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Tuesday 19.12.2017 | Name days: Sarmis, Lelde

Vilnius’ Green Bridge Soviet-era guys and gals awaiting final trial

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Sculptures portraying a hammer and sickle float above a street scene during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The Soviet-era monuments in Lithuania are gone long time ago with the sweeping national movement in the early 1990s. The Grutas Park in the proximity of the resort of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania, where the statues of Lenin and other Soviet revolutionaries are displayed to «awws» and «ohhs» of the abundant visitors, is the place to stop by to take a glimpse at the gloomy page of the Lithuanian history. But astonishingly to many, Soviet sculptures on the Green Bridge in Vilnius, embroiled in a lengthy and heated debate on their significance, are still catching the attention of the passers-by eyes in the bustling connection of the capital.

What is the proper way to treat the Soviet relics?

Should the sickle-and-hammer wielding Soviet figures on the bridge be left for good as the part of the cultural heritage that no country with any ban on use or display of Nazi or Communist era symbols can rub off? Should the pals be caged, turned that way into a modern artwork, which is a creative suggestion by some funky artists out there? Or do they just have to be torn down?

With all those «pros» and «cons» out there, the issue has been divisive as few other in the country’s modern history.

The experts from the State Cultural Heritage Commission, set to bring verdict on the Green Bridge sculptures’ fate, have postponed the decision until spring when an international conference on Soviet heritage is due.

The deliberations at the commission have rekindled a public flare of emotions, fuelled by the the ongoing Russian invasion to Ukraine.

Whatever the ruling on the sculptures turns out, the Green Bridge, even Soviet youth-less, cannot quell the acidity of the Soviet history.

An international conference to be held

Commission chairwoman Gražina Drėmaitė said on October 2 that an international conference on Soviet heritage would be organized in as early as March or April.

«The conference council has decided that it would be better to organize an international conference as other countries have experience on the issue, and we postponed it to the spring. We want specialists from Germany, Italy and Poland to attend. Until then, local specialists will work. Heritage is not politics. We cannot just make a political decision and that’s it. Nobody does that, we need to do this in a civilized way,» she told this week.

During the commission deliberations, the bridge was besieged by a group of activists, demanding removal of the Soviet sculptures from the Cultural Heritage List which is a prerequisite for their removal.

«We hope that state institutions will no longer include the occupants’ propaganda sculptures into the list of protected objects. Today, in the wake of aggression against Ukraine, this tool is harming children by spreading lies and denying genocide against Lithuania,»  Kasparas Genzbigelis, chairman of the January 13 brotherhood, told BNS, a Lithuanian news agency.

The clamorous protesters are set to continue protesting near the bridge between 12 and 4 pm every day until October 12.

People are also invited to sign an online petition for the removal of the Soviet sculptures from the Green Bridge. It is said it has already been signed by more than 3,000 people.

The Green Bridge sculptures, featuring Soviet soldiers, workers, peasants and students, were erected on the bridge in 1952.

Cultural heritage vs. Soviet propaganda

Ahead of the international conference, Lithuanian heritage and art specialists, artists, MPs and representatives of the public will be invited to discuss the issues of preserving Soviet-era cultural heritage.

«Time has come to hold a serious discussion. We should put all the dots on the letter «i» to see whether we are a country of culture or not,» the chairman insisted.

She hopes that the conference will speak up for leaving the sculpture on the spot as the witnesses of the quite recent though gloomy history.

But the vociferous critics encompassing mostly January 13 Brotherhood activists, former exiles and political prisoners as well as ultra-patriotic youth maintain that leaving the sculptures, representing Soviet-era soldiers, workers, farmers, and students, in central Vilnius is tantamount to preaching Soviet propaganda and is insult to people who have fought to get rid of the Soviet regime.

Vilnius Municipality had announced a tender for renovation of the statues last year, but it has failed as no bidders wished to take on the works despite the multiple repetition of tender.

With the restorers said being wary about their reputation and an outbreak of protests accompanying the idea of renovation, obviously, the municipality has temporarily scrapped the repair plans until the culture heritage watchdogs will weigh in with the last decision on the sculptures’ future.

Vilnius authorities refused to reveal the potential costs of the repairs, but the leaks in media put them at nearly 60 thousand euro.

Cage up the Soviet stony guys and gals!

Meanwhile, Lithuanian artists come up with their own ways on how to treat the patina-covered sculptures.

Audrius Ambrasas, a Vilnius architect, suggests, for example, caging up the stony Soviet dudes and gals for some time. The architect has even drawn up an actual project for that kind of artistic installation that would frame the sculptures in open steel constructions.

Commenting his idea, he said the installation would be a sign that all see the sculptures but do not believe in the message they convey. The soviet pathos would be denied in this way, argues the artist.

But Gediminas Kirkilas, a prominent Lithuanian Social Democrat, former Prime Minister and a restorer by profession himself, told BNN he believes the Green Bridge sculptors, nevertheless, are pieces of the cultural heritage.

«In fact, these are the only ones from the Soviet period. We just cannot scratch off the part of history regardless of how much some of us are would be willing to do it,» Kirkilas told.

He regretted the continuing deterioration of the unattended sculptures and pointed out to the Vilnius punicipality as the one in the shoes to make a change.

«But, sure, no restoration work will be started before the municipal Council election in the beginning of March. The brouhaha discourages restorers from putting their hands on the sculptures. Besides, as if on purpose, the municipality had allotted too little funds for the task in the past. Perhaps because of that and the public outcry no one came forward,» the MP told.

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