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VILNIUS CALLING: SOLIDARITY WANTED 2007-05-11

May 11, 2007
Vilnius, Lithuania

VILNIUS CALLING: SOLIDARITY WANTED

As cities are gentrified and former institutional buildings are sold and redeveloped for profit or because their original purpose has been made redundant (within the neo-liberal capitalist system) activists are shut-out; an important type of civic space disappears. Vilnius and Lithuania are now experiencing this same socio-political affect to the detriment of the establishment of a civil-democracy in the years after soviet domination. Moreover, a protest culture has never been established in-step with the new nation state so that discussion, debate, and disagreement with conduct of government and public figures haven’t evolved — and mass media has the sway on opinion making.


The loss of the last, out of fifteen, and the largest cinema theatre in the capital of Lithuania, where activities important in the cultural life of the city took place during the past four decades, including the exhibition of European, Lithuanian, and non-commercial films, international film festivals, retrospectives and concerts, is a severe blow to the cultural growth and international diversity of Vilnius.

The democratisation of the Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union comes hand in hand with the growth of wild capitalism that is now able to undermine the cultural diversity, the right to choose, the sense of taste for cultural worth. The important cultural strata can be destroyed by commercialisation, and the public spaces, necessary for diversity of public opinions, tolerance and respect, can be also undermined.

Privatisation of the cinema theatres and cinema studio including all national archives of the cinema (!) by real estate developers made a tremendous damage for the cultural infrastructure and cultural heritage of the country.

We have initiated a Petition, signed by 7000 citizens, which has been sent to the President of Lithuania, the Seimas (Parliament), the Government and the Vilnius Municipality; we have also sent a Complaint to the State Ombudsman expressing our concerns regarding the property in question, in three areas: the cultural importance of the “Lithuania” cinema theatre to the citizens of Vilnius, the historic significance of the site as part of the territory of the World Heritage City, and the lack of transparency in the privatisation of the site and the subsequent rezoning of the property.

The proposed “Paradise Apartments” will replace the existing “Lithuania” cinema theatre, which was built in 1965 and is located at the World Heritage Site – the Historic Centre of Vilnius. The anticipated changes violate the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, ratified by the Republic of Lithuania in 1992, the European Archaeological Convention, the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe, and the European Landscape Convention, also ratified by the Lithuania, as well as contravene with Lithuanian legislation, mainly with the Immovable Cultural Property Protection Act of 2004.

The planned construction not only takes away a multifaceted cultural space from the urban community, but impoverishes the cultural authenticity of the historic centre of Vilnius, as a World Heritage site. The environing open spaces, adjoining the “Lithuania” cinema theatre, an integral feature of the urban fabric, bequeathed us by the mediaeval city, now accessible to Vilnius citizens, will be eliminated by “Paradise Apartments”.

An Appeal (June 20, 2006) has been sent to the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to initiate a mission to evaluate the protection and conservation of the historic centre of Vilnius.

The circumstances surrounding the privatisation of the “Lithuania” cinema theatre, lack of an adequate environmental impact report, archaeological assessment of the site, and city heritage value abatement are all issues that remain unresolved.

We believe that public participation is essential when reaching decisions affecting public urban spaces and the future of cultural objects. It is also very important to inform the public thoroughly and on time about plans connected with the restructuring of urban public spaces. Unfortunately, these principles were not observed when decisions were reached regarding the “Lithuania” cinema theatre

“Paradise Apartments” has shown neither the kind of responsibility nor the respect that the law obliges them to exercise. The evasion and double-talk left us with the belief that the occasional meetings with the public were set up by public relations firms and have little to do with genuine public participation.

The closing of the “Lithuania” cinema theatre is a great loss to many people in Vilnius. The dismissive attitude displayed towards them in public discussions only adds insult to injury.

At the moment we (as complainants) are in the Vilnius County Administrative Court appealing for the violation of the law in the detailed planning process in the site of the cinema “Lietuva”. This court process is a follow-up of the actions initiated in spring 2005
as a campaign for reclaiming public space.

The cinema was privatised in 2002 by the largest supermarket chain in Lithuania, “Maxima”. “Maxima” is taking an active and aggressive role in the privatisation of real estate and energetic resources in Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, and elsewhere.

In 2005 the company introduced their plan to close the cinema and start development of real estate on the site of the cinema. The site is 4000 square meters, including the building with 1100 seats.

Due to the active campaigning, resistance and critique during 2005, “Maxima” sold their property in October 2005 to Vilnius based company “Paradise Apartments”, controlled by foreign developers “Cinema Scotland” (nobody knows who they are) and “M2 Invest” (a foreign investment firm).

60 activists from different fields (green movement, cultural heritage, archaeology, sustained development, filmmakers, cultural producers, architects, students of political science, alternative movements, etc.), as well as neighbourhood activists, proposed to the municipality and the developers their alternative vision for the future of this public space. Answers from the developers, city administration and ministerial agencies have been negative and clearly biased.

Presently, 4 people are complainants in the Administrative Court of Vilnius County, and the respondents are region administration, the municipality, Ministry of Culture and the Department for Cultural Heritage, as well as the site
developer (“Paradise Apartments”).

Complainants presented evidence consisting of 300 pages, and the court was postponed for June 4 due to “the need to review the additional material supplied”.

For the active position we are threatened by the private developers for “making a tremendous harm” to their investment and stopping the development of
the site. They claim the damage of 50.000 Euros a month (since September.
2005). They keep intimidating the protesters, threatening to appeal to the Civil Court if we not withdrew our claim for the public interest.

The estimated value of the real estate at the site of the former cinema is about 30 million euros.

Meanwhile, elections to Vilnius municipality have taken place, and the mayor
and his party of new liberals who were behind all those deals with real estate have lost their positions.

As the City Council is the last institution to approve detailed planning and to issue permits for the construction (and destruction of the cinema), we still have hope that the destruction could be prevented if there would be international reaction expressing concern over the destruction of public space, of cultural space, corruption and non-transparent process of urban development.

We are writing to you with hope and reverence, asking to be the Trust ambassadors of the social network movement that tries to escape destruction of the public cultural space and the biggest non-commercial cinema in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

We appeal for this solidarity, as we are confronting huge Machinery of bureaucrats and lawyers serving Municipality and private investors. There is a strong feeling that presence of the “Lietuva” cinema case in the international context might discipline the decisions of local clerks, as it creates the effect of “international awareness”.

We kindly expect for you to be our Trust ambassadors, to maintain and advocate our movement, fighting for cultural diversity, public spaces and the place for art in our city and all Lithuania.


On behalf of the petitioners

Karolis Klimka, philosopher
Kasparas Pocius, student
Gediminas Urbonas, artist


PS.
The case of “Lietuva” cinema is the core of The Pro-test Lab, a project initiated by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, that is rendered through a campaign for cinema Lietuva. It has been around to several international art exhibitions, like Populism, Gwangju biennale, Moscow Biennale, now is on the way to Pecci museum in Prato, Venice Biennale and Fluxus exhibition in Berlin.

The Pro-test Lab archive collects, collectivizes, and disseminates all the materials recording the protest activities associated with a community campaign. The archive records all of the different activities, events, and art works that were produced in association with the Pro-test Lab and it continues expanding with every exhibition and as the situation of cinema Lietuva has entered an official governmental process in Lithuania (its fate is being debated by parliament and courts). The Protest Continues...


Some additional references can be found here:
http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/12887/
http://www.liberation.fr/culture/cinema/237838.FR.php
http://www.shift.jp.org/en/archives/2005/11/post_882.html
http://www.networkcultures.org/weblog/archives/2005/06/hacking_public.html

CONTACT:
Karolis Klimka,
kklimka@yahoo.com

www.vilma.cc/LIETUVA