Kongress 2011/Different protest is possible

Aus Recht auf Stadt, Plattform fuer stadtpolitisch Aktive

FR 3 June 2011 in: Gängeviertel

Abstrakt DE

Das Projekt Pro-test lab befasst sich mit einem der letzten Kinos von Vilnius, dem Lietuva. Das Kino, eine 1965 gebaute Ikone der sozialistischen Moderne, sollte von Immobilien-Developern durch ein Einkaufszentrum ersetzt werden. Das Pro-Test Lab ist, wie der Titel schon sagt, "pro", und hat einen positiven Protest um das Kino entwickelt. In Kooperation mit dem Besitzer des Kinos kam eine Semi-Besetzung des Gebäudes zustande. Die Künstler_innen, darunter Nomeda und Gedeminas Urbonas, veränderten den Ort und luden Leute, die Nachbarschaft ein, einen positiven Protest im öffentlichen Raum zu entfalten. Unterschiedliche Projekte wurden um das Kino organisiert, neue, ausgebuffte, und stylische Protestformen entwickelt: Polyphoner Protest, Modenschauen, protestierende bellende Hunde, Diskussionen, "green sound", ein Fernsehstudio. Die ideologisch stramm neoliberale und autoritäre Situation in Litauen bringt es mit sich, das etwa Demonstrationen häufig verboten werden. Um diese Hürde zu umgehen, wurden statt Demonstrationen zum Bespiel Dreharbeiten angemeldet, für die Demonstrationen inszeniert wurden. Schließlich wurde das Pro-Test Lab von den Investoren verklagt, da die positiven Protest-Aktionen den Wert des Gebäudes gemindert hätten. Da sich in Litauen kein Anwalt fand, der bereit war, die Künstler vor Gericht zu verteidigen, studierte einer der Aktivisten kurzerhand Jura. Der Prozess läuft genau während des Recht auf Stadt-Kongresses.

Cinema “Lietuva”: More than a Public Space

In Soviet times, culture had been systematically protected and subsidized. Film was an essential part of the country’s cultural life, and huge cinemas were built in many city centres in Lithuania. Under the new capitalist system, however, these cinemas became the perfect targets for the growing property market, and many were demolished to make way for large buildings: apartment blocks, supermarkets and shopping centres. Taking the management of public spaces as its theme, the project Pro-test Lab focused on the specific case of the “Lietuva” cinema building.

The former ticket office at the cinema “Lietuva” in Vilnius was converted into a Pro-test Lab inviting people – neighbours, different social groups, cultural activists and community leaders – to propose protest scenarios against the destruction of public space. The Pro-test Lab: with the addition of a hyphen, the title of the project drew a positive connotation out of a word otherwise defined in the negative. The project thus became a vehicle for ‘testing the possibility to protest’ by experimenting with performative forms of generative critique.

It’s aim was to protect the last cinema “Lietuva” in the Vilnius Old Town, the relevant public space and the environment of its location, which is a part of the World Heritage Site – the Vilnius Historic Centre. However, the City authorities together with the Ministry of Culture privatized the cinema “Lietuva” without any consultancy with the public. A UK registered real estate developer “M2Invest” JSC/LLC subsidiary company “Rojaus Apartmentai” JSC/LLC (“Paradise Apartments”) – now bankrupt, intended to demolish the cinema “Lietuva” building and erect a multi-storey residential building with commercial facilities at the ground floor instead. The building was intended to span over the current public space as well, and the multi-level underground garages had to destroy the archaeological and old hydro-geological site of the first springs of Vilnius, which were used as the drinking water for 400 years.

The spontaneous protest has been formalized into the socio-cultural movement “For Lithuania without the Quotation Marks”. A lot of activities were undertaken, such as the petition to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (undersigned by more than 8000 citizens), appeals to the Mayor of Vilnius, the Parliament, the President, the Prime Minister, as well as to the Attorney General of the Republic of Lithuania, a letter to Norwegian Ambassador in Lithuania, an appeal to the Embassy of UK and a letter to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a petition to the member of European Parliament Martin Shultz and others, the appeal to UNESCO Members of the World Heritage Committee and many other international organizations. An entire sequence of the public actions 2005-2009 for the protection open public space and the World heritage site is documented and open for public access on the website of www.vilma.cc/Lietuva.

Privatization of the Cinema Building

On the 1st of January, 2002 Vilnius City Municipality took a decision to privatize cinema “Lietuva”, i.e. to sell Municipality owned shares at the privatization auction. The company „Regiono Investicija“ won the first auction. This branch of a nationwide company “Vilniaus Prekyba” (VP Market), which owns the chain of supermarkets, then refused to accept the purchase consequently loosing the auction deposit of 100 000 Litas ( 28 962 EUR).

On the 21st of December, 2002 the second privatization auction was organized with the only company participating, that was the same company „Regiono Investicija“. The winning bid was 3 times less than was noted at the first auction – approximately 3000000 Litas (868 860 EUR). The company took under the guarantee for operation of the cinema for the next 3 years from the moment of signing the privatization contract.

On the 27th of May, 2003 the company „Regiono Investicija“ entered up into the State land lease agreement as lessee, although the primary purpose of the land use remained unconverted determining “the land lot use exceptionally for the cultural purpose”.

Violations of Aarhus Convention

On the 29th of December, 2004 - Vilnius City Council eliminated public purpose of the State property land lot at Pylimo street 17 where the cinema “Lietuva” is located by taking resolution that alters the Grand planning of the Vilnius city. Instead the new purpose was inscribed along with the means of the land use – “for housing, and multi-stored buildings”. Decision was taken secretly and without any public approval. It is obvious violation of Aarhus convention that is ratified by Lithuanian Republic in 2001, as convention obliges any parties to inform public about planning of territories in time and efficiently, and to guarantee public participation in the decision making.

On the 10th of March, 2006 Vilnius City Municipality disposed the territory planners rights over to private company “Rojaus Apartamentai” under the agreement for the detailed planning of the lot at Pylimo street 17. The act of disposal of territory planners rights violated the Aarhus Convention, as doing so Vilnius City Municipality delivered function of public administration (that is duty of State or Municipal institutes) over to the private enterprise to perform the supervision of the detailed planning of territory. Company “Rojaus Apartamentai” was the owner of the cinema “Lietuva” and therefore obviously had the private interest in the development of the lot.

On the 14th of April, 2006 under the request of the company “Rojaus Apartamentai” the Administration of Vilnius City Municipality issued the conditions regarding the detailed planning of the lot, indicating the aim of the planning as „determination of the management and usage of the lot at Pylimo street 17 with intended disposition as residential, attribution as multi-storey dwelling-house; the ground floor premises for commercial usage“. Such planning conditions allowed the change of the function and redevelopment of the state property land with the cultural and public purpose. The document denied the public purpose of the land referring to the decree approved without any public consent by Vilnius City council on December 29, 2004.

On the 7th of July, 2006 Citizens movement “For Lithuania without Quotation Marks” presented written appeal to UNESCO members of the World Heritage Committee, and participants of the 30th Session of the World Heritage Committee in Vilnius, concerning the Destruction of Cultural Heritage. Appeal was followed by meeting with Mr. Francesco Bandarin, director of the World Heritage Centre at the State Department of Cultural Heritage to discuss case of cinema “Lietuva” and other violations taking place in Vilnius Old Town that is the site of UNESCO World Heritage.

On the 13th of June, 2008 answering the request regarding the detailed planning of the Kazokiškės dumpsite near Vilnius, UN European Commission of Economy published: Decisions on Compliance, Decision III 6 and Decision III 6d, which admitted that the disposal of the planners rights is a violation of Aarhus Convention. It was noted that such disposal of planner’s rights also violates decision of Vilnius City Council “Regarding the detailed planning in Vilnius Old Town” published on the 7th of September, 2005. This document clearly defines functions of the planning organizer as duty of City Development Department at Vilnius Municipality.

On the 22nd of January, 2009 the official state newsletter “Valstybės žinios” published fundamentally corrected Lithuanian edition of Aarhus Convention. Corrected version of the translation edited by citizen’s movement was accepted by Lithuanian government only after numerous appeals to the supreme governmental institutions and European Commission. According to those appeals, the use of the fundamentally false translation allowed not only a multitude of violations that suppressed civic rights (otherwise guaranteed by the Convention), but also introduced several new laws, permitting subjection of civic rights (and public interest) in the courts, that is in contradiction with international laws.

The Administrative Lawsuit

In 2006, the developers, i.e., “M2Invest” JSC/LLC, subsidiary company “Rojaus Apartamentai” JSC/LLC prepared a detail plan for the cinema “Lietuva” site, and started public participation process. The Vilnius Municipality authorized the developers to act as public authorities – that is against the Aarhus Convention, since the public authorities are the only body, entitled to provide public participation in decision-making in environmental matters. Members of the mentioned movement were very active, gave about 70 proposals, however, the developers rejected all of them.

Then, following the legal procedures established both by the Aarhus Convention, as well the national legislation, activists complained to the Vilnius County authorities, which are a supervisory body for the Vilnius Municipality, against the violation of their participatory rights in the decision-making process in environmental matters. The Vilnius County ignored the complaints, and continued with decision-making procedure, issuing a certificate, stating that there were no law violations in the detailed plan, including the entire public participation procedure. The next step of the activists was filing an administrative lawsuit over the Vilnius County, asking to annul the Certificate, and for assurance of their claim – to stop temporary its validity. The Vilnius District Administrative Court decided to stop it, and the Supreme Administrative Court supported this decision further on.

In this lawsuit the Vilnius District Administrative Court rejected the claim, stating that activists are not considered as the public concerned, and have no right to claim against the issuing of the Certificate. The Supreme Administrative Court decided contrary – that the rights of the activists have been violated by the Vilnius County, but since the validity of the Certificate ... naturally expired during the court procedures (it is valid for one year according to the national legislation), this violation is meaningless now, therefore the Court will not take any decision regarding this. As regards the violation of activists’ rights under the Aarhus Convention, this Court decided that the Convention is not ... applicable, because the claimants did not ... mention the Convention earlier it this case. After that the activists submitted a request to the Supreme Administrative Court for the renewal of the lawsuit on the basis that the Aarhus Convention was not applied.

On the 10th of April, 2009 The State Supreme Administrative Court issued the decision to renew the legal process in connection to the appeal by the four citizens. In this decision the Court admitted that edition of Aarhus Convention translation as published in State News of January 22, 2009 was fundamentally different from the one that was followed when the administrative case was examined. The Court concluded that during examination of the case there was possible damage incurred in connection to violation of norms of civic rights, therefore the legal process was renewed.

On the 6th of June, 2011 Vilnius Supreme Administrative Court postpones hearings for the third time.

On the “19th of Septembet, 2011 Vilnius Supreme Administrative Court issued a decision not to change the decision of the Vilnius District Administrative Court stating that activists are not considered as the public concerned, and have no right to claim against the issuing of the Certificate by Vilnius County. Vilnius Supreme Administrative Court also stated that there is no need to approach the European Court of Justice and by doing so it rejected access to justice to the citizens of Lithuania. The basic argument of the Court was that Aarhus Convention is not applicable in this case, because the Certificate, which activists were complaining about, is no longer valid.

The Civil Lawsuit

Meanwhile the company “Rojaus Apartamentai” filed the civil lawsuit to the Vilnius District Court over the four activists, claiming that they had no legal rights to claim over the Vilnius County Administration in the environmental matters, and requesting more than 1 million Litas (about 320 000 EUR), because due to the temporally stopped Certificate they had not been able to get relevant consents and permits issued by the Vilnius Municipality, and start the demolition & construction works. Consistently the Company was requesting to arrest movable and immovable property of the activists, to include their personal bank accounts. Up to the moment the Court has been rejecting any requests for such measures.

The Administrative Lawsuit # 2

Four other activists filed an administrative lawsuit over the Vilnius City Municipality. They submitted the complaint at the Vilnius County Administrative Court against the Vilnius City Council decision issued on July 18, 2008 that approved detailed planning at Pylimo street 17, the lot of the cinema “Lietuva”. Four activists call to strike down decision of Vilnius City Council that is violating public interest. Citizens request to retry the public hearing of the detailed planning of the lot with the measures to guarantee representation of State institutes safeguarding public interest to be taken.

On the 20th of January, 2009 Vilnius County Administrative Court satisfied the citizen’s request to apply temporal measures and stop the detailed planning of the lot of cinema “Lietuva”, as it was approved by the Vilnius City Council.

On the 21st of February, 2009 the State Supreme Administrative Court carried the final resolution to abrogate decision of Vilnius County Administrative Court that satisfied the citizen’s request to apply temporal measures and put temporal arrest on the City Council’s decision stopping planning of the cinema lot.

On the 11th of October, 2011 Vilnius County Administrative Court renewed hearings of the complaint about Vilnius City Council decision issued on July 18, 2008 that approved detailed planning at Pylimo street 17, the lot of the cinema “Lietuva”.

On the 28th of November, 2011 Vilnius County Administrative Court postponed hearings for the first time.

The Civil Lawsuit # 2

In addition, the company “M2Invest” filed the civil lawsuit to the Vilnius Borough Court over one of the four activists J.M., insisting that in a radio-show “The Spectator” it was declared that “due to this company houses are collapsing and roads are constructed directly through children playgrounds”. This way the reputation of the company suffered, they had financial losses, and requested for the compensation of 30000 Litas (about 9000 EUR).

The mentioned radio-show analyzed acculturation of the city, and incompatible new development processes that make negative impact on communal life, and social cohesion, as well as on healthy environment, and cultural heritage, and prominent intellectuals, artists, and politicians were taking part.

The falsified indictment, which accused the cultural heritage activist of slander, was disseminated in the media. It was, in fact, the instance of the lawsuit against freedom of speech and of thought. After J.M. had delivered evidences to the court (i.e., a digital copy of the radio-show), the company continued the case on the basis that “though she did not say this, maybe she was thinking about”. After a year the Vilnius Borough Court decided that these freedoms are constitutional rights, and activist won the case.

At the same time the complaint was made asking the Attorney General to investigate, who is responsible for the fraud, which was the basis of the mentioned lawsuit against freedom of speech and thought. The Attorney started the criminal lawsuit, however, the investigation was very vague, and the responsibility of the company for that fraud is still unclear. No charges have been brought yet against the company for falsifying documents, as well as using them for prosecution and defamation of the public activist.

SLAPPs according Aarhus Convention

Both civil lawsuits are typical environmental SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation). Undoubtedly, there are victims of even more intense SLAPP’ing in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, or Eastern European countries. However, in these cases big companies perceive active people as “unwanted” due to their high qualification in urban planning, construction, or heritage conservation. Such companies are trying to make these citizens frightened and/or exhausted. Usually, it is more important for companies not to win the case, but to eliminate the discontent. In the ignorant Eastern European societies such companies can file ridiculously huge financial claims and name them reparations, as an outrage.

It is important to note, that activists who were protecting the cinema “Lietuva” from the very beginning (i.e., from the end of 2006) indicated fatal mistakes in the translation of the Aarhus Convention, which resulted in violation and extreme limiting of the scope of the Convention, and is in fact compromising its general statement that “every person has the right to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being, and the duty, both individually and in association with others, to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations and for this purpose must have the right to access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters”.

However, the Courts and the National Government did not pay any attention to this problem of the human rights, until the Lithuanian Association on Human Rights and the environmental and grass-roots NGO “Žvėryno bendruomenė” -Žvėrynas Community filed a complaint to the European Commission that Lithuania is violating EU laws. After that the Lithuanian Parliament pointed out the Government to correct the translation, and the new official text was published on January 2009.

As a result, in April 2009 the Supreme Administrative Court renewed judicial proceedings in another lawsuit, which has been filed by the NGO “Žvėryno bendruomenė” over the Vilnius Municipality for heritage and environmental law violations. Earlier this NGO, and many others - lost their lawsuits, because the Supreme Administrative Court stated that under the Aarhus Convention the NGO’s had no right to apply to the Court for protection of cultural sites.

Recuperation and Detournement

Further Reading

Interview „Hacking public Spaces in Vilnius“ by Geert Lovink.

Reportage "The End of Lietuva Cinema, the Death of Community Culture" by Nell Harrison.

Analysis "Querying the Memory of Place by Making Sense of the Pro.." by Lina Žigelytė.

Interview „No Real Communist Ideas in Occupied Lithuania“ EN FR ES CA PL IT

Ergebnisse, Gedanken, Kommentare / Results, Thoughts, Comment

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See also

Timeline of Cinema Lietuva

Images of Pro-test Lab

Website of Pro-test Lab

Petition to support citizens fighting for the public space in Vilnius