The Open letter approaching shareholders of the company UAB Rojaus Apartamentai is published with the appeal that introduces foreign investors with the memorial importance of the site, beside of other cultural and environmental concerns. Organized by the work-group of the citizen’s movement For Lithuania Without Quotation Marks.
Peter Baker, Chairman, M2Invest
Arthur Simonsen, Vice Chairman, M2Invest
Dalius Kaveckas, shareholder, M2Invest
Amit Majithia, shareholder, M2Invest
Per Moller, shareholder, M2Invest
Cinema Scotland shareholders
August 28, 2006
Dear Sirs and Mesdames,
We are writing to you as shareholders of the property at 17 Pylimo Street, Vilnius, Lithuania, commonly known as the “Lietuva” (“Lithuania”) cinema theatre and now the projected development of UAB “Rojaus Apartamentai” (“Paradise Apartments”, Private Limited Company – M2Invest and Cinema Scotland). We are a network of citizens who are concerned with the loss of “Lithuania”, the last cinema theatre in Old Town Vilnius and the projected closure of the traditional and symbolic cultural public space, as well as with the quality of organization of the detailed plan of the property at 17 Pylimo Street and its presentation to the public.
We, the undersigned, 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 privatization of the site and the subsequent rezoning of the property.
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. When the theatre was built in 1965, its name “Lithuania”, at a time of political and intellectual repression, resonated with resistance. The symbolic value of the site, as well as the possibility of choice to cinema goers of Vilnius has been terminated: the only replacement for the “Lithuania” cinema theatre is the “Coca-Cola Plaza” and “Akropolis Forum Cinema”, showing, almost exclusively, Hollywood production.
The proposed “Paradise Apartments” are within the territory of the Historic Centre of Vilnius and are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The anticipated changes are incompatible with the “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” ratified by the Lithuanian Republic in 1992, and contravene 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 medieval 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 privatization of the “Lithuania” cinema theatre, contradictions in questions of variance for “Paradise Apartments”, lack of an adequate environmental impact report, archeological assessment of the site, and city heritage value abatement are all issues that remain unresolved or only partly answered. The commercial viability of the “Lithuania” cinema theatre has never been publicly discussed; a gap filled in by guesswork at the time of privatization.
Our other concern is the public presentation of the detailed plan of “Paradise Apartments”. The President of Lithuania, in his response to our Petition, said that we had raised “cultural problems that are particularly acute not only in Vilnius but in Lithuania. Public participation is essential when reaching decisions affecting public urban spaces and the future of cultural objects. Equally necessary is a thorough and full discussion with various public groups of all integrated urban development questions. 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” (July 26, 2006).
We have quoted from the President’s letter at length because he addresses a key issue that concerns us today. In the meetings with the public to date, to present and discuss the detailed plan of the “Paradise Apartments” before its approval, your “Management Team” 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 meetings were set up by a public relations firm and have little to do with genuine public participation.
The meeting of August 18 is a case point. The “Lietuvos Žinios“ reporter said that this meeting not only reminded her of the famous Russian comedy “Garage”, but “quite surpassed it” (August 21, 2006). Convened at 5 p.m. on a Friday evening during the holiday season, with not a single city or government official in attendance, with a two hour filibuster, the meeting lasted until 10 p.m., preceded by a unilateral declaration from the chairman: “this public discussion of the detailed plan is the last”.
As a result, we have listed several instances, where, in our opinion, the Government Act on Public Participation in the Process of the Territorial Planning (LRV 2004-07-16 No.904) was infringed upon and have requested the Vilnius Municipality to abrogate the right given “Paradise Apartments” to organize the detailed plan and, additionally, have asked that the detailed plan for the property at 17 Pylimo Street, when and if it reaches the approval stage, be discussed and approved by no lower an instance than the City Council.
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. We ask, why has the President been so emphatic about public participation and what is its purpose in our emerging democracy? Are we to be told, as in the past, what will happen to our city, or, are we here to exercise our right in planning its future?
Romas Vastokas, professor, Vytautas Magnus University, Uzupio 15-15, LT-01202 Vilnius, Lithuania
Ona Volungeviciute, artist
Gediminas Urbonas, artist, director, Jutempus Interdisciplinary Art Program
Nomeda Urboniene, artist, chairwoman, Vilnius Interdisciplinary Lab for Media Arts
Julija Ksivickaite, architect
Kasparas Pocius, Vilnius Leftist Club
Rasa Kalinauskaitė, journalist
Gintautas Mazeikis, professor, Siauliai University
Vytautas Damasevicius, deputy chairman, Zverynas Community
H.E. Mr. Colin Roberts
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of United Kingdom
H.E. Mr. Donal Denham
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ireland
H.E. Mr. Kåre Hauge
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Kingdom of Norway