18 05 07

Moviegoers Don’t Give Up

Karolis Klimka, Kasparas Pocius, Gediminas Urbonas


Sign an online petition and express your solidarity with citizens fighting for the public space in Vilnius.

For many months now, life has been tough for some cinema-goers in Vilnius, the capital of post-Soviet Lithuania. Instead of just lolling in front of a screen with boxes of popcorn in their hands, Lithuanian cinema-lovers have been busy writing petitions, organizing picket lines, debating in Government committees, and even preparing for a case at the court. 

In 2002, the last cinema in the historic centre of Vilnius was privatised by the largest supermarket chain in Lithuania called “Maxima”, known for its aggressive role in the privatisation of real estate and energy resources not only in Lithuania, but also in Latvia, Poland, Romania, and elsewhere. In 2005 the company announced its plan to close the cinema and start developing real estate activities on the site of the cinema. The site is 4000 square meters, including the building with 1100 seats. The estimated real estate value of the object is about 30 million euros. Faced with resistance by the organised cinema-goers led by the artists couple Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, including active campaigning, critique and publicity efforts, “Maxima” hurriedly sold their property in October 2005 to the “Paradise Apartments”, a company controlled by unknown developers (none of the attempts to find out who they are have produced any results). Plans to replace the cinema with an apartment bloc will be implemented by a foreign investment firm “M2Invest” with the corporate slogan  “We see more than you”.

60 activists from different fields, such as green movement, cultural heritage, archaeology, sustained development, including filmmakers, cultural producers, architects, students of political science, as well as neighbourhood activists, came forward with their alternative vision for the future of this public space, determined to retain what they take to be their public space. A “Pro-test lab” was established at the premises of the closed cinema, not only to represent the voice of those refusing to give up their public space to corporate “development”, but also to explore (hence the “test”) the alternative scenarios for the future of their community. Unfortunately, all the answers received from the city administration and ministerial bodies have been negative and clearly biased in favour of private interests.

Meanwhile, 4 people representing the cinema-goers’ movement have become plaintiffs in the Administrative Court of Vilnius County. In this case they are confronted with unusual respondents such as the municipality, the Ministry of Culture, the Department for Cultural Heritage, region administration, as well as the site developer (“Paradise Apartments”). Complainants presented evidence consisting of 300 pages. The private developers have been threatening the movement’s leaders and participants, who stand accused of “making a tremendous harm” to their investment and stopping the development of the site. The new owners are claiming the damage of 50.000 euros a month, to be calculated since September 2006. They keep intimidating the protesters, threatening to bring a case before the Civil Court for damages if protesters’ claim for the public interest is not withdrawn.

In the meantime, municipal elections have taken place in Vilnius, and the mayor and his party of the New Liberals, who were behind all those deals with real estate people, have lost their positions in the City Council. As the City Council is the last institution to approve detailed planning and to issue permits for the construction (and destruction of the cinema), those resisting the corporate onslaught still have some hope that this destruction could be prevented.

The former cinema at issue, “Lietuva” (meaning “Lithuania”), is the last out of twenty, and the largest cinema theatre in the capital of Lithuania. During the past four decades, it used to host activities such as film festivals of European, Lithuanian, and non-commercial films, retrospectives and concerts. Its closing is a severe blow to the cultural growth and international diversity of Vilnius. Privatisation and subsequent closedown of cinema theatres and the cinema studio, including all national archives of the cinema (!), by real estate developers have already made a tremendous damage for the cultural infrastructure and cultural heritage of the country. As well as addressing all the relevant state institutions, including the President of Lithuania, the Parliament, and the Government, the organised cinema-goers sent an appeal to the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, pointing out the historic significance of the site as part of the territory of the World Heritage City.

The “Lithuania” cinema theatre, threatened to be replaced by the “Paradise Apartments”, was built in 1965. It is located at the World Heritage Site – the historic centre of Vilnius. Those defending their last cinema say the anticipated changes violate several international conventions ratified by Lithuania, including the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the European Archaeological Convention, the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe, and the European Landscape Convention. According to the protesters, the planned construction would take away a multifaceted cultural space from the urban community. The environing open spaces, adjoining the “Lithuania” cinema theatre, now accessible to all, will be eliminated by “Paradise Apartments”.

The company “Paradise Apartments” has shown neither responsibility nor respect that the law obliges them to exercise. The evasion and double-talk left those concerned about their future as cinema-goers with the feeling that the occasional meetings with the public were set up by public relations firms and have little to do with genuine public participation. As Vilnius cinema-goers are confronting the huge machinery of bureaucrats and lawyers serving Municipality and private investors, they believe that placing the “Lietuva” cinema case in the international context could help to discipline the decisions of local clerks, as it would create the effect of “international awareness”. To cover their litigation expenses, the activists are going to start an international fundraising campaign.

The case of cinema “Lietuva” has been presented in the Archive of Pro-test lab, an installation by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas. The archive was part of several international art exhibitions, including Populism, Gwangju biennale, and Moscow Biennale. Now it is on its way to Pecci museum in Prato, Venice Biennale and Fluxus exhibition in Berlin.

Your solidarity is needed!

Sign an online petition and express your support for citizens fighting for a public space in Vilnius.



Further references can be found here:




by Kasparas Pocius, Karolis Klimka and Gediminas Urbonas



Karolis Klimka at