish cemetery. Jewish gravestones were only removed from those stairways after the reestablishment of Lithuanian independence.

But where the Soviets failed in maintaining graves, Lithuanians are not returning the favor.

Recently, a Soviet army cemetery was renovated in Rudamina, a small town near Vilnius. Ambassadors from the former Soviet republics of Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine, and Kazakhstan arrived in Rudamina on Aug. 22 attended a ceremony marking the renovation.

Speaking at the cemetery, Russian Ambassador Yuri Zubakov and other ambassadors thanked the authorities of Rudamina for their sincere help in preserving and renovating the cemetery. Zubakov said that the Russian government allocated 250,000 litas ($62,500) for taking care of 170 Soviet army cemeteries through-out Lithuania.