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The UNESCO World Heritage Committee
The Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission
The President of the Lithuanian Republic, Valdas Adamkus
The Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament, Viktoras Muntianas
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania, Gediminas Kirkilas
ON THE DESTRUCTION OF NATHIONAL HERITAGE IN LITHUANIAN TOWNS AND CITIES
Aukštybiniai pastatai jau
sudarkė per amžius susiklosčiusius Klaipėdos ir Vilniaus
"K" ir "D" istoriniame Klaipėdos centre.
Vilnius, aukštybinis pastatas Savanorių g. 1
Kaunas: "Akropolis" ir Karmelitų bažnyčios šventorius.
Vilnius, prekybos centras Gedimino pr. 9, prie šv. Jurgio bažnyčios.
Vilnius, Subačiaus g. 11.
Klaipėda, 2006 metų pavasaris.
Klaipėda, 2007-ieji. Senamiestyje, Vitės kvartale, iki pirmo aukšto
nugriauta 1864 metais statyta Ferdinando aikštės mokykla.
Klaipėdos dujų fabrikas.
2005-ieji, Vilnius. Protesto akcija „Parduota“
The historical traditions of town-life and urban administration, which are typical of western civilisation, have flourished in Lithuania for the past 755 years, since the foundation of Klaipėda in 1252. Expanding towns, which often took over the land of nearby settlements, estates and countryside, have become centres fostering diverse forms of our heritage. They harbour many kinds of culture as various ethnic and confessional groups: Lithuanians, Poles, Germans, Jews, and others, dwelt side by side. However, today the heritage of this cultural diversity is coming under increasing threat.
On account of the immature nature of Lithuania’s young democracy, the influence of big business on local and central administrative institutions urban development in Lithuania has taken on aggressive forms, which are out of keeping with the principles of harmonious. development and are destroying the country’s specific cultural identity. Investment is regarded solely as a means for making a quick profit, while the Public Interest is ignored for the benefit of certain individuals and/or small groups. The cultural landscape is being damaged and destroyed along with archaeological and architectural treasures.
High-rise buildings have already begun to scar the cityscapes of Vilnius and Klaipėda, which have formed over more than seven centuries. A considerable number of these buildings were erected in obvious breach of the Law. “Skyscrapers” have been built illegally in the historic heart of Klaipėda only to be “legalised” post factum. Despite the fact that in 2005 the World Heritage Committee issued warnings concerning the negative visual impact of high-rise buildings on Vilnius’ Old Town (placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List), there was no effective reaction to this warning. This pernicious tendency continues, and one skyscraper in particular is a hideous blot on the historic landscape of Vilnius.
Recently the Vilnius city authorities confirmed a general urban development plan, as a result of which the Old Town’s protection zone has been reduced further still.
The urban structure of Lithuania’s ancient towns and cities has been injured by the building of shopping centres in the heart of Telšiai, Marijampolė and Vilnius. In Kaunas a shopping centre was built next to the baroque Carmelite Church.
Aggressive construction work in the historic parts of towns and cities and their protection zones has become the norm. Under the mask of “restoration” new buildings have been built in the historic centre of Vilnius. These have no connection with the values preserved by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and overshadow such exceptionally significant sites as the city walls.
In Kaunas a particularly irksome high-rise building has been erected next to the sole surviving defensive tower of the old city wall and valuable examples of inter-war architecture.
There are plans to build a hotel on the site of the city’s ancient churches and a cemetery where some of the region’s most famous people were buried. The city’s new general development plan allows for the building of nine-storey buildings in the historic Witte District. The new plan revokes the protection regulations, which have been in force in this part of the city, thereby ignoring the maritime cultural values of the site. As they create conditions for this urban aggression, the Klaipėda authorities are shrinking the borders of the ancient historic parts of the city.
Skyscrapers have been built within the Vilnius heritage protection zone close to the Castles Territory. These are not in keeping with their historical surroundings.
Historic parts of various towns and cities have been damaged en masse during the construction of underground car parks, and building sites and this leads to the barbaric destruction of archaeological treasures. One particular blow will be struck by the building of a tram line through the Old Town of Vilnius, which is protected by UNESCO. There was negative reaction to this decision by the city authorities on the part of the Lithuanian ICOMOS Committee but the UNESCO World Heritage Committee was not informed about it.
Unrestrained aggressive expansion has led to particular environmental brutality. During the past year alone in Klaipėda three historic buildings have been demolished.
This year permission has been granted to demolish a unique monument to Lithuanian industrial heritage, namely the city’s old Paper Pulping Plant. There are plans for preserving only a few small fragments of this building. The owner was allowed to let it fall into disrepair in order for it to be declared “dangerous and unfit for use” before permission was granted for demolition.
Many parts of Klaipėda’s industrial heritage are being allowed to fall into neglect.
Meanwhile faint attention is being paid to heritage restoration work in Lithuania. Recently there was an admission that most of the historic buildings in the centre of Kaunas are in a parlous state of repair. As historic buildings are “restored” and adapted for commercial use authentic interiors are being destroyed. After the Monument Restoration Institute was abolished, the quality of restoration work in Lithuania has deteriorated significantly. It is the almost the rule nowadays not to carry out research when plans are drafted for building restoration. Unique examples of sixteenth-century Byzantine style wall-painting were discovered “by accident” in Trakai Parish Church. A redecorating project was approved without carrying out preliminary investigations and so these frescoes were intended for destruction.
Here we have presented only a few examples, which illustrate the attitude taken to cultural heritage and trends in aggressive development in Lithuania. In all the cases mentioned above, except the school on Ferdinand Square, the damage and destruction caused to our heritage as sanctioned by local council officials, heritage-protection institutions (sic!) and “experts”. Usually no notice is taken of public protests and our legislation does not provide for the right of ordinary citizens to defend the Public Interest in the sphere of national heritage before the courts.
When Lithuania joined the EU, the country took upon itself the obligation to preserve values, which form the basis of common European culture and maintain western norms. Cultural heritage has been declared to be the guarantee of our national identity. The Law On the Base of National Security states that cultural heritage is an object of national security equivalent to human rights, civil rights, liberty and personal security, national liberty, state independence, the constitution and territorial integrity.
We stand up for modern towns and cities created according to the principles of harmonious development, which expands but does not destroy cultural identities. We consider that investment should be directed towards creation, not destruction, ensuring the continuity of 755 years’ traditions of European culture, and the passing on of these values to future generations. Therefore we demand:
• That the relevant authorities ensure the keeping of those international obligations which Lithuania took upon itself when it ratified the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection Convention, the European Landscape Convention, the European Architectural Heritage Protection Convention, and the European Archaeological Heritage Protection Convention;
• The swift and expedite adoption of measures to prevent aggressive urban development and the destruction of our cultural heritage. Systematic changes are essential in heritage protection – the application of stricter responsibility for the damage and destruction done to heritage values, the foundation of an independent institution to protect heritage sites and objects, a transparent and independent system of expert assessment, and so on;
• The introduction of legislative amendments to ensure the right of non-governmental, charitable and other public organisations to defend the Public Interest with regard to monument preservation before courts at all levels.
We call upon our country’s leaders to express their views on the state of our national cultural heritage.
We also call upon the World Heritage Committee to assess plans, which have been made for development in Lithuanian sites placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, viz.:
• the tram line planned for construction in the Old Town of Vilnius;
• the urban development planned for the Curonian Spit. At this time, work is under way to draft the General, Special and New Development Plans for the Curonian Spit. Since the Curonian Spit’s unique cultural landscape has already suffered from aggressive development trends, some members of the public are worried that there are intentions to confirm and legalise these trends in the new Plans. We ask for particular attention to be paid to plans for extending the local airport.
The Alternative Cultural Heritage Commission
The Union of Lithuanian Citizens