Government dodges decision on sensitive cemetery purchase

Take note – story published 6 years ago

The Latvian government on March 28 avoided making a decision about whether to exercise its rights of first refusal and buy the Lielie Kapi (Great Cemetery), a historical cemetery in Riga.

Instead, the government instructed the Culture Ministry to continue the talks with Riga City Council about possible solutions regarding future management of the cemetery.

In February this year, the Culture Ministry received the State Cultural Monument Protection Inspection's request to consider exercising the right of first refusal and buying the Great Cemetery that had great cultural and historical value.

The Cultural Monument Protection Inspection said in the letter to the Culture Ministry that it did not have enough of its own funds to buy the Great Cemetery from the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church which is selling it because it cannot afford to maintain the property properly.

However, the Finance Ministry said that buying the cemetery and handing it over to Valsts Nekustamie Ipasumi (VNI), the company responsible for management of the state-owned real estate, was against the strategy of keeping only the properties needed for public functions or having high commercial potential as offices for rent. Moreover, maintenance and management of the Great Cemetery will involve great costs.

The Riga City Council is willing to buy the cemetery from the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and they have even agreed on the price - €372,000 (VAT included).

Olegs Burovs, the head of the city council's Property Department, said earlier that the local government was prepared to take over the responsibility for the Great Cemetery but would not mind, if the state chose to exercise its rights of first refusal and bought the cemetery from the church itself.

In turn, Riga City Council hopes to build a new tram line to serve the quickly-developing Skanste area of the city which would run through part of the Lielie Kapi territory. This has caused protests from people who fear that, despite assurances to the contrary by the municipal authorities, the ambitious project would disturb graves.

The Lielie Kapi cemetery was founded in the late 1770s in a place which at that time was well outside the city limits. The city grew with time and so did the cemetery until it was completely closed for new burials in 1969. Many prominent Latvians have been buried in Lielie Kapi in the past, and there are numerous tombstones with historic and cultural value in the graveyard.

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