Arkadijus Vinokuras: A Community Divided

Yesterday, on May 24, 2017, in an uprising against Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, the 15 men of the executive board conducted, according to the current chairwoman, illegitimate elections, thus dividing the community.

I, Arkadijus Vinokuras, a legitimate candidate, refused to take part in these elections for three reasons, which can be summed up in the cynical words of newly elected [sic] Vilnius Jewish Community chairman Simonas Gurevičius: “The unity of the community is important. But unity was never a synonym for idiocy. The community is united in pursuing its goals, in improving conditions, in mutual aid, in growth, in perfection, in other positive matters. Not in silence over dishonesty and apathy.” Did you get it? The unity of the community is considered a synonym for stupidity. Apparently striving for the unity of the community (but not confusing this in any way with a uniform opinion) is also idiotic. That the new “chairman” considers members of the VJC idiots and fools, and that the defense of morality has become a farce, was shown by him immediately during the election, when I withdrew from the elections and that very same minute a new candidacy was raised “in the name of democratic elections.”

Why I Refused to Participate

First. Because of the moral dilemma. There are 2,200 members in the Vilnius Jewish Community. These elections for the post of VJC chairman were attended exclusively by Gurevičius’s supporters, just 260 people. I, on the other hand, want to be a candidate for all members, regardless of whether they are proponents or opponents. That’s the correct and fair way. Thus my legitimate hopes and expectations as a legitimate candidate were not satisfied.

Second. Only Gurevičius’s supporters participated in these “elections.” He was elected by 246 people. I cannot countenance these elections turned farcical with no chance for an independent candidate.

Third. These elections didn’t contain even a trace of democracy. First of all, the conflict which arose between the executive board and the chairwoman was born in immorality. Whether there were good grounds for it or not, I won’t get into, I won’t go into the legal arguments. But it’s not just the legal aspect that matters in this small community, it’s the aspect of fairness and justice. So the chairwoman was accused of usurping power and manipulating the regulations of the VJC. All the problems of the VJC were placed at the feet of the chairwoman.

Flawed Regulations

But–at least the question arises in my mind–where were these members of the executive board of the VJC, these allegedly intelligent 15 men, these last four years? Why didn’t they over the course of those years do anything to change these flawed rules and regulations which allowed for manipulations using these regulations as seen fit and as desired by the chair and the executive board? Why did these 15 men, who placed the blame for the conflict on one woman, begin this conflict which has led directly to the schism in the community?

The answer is unpleasant: they did this knowing full well that the rules themselves are the source of all problems in the conflict-ridden governance of the VJC. It’s not important, for example, that there are 2,200 Vilnius Jewish Community members and that the regulations require at least half of all members participate at a VJC conference. But these same rules say that a conference attended by only 260 members may proclaim itself a quorum. Even if only 20 members had attended, the result would be the same. A quorum exists, and the minority can force their will on the clear majority.

Opaque Elections

The organizers of these elections somehow decided not to present transparent, fair election campaign procedures and a requirement they be followed. What does that mean? It means that there was no deadline by which candidates had to submit their candidacies. Therefore during the elections themselves, on that same day, a candidate, let’s say Frank the Plumber, could stand up and everyone applauds in the name of democracy.

No election debates were held or planned. The reason, of course, is that Simonas Gurevičius would simply lose in any honest debates with me. He knows full well he is a part of this flawed VJC governance system which he doesn’t plan to change or reform at all. Accusing chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, for example, of usurping power by occupying all posts simultaneously in the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Gurevičius intends to do exactly the same thing.

I am very categorical regarding this: each Jewish institution needs to have exactly one separate chairman. Despite Gurevičius’s nice words about democracy and his critique of “queen chairwoman,” he himself aspires to occupy all posts. The dragon is dead, long live the dragon? That’s why the VJC regulations won’t be amended. Who benefits if the rules say the VJC chairman may not be the chairman of other institutions? Why change the absurd decision that a quorum is established by the will of the conference itself, even though those attending that conference are definitely just a minority?

There’s another problem, that of mentality, afflicting the Vilnius Jewish Community. The Russo-Soviet mentality. The majority of those 260 people attending [the fake elections yesterday], for example, spoke Russian exclusively. They watch Russian television channels exclusively. Concepts such as democratic elections and democratic election and election campaign procedures are mysteries to them.

It was nice that this event was held in the Lithuanian language, since Jewish young people do speak Lithuanian, and the requirement to speak Lithuanian during the official event [sic] was kept. We aren’t Russians and Poles, after all. We’re Litvaks. But Litvaks, who are educated, cultured and cognizant of what’s happening and what’s being sought, were too few there. So it was possible to manipulate the majority as they wished. This is what happened in Germany after an influx of Russian Jews into the Jewish Community. The community was divided there as well.

No, I’m not blaming those people who needed to be educated in the spirit of democracy those 27 years. But the VJC regulations haven’t been amended during all those years, preserving the regime of a tyrannical “good chairman” who bestows benefits on supplicants on bended knee. Is it a mystery why only 260 members out of 2,200 participated in these [fake] elections? [Even if they had been legitimate] would the remainder really have participated, knowing how pointless the exercise was? These sorts of attitudes and feelings are very saddening.

To really change the situation, there must be transparent elections, after which the new VJC governance organ would that very same day announce changes to the rules under the standards of a democratic system and in keeping with a democratic community. A new community supervisory organ should be formed, an independent ethics commission. Sadly the “new chairman” and his “new executive board” have no intention of doing this. And why should they? After all, they want to achieve absolute power at any price, and it doesn’t matter that the price for this is the fragmentation and splintering of the community.

Full story in Lithuanian here.