The Open letter to the Trust Ambassadors is published approaching potential spokespersons to stand for cinema Lietuva. Organized by work-group of the citizen movement For Lithuania Without Quotation Marks.
August 30, 2006
Dear Sirs and Mesdames,
We are writing to you with hope and respect, asking to be the Trust ambassadors of the social network movement that is trying to prevent the destruction of public cultural space and the largest noncommercial cinema in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, the former soviet country in the Eastern Europe.
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 democratization 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, and a sense of cultural values. Important cultural riches are being destroyed by commercialization, and the diversity of public opinion, tolerance and respect in human communication are trampled upon.
The cinema industry is left in the role of the stepdaughter, although such Lithuanian film directors as Arunas Matelis or Sarunas Bartas are famous internationally and widely represent our country. However, the State is not much concerned with help for developing the cinema industry, and the businessmen are not interested in it at all, arguing that only what is popular and makes a profit counts. Questions of worth, representation and the future of art are the things they do not care about.
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 proposed “Paradise Apartments” which are to replace the “Lithuania” cinema theatre, 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 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 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.
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, the “Management Team” of “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 meetings were set up by a public relations firm 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. We ask, why has our 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?
We kindly ask you to be our Trust ambassadors, to maintain and advocate our movement, fighting for cultural diversity, public spaces and a place for art and cinema in our city and all of Lithuania.
Kasparas Pocius, Vilnius Leftist Club