- February 22, 2013
Nemenčinė – one city, two levels
Nemenčinė – the only city in the Vilnius Region unofficially called the Polish capital of the region. Its role has been prominent in the common history of Poland and Lithuania (e.g. the church in Nemenčinė is one of the seven churches founded by Jogaila in 1387, in remembrance of adoption of the Catholic faith.) The city has always had an overtly Polish character.
At the end of the Soviet occupation, the authorities of those days decided to give the city a new character and a new purpose. Underground shelters and blockhouses are proofs of it. The city was to take up the role of a substitute capital of Lithuania in the case of an atomic attack on Vilnius. This is why in the first half of the 1980s in Nemenčinė alone as well as in the nearby forests, there appeared many, many blockhouses and ramparts, which were supposed to save the military authorities of those days and the party’s key members from a mushroom cloud.
—They were solid constructions — says the prefect of Nemenčinė, Mieczysław Borusewicz, who, as a communication engineer, was working on one of the nearby bunkers in the Soviet times. Located in the forest, far away from the Nemenčinė road, it was one of the most protected premises.
—You should go this way, straight into the forest –inhabitants of Kreivalaužiai – a city made of a few blocks of flats built in the middle of the forest, as housing for the staff of the former bunker – explain us how to get to the place. — But you will not see anything there. Everything is ruined, stolen. — they add.
We go there enthusiastically, along a snowy road, because curiosity of journalists motivates us. To our surprise, the road is passable even for our company car, which has low suspension. Later, on our way back, other inhabitants explained that “men in jeeps” very often use the road. It turns out that the abandoned and unprotected rampart is a popular place among paintball lovers.
Colourful traces of paintball paint are proofs of their presence. It is the only detail adding some colour to the gloomy atmosphere. We enter the rampart area freely. It is surrounded by a concrete wall. There are heaps of litter and debris everywhere, which prove that the rampart is a popular place not only among paintball lovers but also among the local people, who visit the place often and make a waste dump out of it.
Through the entrance– which is protected from the shock wave following an explosion by a concrete wall– and through broken stairs we go to the underground level. Wide corridors, high ceilings, thick walls and really huge rooms. Metal stumps and ends sticking out of the concrete floor, which were too difficult for thieves to be torn out show the former purpose of the building.
–An emergency communication centre was there – explains the prefect of Nemenčinė. It was supposed to provide communication for the whole country after an atomic attack on Vilnius. Today the bunker, as well as the majority of old Soviet military buildings, is private.
–Probably, there are three owners, but we have no idea who are they and what are they going to do with the bunker– say the local people. When we ask them what they would like to see instead the old bunker, they need a while to think it over.
–I’d rather see nothing, because the fewer strangers with unclear purposes will be around, the better for us. – they say.
Another bunker, located a few kilometres away, in a forest near a road in Buivydžiai, was luckier with owners. They made there an interactive museum of the Soviet era. It is better known abroad than in Lithuania. The most important world magazines and newspapers wrote about it, because of a theatrical interactive tour, during which visitors become prisoners of old Soviet labour camps.
There used to be a “House of Creativity.” Under this code name there was an emergency radio-TV centre, which would take the role of the centre and TV transmission tower in Vilnius after they were destroyed by an atomic bomb. It would serve as a translator of TV and radio programmes. An atomic war did not take place, but there was an independence movement and January events. Therefore, before the Soviet army went to the TV tower in Vilnius, they took the control over this emergency centre near Nemenčinė.
Ramparts located nearby, including the closest one, where the leadership of Soviet Lithuania was supposed to hide, were able to withstand an atomic attack and an earthquake up to the force of 7.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. In the case of seismically inactive areas it shows that the Soviet engineers built the bunkers to stand there for ages. Lithuanian independence came and majority of the objects became ruins.
A bunker located near the peripheries of Nemenčinė was not lucky either, when it comes to owners. Its owner (a private person) wanted to change the area into a parcel, on which a house was then supposed to be built. The area is surrounded by a national forest, which is untouchable, so the plan failed. Today, the bunker is abandoned, though not fully, because, as the local inhabitants say, homeless people sometimes appear there.
–Rumour has it that there are many more such bunkers around, and they are all connected by a net of tunnels, which can lead you to Vilnius. – a woman living in Nemenčinė informs us. – But I do not believe it. – she adds.
Meanwhile the prefect of the city admits that the majority of public buildings, such as the hospital, the Municipal Services Office building, and even school buildings were built on huge foundations with great cellars.
—These premises were probably covers for military buildings — the prefect believes.
Another proof of the serious plans to made Nemenčinė the alternative capital of Lithuania in the case of an atomic war are the investments, made by the authorities to develop the underground level of Nemenčinė. Only one of the communication centre bunkers cost them around 7 million roubles, and the capacity of the building is compared to that of the Theatre and Ballet building in Vilnius which, in case of an atomic bomb attack, would fall. So would the surface level of Nemenčinė, with its people, stories and church, whose history has lasted since the times of Jogaila.
Tłumaczenie Emilia Zawieracz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Emilia Zawieracz the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.