Members of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe said after meeting with Lithuania's prime minister that they had no critical remarks to the government in connection to the plans to renovate the former Sports Palace building built on an old Jewish cemetery.
Sports Palace
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

Rabbi Herschel Gluck of the commission said after the meeting: "This is a very important day for the Jewish community in Lithuania and its relations with the Lithuanian authorities and the Lithuanian people."

"It shows that we can work together in a way that is positive for all parties concerned. This is a new chapter in the relationship between the Jewish community and the Lithuanian government. And I want to express our deepest thanks and appreciation for these very positive steps," the rabbi told journalists in Vilnius.

In his words, the committee he represents has no major requests and only wants to ensure that the "cemetery is kept as an eternal monument for the city of Vilnius and for Lithuania".

"And we all agree on that and we don't see any problems in the future," said Gluck.

Meanwhile, Lithuania's Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius applauded the "good-willed attitude" during the meeting.

"I indeed expected a more difficult discussion, however, we had an extremely good and constructive conversation, we see a good-willed attitude on the need to put this place in order," he said.

In the prime minister's words, negotiations on acquisition of the site in central Vilnius would be opened next week. Butkevičius expressed hope that the conditions for renovation of the Sports Palace building would be prepared by the fall in order for a tender to be called then.

"We hope to be in time (to purchase) and, of course, I think that the other party will be very honest and responsible, will not start making any demands about the price growth. This will have to be done by way of negotiations (…). I believe this will have to be after this meeting. Knowing that we have approval, we will start forming the negotiating commission as early as next week, and it will be authorized to hold talks with a commercial bank," the prime minister told journalists.

Faina Kukliansky, the leader of the Jewish Community of Lithuania who was present at the meeting, assured that the government's plans "meets our expectations as Vilnius residents and the Jewish community." She also said that conversations are underway with the government about construction of a specific memorial to the Jews buried in the cemetery.

"We would be very grateful to see the place that is now used for walks to feature a memorial, immortalization of the human remains, especially since the famous Gaon also rests there, you saw his followers here. It would be a nice memorial, it would be beautiful for Vilnius, as well," she said.

The Jewish cemetery existed in central Vilnius between 1500s and 1800s. The boundaries of the cemetery were approved by the government in 2009.

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