Clinton presses Latvia to give back Jewish property (REUTERS) By Andrew Quinn RIGA 06/28/12 10:04am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Latvia on
Thursday to return property to Jewish groups which was seized by the
Soviet Union and whose owners were killed by the Nazis, a rare point
of tension between Washington and its Baltic ally.
The issue of returning property such as schools, some synagogues and
other communal buildings is controversial in Latvia, one of the EU´s
poorest states and which is just recovering from a deep crisis. A
nationalist minister quit the ruling coalition last week over the
"The United States strongly supports restitution or compensation for
those whose property was confiscated by either the Nazis or the
Communists," Clinton told a news conference during a brief visit to
the Baltic state.
Clinton, whose tour of Finland, Latvia and St Petersburg has been
overshadowed by U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria, said she had raised
the issue in all her meetings, with the president, prime minister and
"We think that resolving these issues quickly and fairly is in
everyone´s interest and we hope that the process ... will be able to
move forward and that this issue about communal property restitution
can be addressed as soon as possible because it is a piece of
unfinished historical business," Clinton said.
Latvia´s main Jewish organization has claimed back the property which
belonged to Jews before World War Two and which was seized when the
Soviet Union annexed Latvia in 1940.
It says it is acting in the name of the tens of thousands of Jews who
were killed during a subsequent Nazi occupation of the Baltic state
in 1941-1944. Of a pre-war population of about 94,000, some 70,000
Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and introduced laws on
returning nationalized property. But with no one left to claim
communal Jewish property, the issue was left unresolved.
Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the government had a good
dialogue with the Jewish community and was establishing a process for
restitution, but the process had to move gradually.
"We have to exercise extra caution because they (the situation) is
very sensitive due to historical considerations," he said, referring
to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.
The nationalist minister for justice of junior coalition party All
For Latvia/For Fatherland and Freedom resigned last week, saying the
main coalition party of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis was being
too pushy on the restitution issue.
The nationalists say Jews should not get special treatment as laws
already exist for returning nationalised property.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm; Editing by
Jackie Frank) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 06/28/12)
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