The editorial office of the “Vilnius Weekly” has been informed about the outrageous fact that took place during the renovation of the historic building at Goštauto Street number 1 – the former registered office of The Society of Friends of Arts in Vilnius. During the renovation works, which have been realised within the framework of the European Union project, in the layers of plaster and paint there an inscription was found – THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS OF ARTS- and later on secretly destroyed.
We are most distressed to hear the news of the occasional pranks of vandals, who turn over the monuments in the cemeteries under the cover of darkness. Meanwhile, the policy-makers, who gave an order to furrow the letters “with meat” at the elevation of the building, which has been erected at the beginning of the XX century from the collections of Polish community, acted in broad daylight. In the heart of the recent European capital of culture.
“ The foundation of the Vytautas Kasiulis museum of art, by reconstruction and adaption of the museum building at Goštauto Street in Vilnius to the needs of the modern culture tourism” about the intention of the project we could yet find out from the noticeboard located next to the building. The monumental building itself, put into the register of cultural heritage protected by the state, has been covered with the white “shroud” with hanging advertising signboards of the producer of the project, the joint-stock company “Irdaiva”.
In June next year, the historical registered office of The Society of Friends of Arts, which the Józef Montwił Polish Culture Foundation has been trying to take over for 22 years as it claims to be the heir to the legacy of The Society, will open its doors as the modern museum with a permanent exposition of the works of the Lithuanian exile artist, Vytautas Kasiulis.
The initiator and the constituent of the project, amounting to 4 mln Lt, donated from the European Union structural funds , is the Lithuanian Museum of Arts.
The opening of the Kasiulis museum, one of the few internationally recognized Lithuanian painters, is in the programme of the Ministry of Culture and of Foreign Affairs to celebrate Latvia taking over the leadership in the European Union. So, not surprisingly, works taking place are in constant progress. This fact has been even confirmed by Romualdas Budrys, the director of the Lithuanian Museum of Arts.
The realization of the project progresses gradually, because, stressed Budrys, it is under the special care of the president.
– We are at the halfway point of the renovation. We have brought about 900 donated works of art. In accordance to the condition of the donor we have to open the museum. Our authorities promised the donor that such museum would be founded. Made promise must be kept – announced Romualdas Budrys.
When asked about some details of the renovation, Budrys ensured that, the building at Goštauto, after war serving first as the Institute of the Economy and Lithuanian Academy of Arts, then as the Museum of revolution, later as the paintings storage, has been adapted to the museum needs for years, and the current works are not the complete refurbishment but some just minor repairs.
Vitas Karčiauskas, the manager of the Vilnius department of The Monument Conservation Department, who,personally, gave Budrys the permission for the renovation, is of the same opinion.
– The renovation and adaptation of the building is just maintenance work. I don’t check, personally, how many changes were introduced. It is our workers’ job – explains Karčiauskas. However, this what has been written on the signboard, in his view, is complete nonsense. – In the project we have to do renovation and adaptation, not reconstruction. We do not decide about the signboards – said the official.
Has there been placed the wrong name of the project? After all, after the newspaper’s intervention the words “reconstruction” has been covered with tape.
– We are making the microclimate, the museum lighting. Everything will be carried out like in the real, modern museum – boasts Romualdas Budrys. According to Budrys the barriers put up at the times of the economics institute, dividing the spacious rooms into offices will be knocked down, new oak parquet floors laid, so all rooms will be renovated and even redecorated according to original designs. And what about the authentic inscriptions?
– I didn’t see anything, that’s the first time I’ve heard about it. It’s like an unjustified gossip of the intriguers. There were those, with out-of- date cards of the workers of monument conservation. But I told the builders – no reaction! The museum is the constituent and if there are still questions, they should be directed to the Monument Conservation Department. There are observers, there is a system, there are also the outsiders, who try to do something but will achieve nothing. These are shallow and unnecessary efforts. This is all nothing! – refused to answer the question about the covering the notice, director of the Arts Museum.
The official of the Monument Conservation Department Vitas Karčiauskas confirmed that there are no reservations about the workmanship of the project.
– So far we haven’t received any signals that anything is done at variance with the project. We cannot take control over the repair work all the time. And if you think that something is being done against the project, we are ready to register this information and send inspectors there – he added when asked by the “Weekly”, about the photos sent to the editorial office, which proved the unlawful acts.
– We aren’t surprised at all. We know exactly what happened when. Finding such inscriptions, the constituent should turn to us. We haven’t received any information – tried to explain Karčiauskas.
Nevertheless ,after a while he added, citing p. 2 art.9 of the Protection of the Immobile Cultural Heritage bill that if, during the maintenance works there are some objects or inscriptions of historical value found, it should be immediately reported to the local government subbranch of the monument conservation. It is obliged to convey this information to the Monument Conservation Department, which may command the suspension of the renovation works for at least 15 days until the decision is taken.
The editorial house has found out that after finding the historic inscription the manager was summoned to the “renovation” site, who immediately made a call to higher authorities. We can only assume what order he was given… We admit, however, that looking for people to blame and doing investigation at which stage the law has been violated do not lie in the media’s responsibility.
The appropriation of heritage
– This is the criminal issue because they are not entitled to carry out renovation, which has been in fact done in secret. The permission for redecoration and renovation was given by Mr Budrys, himself. I have also seen, that plastic windows are being put, the floor heating is being installed, the supporting walls knocked down. This mustn’t be done in the building like this. The renovation has been started with no prior assessment of the state of the building – with indignation underlines Henryk Sosnowski, Józef Montwiłł Foundation of the Polish Culture.
Set up in 1989, the foundation, with its patron being Józef Montwiłł, the outstanding social activist, one of the co-founders if the pre-war Polish Society of Friends of Arts in Vilnius, obligated itself to continue the tradition of this organisation, working in 1906-1940. This organization, which, as the documents prove, has never been closed down, and its possessions has not been nationalised.
From the very beginning of its existence, the Józef Montwiłł Foundation of the Polish Culture has been applying, even on legal path, for the building which used to be in possession of the Society Of Fiends of Arts in Vilnius. Unfortunately, instead of the inheritance from SFA, the foundation – according to the directive of the Budys, the director of museum of arts – in 1996, was moved out of the only occupied room of 24m2 . During the next years the Lithuanian Museum of Art, which used the building as the storage to keep works of art, has “substantiated” its registration – in the form of trusteeship from the Ministry of Culture – totally seizing power over it what, according to Mr Sosnowski, was unlawful appropriation fo the pre-war heritage of the Society Of Fiends of Arts in Vilnius.
According to Henryk Sosnowski, the main reason for the return of the possessions is the will prepared by Hilary Łęski, the founder and sponsor of SFA who, after verifying the activity and status of the foundation, Józef Montwiłł Foundation of the Polish Culture, was handed by the Łęscy family down to persons: Krystyna Olędzka-Jesieńska, Teresa Łęska and Marianna Brzeska from Toronto . The will clearly specifies, that after stopping the activity of the Society, its possessions should be given exclusively to the Polish scientific or cultural institutions and Arts activists.
When in Latvia, all the legal possibilities were exhausted, in 2001 Henryk Sosnowski, on behalf of the Józef Montwiłł Foundation of the Polish Culture, addressed a complaint against Latvia about the devastation the Polish building to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Unfortunately, as he explains, this case has not been examined under appropriate paragraph.
Although the view is not very optimistic, the president of the Józef Montwiłł Foundation of the Polish Culture, is not giving up and keeps flooding the national institutions with letters, demanding the return of the appropriated possession to the Polish community in Vilnius. His last attempt is directing a motion to the parliamentary committee for education and culture with a request to initiate the bill about the return the whole cultural output of Poland in Vilnius and Vilnius Region.
– None of the buildings erected from the collections of the Polish community in Vilnius has been returned. Neither Scout Hostel nor the Theatre at Pohulanka, nor the building at Goštauto Street, former Lelewel Street. And where is the painting of Ferdynand Ruszczyc “NEC MERGITUR”?… – despairs Henryk Sosnowski
Funding and erecting buildings like the registered office of the Society of Friends of Arts, from public collections, not as the Lithuanian press informs “from tsar’s donation”, was a community action which aimed at supporting the common good, the development of science and culture.
Covering up the Polish vestiges, like the Vilnius University, takes place not only in Vilnius but in the whole country. Since the early times of Soviet Latvia, especially for the last decades there has been a battle against everything which is connected with Polishness and it has been raised to the highest virtue and has become the element of the country’s policy. The authentic fact of covering up the inscription, against the legal regulations, does not leave any shadow of doubt about the intentions of the people taking part in this “European” project.
If the culture can be treated as an eternal palimpsest, now we can observe the covering up the the old layer which has not been destroyed by the previous era. This time the original layer was not covered but gouged out and blurred – with no chance of successful reconstruction.
The new layer serves a new purpose in the young country which cannot appreciate the joint multiethnic tradition, opting for the right of one nation. And this is not a palimpsest, this is the ordinary blotting out of one’s memory.
In the photos: after intervention of the “Weekly”, the name of the project realised for the EU money under the care of the president Grybauskaite, was immediately “fixed” with a tape! During the Soviet times it was covered with plaster – now destroyed forever.
Tłumaczenie Zofia Kowalska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Zofia Kowalska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.