Property Restitution in Central and Eastern EuropeBureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
October 3, 2007
During World War II, the Nazis seized property, real and movable, from organizations and individuals which the Nazi regime was persecuting -- Jews, members of some Christian organizations, Roma, homosexuals, and others. Much of that property in Western Europe was returned during the post-war period -- under occupation law in areas occupied by the Allies, and under the laws of individual countries. This was not generally possible behind the Iron Curtain, where the newly-established communist governments simply took over property seized earlier by the Nazis. Those governments also frequently confiscated additional property from their own citizens.
The collapse of communism in 1989-91 made it possible to restitute property in the former Iron Curtain countries. Many countries enacted legislation to provide for the restitution of both private and communal property. (Communal property is property previously owned by religious and other organizations. It includes churches, synagogues, community halls, parochial schools, medical facilities, etc.)
The United States has strongly supported efforts to restitute to rightful owners property confiscated by the Nazis 1933-45 and by the subsequent communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe. Positive action on property issues was one of the criteria used to judge the progress of countries that aspired to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership. The European Union (EU) also recognizes the relevance of property issues in applicant countries.
A successful property restitution program is an indicator of the effectiveness of the rule of law in a democratic country. Non-discriminatory, effective property laws are also of crucial importance to a healthy market economy.
We recognize that in rem property restitution may not be possible in all cases. Payment of compensation is the obvious alternative.
Property restitution is often complicated and controversial. Changing the ownership and use of buildings and land from one party or purpose to another can cause major disruptions that already economically challenged countries can ill afford. There is no single system of property restitution laws and procedures that can be applied to all countries. In encouraging restitution, the U.S. government bears in mind the following considerations:
The United States has been encouraged with the progress many countries have made on this difficult, complex and frequently controversial issue. Still, there is a great deal of work to be done in this area. Some countries still do not have property restitution laws. Others have laws in place but have found it difficult to administer existing laws in a non-discriminatory manner. Achieving passage and effective, timely implementation of restitution laws and procedures is both a critical indicator of rule of law in a democratic society and a crucial feature of a market economy.
Country-by-Country Summary of Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe, October 2007
Bosnia's current outstanding debt is a major inhibiting factor in considering any restitution program. In addition to restitution, BiH has yet to resolve three major categories of internal debt: frozen foreign currency accounts, debts of formerly state-owned companies, and war damages claims from the 1992-1995 conflict. These three categories alone are estimated at 120 percent of GDP. BiH also has external debt amounting to approximately 20 percent of GDP. In dealing with its internal debt, BiH must comply with budgetary guidelines established by the International Monetary Fund.
In the spring of 2007, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the Law on Changes and Amendments to the Law on the Sale of Nationalized Apartments enacted in 2006. The law provided that tenancy rights holders of nationalized apartments (i.e. people assigned to apartments that were nationalized by the former Yugoslav Republic in or after 1948) could buy the apartments. Earlier owners would be given "compensatory apartments" from the pool of unsold and unoccupied apartments that are still state-owned. Applications were due six months after the effective date of the Law.
The law contained an exemption for apartments previously owned by vakufs (Muslim endowments) or religious foundations (zaduzbine). This exemption only benefits the Islamic community. Apartments owned by these religious foundations could only be sold with the foundation's written consent. If the foundation refuses to sell, tenancy rights holders will receive one of the "compensatory apartments." The compensatory apartments are generally located on the outskirts of town in newer neighborhoods; the nationalized apartments tend to be much more valuable real estate in city centers. Implementation of this program would be extremely difficult.
The country's four traditional religious communities (Muslim, Roman Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Jewish) all have extensive claims on property that was nationalized after World War II.
The 2003 State Law on Religious Freedom and Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities provides religious communities the right to restitution for expropriated property "in accordance with the law". A special multiethnic restitution commission completed its mandate and delivered a draft restitution law to the Council of Ministers in early 2007 for approval. As of mid-2007, however, no action had been taken. Bosnia's two sub-state entity governments have not made any real attempts to deal with this issue. In the absence of a specific restitution law, the return of former religious properties continued on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of municipal officials. Local politicians often used property restitution as a tool of political patronage, leaving religious leaders dependent on politicians to regain property taken from religious communities.
The Jewish and Muslim communities have asserted historic claims to many commercial and residential properties in Sarajevo while the Catholic community maintained a large number of similar claims in Banja Luka. The Jewish community has not benefited from the current ad hoc system due to its small population and lack of political connections, and maintains that it has not received any property from municipal or cantonal governments since the current system of government was established in 1995. At one point, Sarajevo Canton was considering returning the building formerly owned by the Jewish charity La Benevolencija, which currently houses the Cantonal Ministry of Interior offices, but this remains a pending matter.
The Jewish community completed an extensive survey, including legal documentation, of properties formerly owned by Jewish institutions and organizations in May 2005. The community is prepared to file claims as soon as a state-level restitution law is passed. Most Jewish families with individual claims are waiting for the legal framework to be established before deciding how to pursue their claims.
The Jewish community favors in rem or natural restitution (return of the original land and/or property) but might be willing to accept cash compensation if in rem restitution is not possible. In the late 1990s, coupons were distributed by the state to many rights holders of formerly socialized properties. The coupons allowed the holders either to purchase socially owned apartments in which they had tenancy rights or to buy shares in state-owned companies. The rights subsequently proved to be nearly worthless.
The Jewish community is seeking the return of four categories of property:
In May 2007 the Islamic community began a second round of proceedings against Banja Luka seeking damages of approximately $1.1 million for the wartime destruction of mosques in that city. An out-of-court settlement failed when the city refused to admit guilt as requested in the original suit filed in2000.
In recent months, the municipality of Travnik partially complied with a 2003 decision by the Human Rights Commission of the Constitutional Court ordering the municipal government to relocate a public school housed in a building formerly owned by the Catholic archdiocese. Only half of the building was returned. The court ordered the public school to move by July 2006 but funding for a new school building has not been allocated, and half of the building has remained in use as a public school.
Bulgaria was one of the first Eastern European countries to pass private property restitution legislation. In contrast to other former communist countries, Bulgaria did not generally nationalize land, but instead nationalized businesses using the land while owners retained title to the land itself. Current restitution law stipulates that both Bulgarian citizens and non-Bulgarian citizens are eligible to receive property confiscated during the fascist and communist periods. A successful claimant who is not a Bulgarian citizen, however, must sell the property. Only Bulgarian citizens can receive restituted forest and farmland. Most private property claims have been resolved.
NGOs and certain denominations, including the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Muslim community, the Jewish community, and several Protestant churches, claim that a number of communal properties confiscated under the communist government have not been returned. In this category is a Muslim community claim for at least 17 properties. The Catholic Church claims six buildings in Sofia, three buildings in Plovdiv, several buildings in other towns, and three monasteries. In addition, the government reportedly retains properties of several Protestant groups. The Congregational Church, for example, has an ongoing dispute with the municipality over a building in Plovdiv.
In the spring of 2006, the Government appointed a commission to examine the status of several properties claimed by Shalom, the Bulgarian Jewish community organization. These properties had been under discussion between Shalom and the Government for more than a decade. One property that was not on the commission's agenda was the property on which the Rila Hotel is situated. A court ruling in early 2006 rejected the long-contested claim of the Bulgarian Jewish Organization, Shalom.
In regard to the other properties claimed by Shalom, the Commission recommended that alternate property be identified to turn over to Shalom to replace a synagogue and rabbi's residence in Varna. With respect to a Sofia hospital restituted to Shalom in 1997 and leased to a state hospital, the Commission suggested speeding the process of finding suitable quarters for the hospital and transferring six rooms of the existing hospital to Shalom. Despite the Government's recommendation, however, the hospital's management, which ceased rental payment in 2002, has neither transferred the rooms to Shalom nor has it agreed to a date for vacating the premises in the future.
In 2003, the government restituted to Shalom all but the top two floors of the building at 9 Saborna Street in Sofia. After confiscating the building, the government added the top two floors, which were therefore not eligible for restitution. In 2007, the government decided to gift the top two floors to Shalom.
A central problem facing all claimants of communal property is the need to demonstrate that the claiming organization (or its legitimate successor) is the organization that owned the property prior to September 9, 1944. Destruction of records during the war and the effort by some groups to conceal ownership of assets because of communist hostility to religion have complicated the documentation of ownership.
Due to Croatia's turbulent past, there is a large amount of disputed property throughout the country. Croatia passed a property restitution law in 1990, and subsequently amended that law in 1991 and 1993. Implementation of the law continues to proceed very slowly.
The 1996 "Law on Restitution/Compensation of Property Taken during the Time of the Yugoslav Communist Government" prohibited non-Croatian citizens from making claims. But in a 1999 ruling, the Constitutional Court struck down six clauses deemed to discriminate against foreigners. After a long delay, the Croatian parliament in July 2002 amended the law to extend to foreigners the right to claim nationalized property or receive compensation, provided that Croatia and the claimant's home country have concluded a bilateral agreement on the issue. The amended law pertains to the communist era only and not to the 1941-45 period of rule by the Nazi-allied Ustashe regime, nor to the period of civil unrest after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
The law initially created a six-month period from July 2002 until January 2003 in which non-Croatian citizens were eligible to file claims. Croatia subsequently waived that deadline after determining that it does not have an appropriate bilateral agreement with the U.S. or any other country that would allow non-Croatian citizens to file claims. The government did not provide any official response to U.S. requests during 2004 and 2005 to negotiate such an agreement. In late 2005, Croatia concluded an agreement with Austria that would have enabled Austrian citizens to apply for property restitution. That agreement was not submitted for ratification.
In early 2006, the Croatian government informed the U.S. Embassy that Croatia had decided it would not pursue further bilateral agreements. At that time the Croatian government instead proposed amending the 1996 law in order to allow foreigners to file claims under the Act's provisions without the need for a bilateral or international agreement governing the issue. Under the amendment, foreigners would be given a six month period to file claims, and the law would allow the inclusion of claims for property taken as early as 1941. As of September 2007, that amendment had not yet moved forward in Croatia's parliament, leaving non-Croatians still unable to apply for restitution under the 1996 law.
A number of individuals, who were not U.S. citizens when their claims against Croatia arose but have since become American citizens, are among those foreigners with outstanding property claims.
Two previous U.S.-Yugoslav settlement agreements compensated many claims by American citizens. The first agreement pertained to property expropriated between 1939 and 1948. The second agreement, entitled the "Agreement between the USG and SFRY Regarding Claims of US Nationals", became effective on January 20, 1965 and covered the years from 1948 to 1964. Both agreements applied to claimants who were U.S. nationals at the time the property was seized. The claims process under these two agreements ended in the 1960s.
The issuance of permits by local governments for construction on land with disputed titles complicates the restitution process.
The government has worked separately with the various religious communities to resolve communal property restitution issues. Usually agreements between the government and the individual communities govern the communal property restitution process. So far, agreements have been signed with the Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslim communities, but not with the Jewish and Baptist communities. The government maintains that 19 percent of all communal property restitution claims have been resolved.
The government employs three methods to restitute communal property to religious communities: natural restitution (in rem restitution of the actual property that was taken), replacement restitution (transfer of like-kind property when the original property cannot be restituted), and monetary compensation.
Of all the religious communities, the Catholic Church is the largest holder of property. In 1998, the government signed a concordat with the Vatican that provided for the return of all Catholic Church property confiscated by the communist regime after 1945. This agreement stipulates that the government would return seized properties or compensate the Church where return is impossible. Some returnable properties have been restituted, but there has been no compensation to date for non-returnable properties. In April 2003, the Catholic Church specifically requested the restitution of 43 properties, but three years later only a few of those properties had been restituted. Many claims met resistance from local authorities.
In exchange for nationalized property, the Church took over a former hospital building in Osijek in June 2004 and in September it renounced claims on its building used by the University in Rijeka in exchange for another University building. In 2006, the Roman Catholic Church received eight separate properties in restitution proceedings. A Government offer of a 25 percent stake in the Croatia Osiguranje insurance company as compensation for unreturned property remains under negotiation.
The Serbian Orthodox (SPC) community filed hundreds of requests for the return of seized properties, but the community has received only ten percent of what it claimed. An agreement between the Orthodox community and the government established a commission to address property claims. Several properties at issue in Zagreb are the subject of court cases, which take many years to adjudicate. In 2004 one building in Karlovac was returned, which housed County offices. Return of forests and arable land is particularly slow.
The Serbian Orthodox Church held three meetings with government representatives on restitution issues in 2007 but the results were minimal. Early in 2007 Metropolitan Jovan Pavlovic asked both the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to propose changes to the 1996 property restitution law. No further action has been taken.
SPC officials were particularly concerned about the lack of progress in restitution of several valuable business and residential buildings in downtown Zagreb, most notably the Zagreb Cinema building and several apartments which have been the subject of contentious legal proceedings, some undeveloped land, as well as some arable land and forests..
The Jewish community in Croatia before World War II numbered approximately 35,000 to 45,000. Some 6,000 Croatian Jews survived the war, and the community now has about 2000 members, more than half of whom live in Zagreb. Although Jewish groups in Croatia have received some of their claimed property in Zagreb, several outstanding claims remain. For example, land in Vukovar where a synagogue was once located has been returned to the Jewish community, but an estimated 20 additional Jewish property claims are still pending throughout the country. The Jewish community is in the process of negotiating an agreement with the government to address property restitution, and other issues. The Jewish community reported that the processing of its claims for nationalized property has made no progress since 2005, with the exception of the 2007 return of a commercial property in Osijek. Other claims remained stalled in court.
The Muslim community of approximately 60,000 has not filed any claims. It is not clear whether the Protestant churches have claimed any property.
The first restitution laws, enacted in 1991, covered confiscations during the period 1948-1989 and were primarily concerned with private property, farmland, artworks and property of religious orders and sports associations. A 1994 amendment (Act 116/1994) provided for the restitution of property taken by the Nazis from Holocaust victims between 1938 and 1945. The amended law still required that private property claimants be Czech citizens.
The citizenship requirement effectively disallowed property claims by Czechs who became American citizens, since a 1928 treaty between the United States and Czechoslovakia banned dual citizenship. Both sides agreed to abrogate the treaty in 1997. In 1999, a new provision in Czech law ended the ban on dual citizenship for Czech-Americans, allowing Americans to reapply for Czech citizenship. By that time, however, the filing period for restitution claims had closed. It is unlikely that there will be any additional change in the restitution laws affecting Czech-Americans since much of the property claimed by Czech-Americans has already been restituted to other family members who remained Czech citizens.
The Czech government maintains that 97% of all private property restitution claims have been resolved, but there is no way to verify this independently. Many American claimants have maintained that the Czech legal system has adjudicated their claims in a slow and, at times, arbitrary manner.
Beginning in November 1998, a national commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Rychetsky reviewed property restitution claims arising from the Holocaust. Following the commission's recommendations Parliament, in June 2000, enacted legislation that authorized the government to transfer approximately 200 additional properties to the Jewish community and allowed individual claims for formerly Jewish agricultural property.
The law also restituted to the Jewish community 70 works of art housed in the National Gallery and provided a process for the restitution of an estimated 7,500 works of art in Czech government museums and galleries to Holocaust victims and their heirs. Unlike previous Czech restitution laws, the claimants of looted art held by state institutions are not subject to a citizenship requirement. The Czech government has created an internet site with information and photographs of the works. In 2002, Parliament extended the deadline for filing artwork claims to the end of 2006 and, subsequently, has removed all filing deadlines.
In 2001, the GOCR and the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) established a Foundation for Holocaust Victims. The Czech government contributed $11.7 million (300 million Czech crowns) from its National Property Fund to support compensation claims. One-third of the fund is dedicated to help pay for properties that cannot be physically restituted. Approximately one-third of the fund has been designated for maintenance of communal properties, and the final one-third is designated for the social and educational programs of approximately 2,500 Holocaust survivors. By March 2006, the Fund announced that it had concluded all payments for unrestituted properties, which totaled over $4 million, to some 500 claimants residing in 27 different countries.
Progress in resolving outstanding communal property restitution claims by churches remained slow, partially because of the difficulty of verifying the title of hundreds of claimed properties. The Social Democratic government in 1998 created two national commissions to address church-state related issues and to develop legislation on the return of income-generating property claimed by the Catholic Church and property claimed by other churches. The Catholic Church is seeking around 700 buildings and 175,000 hectares of land; state and local authorities hold most of these properties. These claims remain unresolved due in part to the reluctance of the Catholic Church to provide a list of all the properties to which it maintains it is still entitled.
In 2004, Culture Minister Pavel Dostal proposed using existing laws on restitution to return some properties to the Catholic Church. The Church rejected the proposal and in February 2005 the Ecumenical Council of Churches put forth a proposal that the state pay churches an annual rent of approximately 1 billion Czech crowns ($44 million) for a period of 50 years. According to the proposal, churches would be prepared to be financially self-sufficient after the 50-year rental period. Churches would then agree to give up their claims for property (100 billion Czech crowns or approximately $400 million) and to forego the current state subsidy covering the wages of the clergy. Little progress was made until the elections in 2006, when the government created a special commission tasked with drafting new legislation before the end of 2007 regarding restitution of communal property. After consultations with representatives of the Church, the commission agreed that the final legislation would include elements of both physical restitution and financial compensation.
Czech legislation does not allow the national government to compel municipalities to return communal property in accordance with national policies. Thus, the Jewish community has received most of the communal property once held by the Czech national government and the city of Prague, but some properties held by local authorities remain unrestituted, including two properties in Brno currently controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Private property owners who filed their claims before the appropriate deadline have been able to reclaim their property, irrespective of present citizenship. Title to heirless property passes to the local municipal administration of the area in which the property is located. The administration is free to sell the property or retain it for its own use. Property restitution in Estonia was carried out under the Principles of Ownership Reform Act that was passed on June 13, 1991, and has been largely completed.
Most Orthodox Church properties, including those in use by the Estonian Orthodox Church -- Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP), were under the legal control of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC). The Government transferred seven properties to the EOCMP in 2005-2006, and the three remaining properties in 2006-2007.
According to leaders of the Estonian Jewish community, property restitution has not been an issue for the community, since most prewar religious buildings were rented, not owned.
The 1991 law also allowed for partial compensation for private property. Successful claimants could receive a voucher for up to $21,000 as compensation for their confiscated property. The vouchers, issued in lieu of cash payments, could be used to buy shares in privatized companies or to buy land at state land auctions. According to government statistics there were 1,431,740 claims, of which 1,263,033 were approved for payment; 168,666 claims were denied. Payments in vouchers totaled HUF 81.02 billion. In addition, there were payments of HUF 3.77 billion for the purchase of agricultural land. Many claimants maintain that adjudicators delayed decisions and made arbitrary rulings on claims.
Under the current law, heirless properties devolve to the state, rather than to the deceased's community. Data privacy laws and limited access to archival resources hinder the research necessary to document claims. The deadlines for filing claims for both private and communal property are now passed.
A 1997 amendment allowed religious groups to apply for a government-funded annuity as compensation for unrestituted properties. Between 1997 and 1998, the Hungarian government signed compensation agreements with several religious organizations (Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox) specifying each organization's government-funded annuity, which was understood to represent the value of unrestituted properties previously held by that organization. The specific amounts are in the chart below:
In 2005, the government adopted a resolution making it possible for religious groups to fast-track property restitution negotiations to close outstanding claims by the end of 2006, rather than the previous target date of 2011. Three religious organizations made use of this new procedure, resulting in the settlement of a further 435 church properties by March 2006. The Catholic Church resolved 430 claims with a value of $112 million, leaving only three property cases outstanding. The Confederation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) resolved its final three outstanding claims and the Budai Serb Orthodox Church also closed the restitution process by resolving its two outstanding claims. Neither the Reformed nor the Lutheran Churches opted for the fast track procedure. Between them and the Catholic Church a total of 310 property claims remain to be settled by 2011.
In light of recent progress, the Hungarian Jewish community considers the process of communal property restitution to be settled. However, while the process was regarded as generally fair, members of the Jewish community would like to see compensation paid for the estimated $2 billion to $16 billion in heirless Jewish property specifically excluded from the restitution process. The community, in cooperation with the World Restitution Organization, is discussing a proposal with the Hungarian authorities.
In early 2003, the Hungarian government concluded an agreement with the Jewish community to increase compensation payments to approximately $1,860 to Hungarians whose immediate relatives were killed in the Holocaust or in Soviet forced labor camps. In early 2006 the government adopted a law which reopened the window to apply for this compensation which was increased to $2,162 to reflect inflation. The June 30, 2006 closing date was extended to January 31, 2007 by which time the Central Judiciary Agency had received more than 97,500 claims from 60 countries. By mid-2007, the Agency had issued 10,500 decisions and distributed $9.2 million (HUF 1.7 billion) to eligible applicants. The original program-initiated during the mid 1990's-distributed $100 million to about 130,000 recipients before being reopened.
Two 1991 laws provide for the restitution of confiscated property, both private and communal, to former owners or heirs. The law does not discriminate on the basis of citizenship or residency. In most cases, municipal authorities make the final decision on property restitution; if they deem a property non-returnable, they may offer alternative property or compensation in the form of vouchers. Claimants, however, may be reluctant to accept alternative property because of the difficulty in establishing comparative values. Claims for private property occupied by economically productive facilities have been particularly difficult to resolve.
In November 2006, the Government of Latvia introduced legislation to return to the Jewish community property owned by the community prior to World War II, or to provide compensation if return of the property was not practical. The legislation would have also provided compensation to the community for property belonging to individuals known to have died without heirs during the Holocaust. The legislation contained a list of over 200 properties which the Jewish community and the government agreed should be returned, or for which compensation should be paid. Although the newly installed Government supported the legislation, the parliament failed to approve the legislation in first reading. As of September 1, 2007, the government had not made a decision on how it wishes to proceed on this issue.
Until now, Jewish communal property restitution had been limited to the return of religious properties to the small observant community, but not to the significantly larger non-observant community. The observant Jewish community has received 16 religious properties and compensation for two others.
Prior to World War II, the Jewish community of over 100,000 held 72 synagogues and 136 preaching houses. Approximately 70,000 Latvian Jews died in the Holocaust.
Non-Jewish communal property confiscated during World War II has generally been returned, although some claims remain outstanding.
The Lithuanian government has restituted to private claimants most of the property that can be returned. Resolution of the remaining private property claims will require the identification of alternative property or the payment of compensation, estimated at approximately 500 million USD (see below for details). The GOL-established deadline for paying compensation for land, forest, and bodies of water is 2009, and 2011 for houses and apartments.
Under the current program the Lithuanian Finance Ministry may pay compensation only to Lithuanian citizens, but citizens qualify regardless of their place of domicile. Until recently, dual citizenship was not recognized for ethnic Russians, Poles, and Jews who emigrated from Lithuania to a country considered an ethnic homeland. For example, Lithuanian Jews who emigrated to Israel or Lithuanian Poles who emigrated to Poland lost their Lithuanian citizenship. This was challenged in the court system. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2006 that, according to the Constitution, dual citizenship should only be allowed in limited cases. There is widespread popular support for dual citizenship and there may be a referendum to amend the constitution. For now, however, those who had dual citizenship may retain it, but under current law it will only be allowed in special circumstances.
Citizenship limitations coupled with near extermination of the Lithuanian Jewish population during the Holocaust means that the vast majority of the thousands of private properties owned by Lithuanian Jews prior to the Soviet and Nazi occupations were never restituted.
The GOL-established deadline to submit applications for property restitution was December 2001. The GOL's deadline to prove kinship to the original owner was December 31, 2002. During the application period, from 1991 through 2001, the Lithuanian government received approximately 9,500 claims for private houses and over 57,000 applications for the return of land. In March 2002, the Parliament amended the restitution law to provide that restitutable land not being used for public purposes and located in urban areas must be returned to its former owners.
For 2007, the national budget provides 171 million litas (68.4 million USD) for compensation in relation to land restitution, and 72 million litas (28.8 million USD) for restitution of property rights to house owners and compensation to religious communities. Of these 72 million litas, religious communities will receive 5.3 million litas (2.1 million USD). In 2006, compensation to religious communities amounted to 15.6 million litas (6.2 million USD), 3 million litas (1.2 million USD) in 2005, and 1.6 million litas (0.6 million USD) in 2004.
A 1995 law permits only registered religious groups (as opposed to secular groups) to apply for the restitution of religious property. Several religious groups received properties. The Evangelical Reform Church as well as the Jewish community assert that many of the properties they held prior to WWII have not been restituted. From 1991 to 1996, Jewish communities claimed and received a total of 28 buildings, mostly synagogues (three in Vilnius, five in Kaunas and the balance in small towns).
In June 2002, a government commission, comprised of cabinet ministers, commenced a review of Jewish communal property (property owned jointly by the Jewish community, but not considered "religious" property and, thus, not eligible under the earlier religious property restitution process). Lithuanian and international Jewish groups developed a list of unrestituted Jewish communal properties throughout the country and submitted the list to the Government. These Jewish organizations formed a foundation to assist in managing restituted property and in aiding Jewish citizens in pursuing claims.
In September 2002, the government drafted amendments to the existing property restitution law. The amendments would change the 1995 law to broaden the definition of religious property to include Jewish communal property. The amendments would not change the current restriction that prohibits religious groups from receiving restitution for property without buildings. Similar amendments were considered again in early 2006, but progress was slowed by the collapse of the governing coalition. There are ongoing discussions between Jewish groups and the Government about the possibility of introducing communal property restitution legislation to Parliament in the fall of 2007.
In September 2002, the Lithuanian Government approved a plan to restore parts of the historical Jewish quarter in Vilnius. Plans included the restoration of commercial buildings, such as service offices and workshops, hotels, and residential buildings. Originally scheduled for completion in 2008, the project has received no funding since the initial planning phase. The Vilnius municipal government has moved forward with plans for a Jewish Cultural Center in the area and is working with the local Jewish community on that and other potential projects. Overall, however, the original, ambitious plans are on hold.
A 2000 denationalization law regulates property restitution to individuals whose property was confiscated by the Yugoslav government. The law allows for physical property restitution where possible or for the issuance of bonds equal to the market value of the property. Restitution claims are often complicated because property has changed hands many times or was developed since the time of seizure.
Lengthy bureaucratic procedures and political influence within state institutions and the judiciary continue to slow the pace of property restitution. A number of high-profile corruption cases in the past year have revolved around privatization of property and allegations of government officials abusing their authority for financial gain.
The 2000 Law on Denationalization established a fund to provide that regulates the restitution of heirless property for Holocaust victims without heirs. The process of heirless property restitution is slow, in large part because of the extensive documentation required to show the chain of ownership and lack of heirs. In 2005 the fund received a number of physical properties and over $2 million in bonds from the government. The fund used this compensation to begin construction of a Memorial Holocaust Center for the Jews from Macedonia. Construction slowed in late 2006 as no further funds had been restituted since 2005. The government authorized over $3 million in bonds to be issued as restitution in the coming year, and is working with the Jewish Community to reach a package agreement on all unresolved cases.
Virtually all religious buildings have been restituted to their appropriate religious community. However, some religious communities had other properties or extensive grounds that have not been fully restituted. The Jewish community is the only religious group whose community property has been fully restituted.
A number of communities cited greater difficulty in obtaining ownership of previously owned property if the property was located in a desirable location for investors or business owners, often in urban areas.
The Islamic Community of Macedonia (ICM) claimed it was not able to regain rightful use of several mosques that the Government had agreed to return. In addition, the ICM alleged that the Government in some cases delayed the process of restitution by selling or starting new construction on disputed property and by questioning the historical legal claim of the ICM to religious properties.
Many American citizens with claims in Montenegro received compensation under two settlement agreements concluded between the United States and Yugoslavia in 1948 and 1965. The 1948 agreement pertained to property expropriated between 1939 and 1948; the 1965 agreement covered property seized between 1948 and 1964. The claims process under these agreements ended in the 1960s. Under these agreements, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) paid a total of $20.5 million. The two agreements do not hold Yugoslavia or its successor states harmless from additional claims of current American citizens. Only claimants who were American citizens at the time their property was taken were eligible for these programs.
Montenegro returned to rightful owners all agricultural land and most other undeveloped land where the value of post-expropriation improvements was not controversial. Montenegro passed a restitution law covering all property in June 2002, but the Constitutional Court in May 2003 declared 13 articles unconstitutional, making the law impossible to implement. To our knowledge no valid restitutions occurred under that law. On March 23, 2004, Montenegro passed a new restitution law. The necessary sub-acts were passed with effect from January 1, 2005, and the Restitution Fund (which will provide cash compensation when necessary) came into existence March 1, 2005. The basic restitution policy in Montenegro is restitution in kind when possible, and with cash compensation or substitution of other state land when physical return is not possible. The new law establishes a set claims period, after which no further claims will be possible Claims are to be submitted to the municipal Restitution Commission in which the property is located within 18 months after establishment of the relevant Commission. The first Commission was established (in Kolasin) in May 2004; two municipalities out of 21 (Zabljak, Kotor) have yet to establish Commissions. The Restitution Fund increased in 2005 as privatization revenues grew and the municipal commissions have rendered several first instance decisions. None of these are enforceable at the moment, and they therefore have not yet been fully implemented.
The American Embassy in Belgrade is aware of eight potential claims in Montenegro involving American citizens. As in Serbia, heirless property reverts to the state.
In post-WWII Yugoslavia, religious communities were limited to possessing 10 hectares of land or 30 hectares of religious sites of cultural importance. In Serbia, a separate law is to regulate restitution of religious and communal property. In Montenegro, the 2004 restitution law covers communal as well as private property, with religious endowments and other non-commercial legal entities given the same rights as individual claimants.
In mid-2006, the Serbian National Assembly adopted the Law on Return (Restitution) of Property of Churches and Religious Communities. The law calls for the creation of a restitution agency to adjudicate claims.
There is no legislation governing the restitution of private property in Poland. Parliament has made several attempts to enact such legislation and did pass a law in early 2001, but President Kwasniewski vetoed it because of its budgetary implications. The legislation imposed a citizenship requirement that would have made most American citizens ineligible to file a claim. In 2006 the Polish government expressed its intention to draft and submit legislation regarding the restitution of private property, but the legislation was not enacted prior to the dissolution of Parliament for elections in October 2007. Some private property claimants have successfully acquired their property through suits in Polish courts. While approximately 500 claims totaling $183 million have been settled in this manner over the past 10 years, the Polish treasury estimates that 56,000 potential claims valued at approximately $16.7 billion remain outstanding pending the establishment of a formal claims process.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, frequently known as the Claims Conference, held its annual meeting in Warsaw in February 2007 to press for urgent passage of a private property restitution law with more lenient filing requirements. The group met with high level officials, including the Prime Minister, who made his first statement in support of compensation for private property stolen by the Nazis and the communist regime. The proposal the prime minister backed would provide 15 percent of the current value of property, a figure some in the Claims Conference indicated was too low. Action on private property restitution legislation now awaits the formation of a new government following the October election.
In 2006, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the class action suit Garb v. Poland that, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, the Government of Poland has immunity against suits filed in U.S. courts to recover property seized by the post-World War II communist government.
During the 1990's, Poland passed legislation to provide for the restitution of property held before the war by Poland's major religious organizations. The legislation established five separate commissions, comprised of representatives of the government and the affected communities, to process the restitution claims. At the end of 2006, approximately 2,959 of the 3,063 claims filed by the Catholic Church had been concluded, with 1,420 claims settled by agreement between the Church and the party in possession of the property (usually the national or a local government); 932 properties returned through decision of the commission on property restitution, which rules on disputed claims; and 632 claims rejected by the commission.
The Lutheran Church, for which the filing deadline was 1996, filed claims for 1,200 properties. Of these, 842 cases were heard, 228 of which were resolved amicably and 136 of which were restored.
A total of 486 claims were filed with the commission by the Orthodox Church, of which 215 have been closed in full or in part.
Processing of Jewish claims remains active. Thousands of Jewish communal properties served Poland's 3.5 million Jews before the Holocaust. The law governing the restitution of Jewish communal property went into effect in May 1997 and provided a May 2002 deadline for restitution applications. Because of the large number of properties and the small size of the current Polish Jewish community, the community sought the assistance of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO). A joint foundation between the Polish Jewish community and the WJRO, known as the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FPJHP) was established in late 2001 and registered in early 2002. The founding agreement provided that the Polish Jewish community would file claims in certain geographic areas, and the FPJHP would do so in areas not reserved for the Polish community. The Polish community filed nearly 2,000 applications by the deadline, and the FPJHP filed nearly 3,500 claims. Four years after the filing deadline, fewer than 25 percent of the cases had been resolved.
By the end of 2006 the commission had concluded 1,143 cases, of which 316 were settled amicably and 336 properties were restored. The remaining cases are still making their way through the system.
Many of the properties to be restituted are "heritage properties," primarily cemeteries. The maintenance of these properties represents a potential cost of considerable magnitude. The Foundation and the community may sell properties not needed by the community in order to meet these expenses.
Some observers have complained about the slow pace of restitution and the reluctance of the government to return valuable properties in some cases. In contrast, restitution of Jewish communal properties appears to be progressing well in cities like Warsaw and Lodz where local governments are supportive of these efforts. The laws on communal property also do not address instances where those properties are now owned by private third parties, leaving several controversial cases unsettled.
Romania did not pass formal property restitution legislation until 2001 for urban dwellings (legislation was passed regarding farm and forest lands in 1991 and 2000, respectively). For the first decade following the fall of the Ceausescu regime, a series of court decisions, laws and decrees governed the return of property seized during World War II and under communist rule. These decisions, laws and decrees were frequently contradictory and led to considerable confusion.
In February 2001, Romania enacted Law 10 to govern private property restitution for properties confiscated during the 1945-1989 period. While this law provides a systematic approach to private property restitution, it is complex and places a considerable burden on claimants. Initially, the law provided an application period of just six months. There was no notification program outside of Romania, so potential claimants found it difficult to learn about the application process.
At the suggestion of the United States, the Romanian government extended the deadline, first to November 2001 and then to February 14, 2002. But the overseas notification program was not implemented until late 2001, making it hard for claimants to meet the application deadline. Law 10 does not allow for the restitution of agricultural or forested properties, which were covered by laws 18/1991 and 1/2000. Nor does Law 10 cover the restitution of properties belonging to religious communities or minority groups. Article 16 of Law 10, which exempted properties used for public purposes (such as hospitals, schools, kindergartens, theaters, museums, and other such institutions) from restitution in rem, was amended by Law 247/2005 to allow the restitution of such buildings. The rightful owners have the obligation to let public and cultural institutions use the buildings as tenants for three years, and health care and educational institutions for five years, after the restitution of the buildings. The owners are exempted from property taxes during this period and receive rent.
Law 10 required that applicants submit claims to municipal authorities through a court having jurisdiction over the property in question. This made it difficult for applicants who left Romania at an early age or for heirs to know where to submit applications. Despite these hindrances, about 202,000 claims were filed; of these, 120,000 claimants requested restitution in kind and 82,000 requested financial compensation or other reparation measures. Only 38,400 applications were completely documented. The National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP) reported that approximately 97,000 claims had been resolved by mid-2007.
The deadline for documenting claims was extended from February 14 to July 1, 2003. In May 2003, the government published reformulated implementing regulations. The late publication gave applicants little time to comply prior to the July 1 deadline. These regulations provide that individuals who "sold" their property to the communist-era government in order to emigrate would not be compensated. Claimants also had to submit official documentation showing that they did not receive any compensation under prior claims agreements (such as the 1955 and 1963 U.S.-Romania Claims agreements).
In July 2005, the Romanian government passed Law 247 aimed at improving the property restitution process, clarifying and simplifying procedures, establishing new deadlines for submitting applications for the restitution of religious and communal property (January 25, 2006), as well as of farm and forest land (November 30, 2005), and fines for officials who hindered the process. The 2005 law eliminated some of the flaws of earlier property restitution legislation that were repeatedly criticized, e.g., among others, it permits the restitution of land on which now demolished buildings once stood, and provides for compensation.
Law 247/2005 amended all the existing restitution laws, i.e. law 10/2001, law 501/2002, law 66/2004, and the land restitution laws.
Law 247/2005 eliminated the deadline (originally July 1, 2003) for the submission of documents supporting the applicant's claim. Claimants can continuously submit newly obtained documents and proof of ownership until a case is resolved.
Law 247/2005 also created a fund equivalent to Euros 4 billion ($5.3 billion) in registered capital to compensate owners whose property cannot be returned. Payment for property that cannot be restituted will be in the form of shares in a government-supervised investment fund comprising 114 companies. As of September 2007, 2,457 claimants had received shares. These shares, however, cannot yet be legally traded. As of September 2007, some 97% of the fund was still owned by the state.
On June 28, 2007, the government adopted an ordinance that should enable the fund to be evaluated and then listed on the stock exchange by mid-2008. The ordinance also provides for cash payments in lieu of restitution of up to about $215,000 (500,000 new lei), paid over a two-year period. Larger claims are to be paid with stock in the property fund. Other steps that have been scheduled for 2007 are the assessment of the stock comprising the Fund's portfolio and, perhaps most importantly, the selection of a firm with an international reputation to manage the Fund. At the end of 2006, 31 different international firms were interested in becoming the Fund manager.
Former owners criticize the Property Fund as being only a means to delay further the compensation of property seized under communist rule.
It is not clear how long it will take to adjudicate claims or how transparent that process will be. Claimants reported that local officials are reluctant to provide necessary documents and frequently delay or refuse to turn over properties in which local governments had an interest. Furthermore, some mayors charged with adjudicating claims were reported to be pushing claimants to accept shares in the fund instead of in rem restitution in order to avoid the political and administrative difficulties associated with displacing current occupants. There were also complaints that the central government was inconsistent in imposing fines and other sanctions in such cases.
In numerous Romanian property restitution cases over the past several years, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of the former owners. There were at least eight such cases in the first five months of 2007. In each case, the Court has ordered the Romanian state to pay sizeable damages unless the buildings in question were returned.
In late June 2002, Parliament approved Law 501/2002 governing the restitution of property to religious organizations. The law covers buildings (such as schools and hospitals, but not houses of worship) that the State confiscated from religious groups between March 6, 1945 and December 22, 1989. It did not cover the period between 1940 and 1945, when large numbers of Jewish properties were seized, nor does it cover the restitution of Greek Catholic churches confiscated by the former communist regime and now held by the Romanian Orthodox Church. Unlike Law 10, it covers only buildings that still exist and does not provide compensation for buildings that were demolished. Under Law 501/2002, religious denominations had requested restitution of 7,568 properties by the original March 2, 2003 deadline. By the time the extended filing period (January 25, 2006) lapsed, the number of applications reached 14,716, broken down as follows:
Under Law 501/2002, by the middle of 2007, the Special Commission for Restitution had restituted 599 of the 1700 buildings claimed by Hungarian churches. However, the Hungarian churches were not able to regain physical possession of many of these properties.
A foundation established by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and the World Jewish Restitution Organization to follow restitution issues has received approximately 42 properties, restituted by the four government acts passed between 1997 and 2000. The Jewish community was able to take actual possession of only 36 of them. Documenting ownership has been difficult for the foundation because of the lack of access to archives. As of mid-2007, the Jewish community had received only 51 of the 1,918 properties claimed under Law 501. For 16 other properties, the Jewish community will receive compensation. In addition, under Laws 18/1991 and 1/2000, the Jewish community received 15 pieces of land in Iasi (sites of former synagogues and schools). Three additional plots were returned to the Jewish community in 2005 and 2006, but 18 other land claims remained unresolved.
In March 2004, Parliament adopted Law 66 covering the restitution of properties that belonged to ethnic communities and were confiscated between September 6, 1940 and December 22, 1989. Confiscation between 1940 and 1945 was included at the suggestion of the Jewish community. By the filing deadline-which was extended to January 25, 2006-2,154 claims were filed, 1,856 by the Jewish community alone. As with Law 502, there is no provision for compensation for demolished buildings. Actual restitution under this law began in 2006 and 156 claims were resolved by June 1, 2007.
A 1990 government decree established a joint Orthodox and Greek Catholic committee to address the issue of former Greek Catholic churches. The committee met only sporadically in the 1990s and its work has been at a virtual standstill since 2004. There were 2600 properties (churches and monasteries) on the original list of Greek Catholic claims. By the middle of 2005, the Greek Catholic Church had reduced its claims to fewer than 300. The Greek Catholics report that only 16 churches have been restituted as a result of the joint committee's work. The Orthodox Church has continued to demolish Greek Catholic churches under various pretexts.
Of the 6,723 properties claimed by the Greek Catholics under Law 501/2002, 103 had been returned by mid-2007. In eight other cases, the Greek Catholic Church will receive compensation. Since 1989, fewer than 200 churches have been returned to the Greek Catholics. The Greek Catholic Church, however, did obtain an important cathedral in Oradea in November 2005 with the help of interventions from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Culture and Religious Affairs, and a cathedral in Satu Mare in February 2006, after 16 years of lawsuits.
Lawsuits and protests by current occupants have impeded the restitution of many properties to their rightful owners.
Despite considerable progress in this area since 1991, a number of religious communities remain concerned about unrestituted religious property confiscated during the Soviet era. According to the Presidential Administration, the Russian government's Restitution Commission returned approximately 4,000 buildings between the time the decree on communal property restitution went into effect in 1993 and March 15, 2001 when Prime Minister Kasyanov ordered the commission to cease its activities.
Approximately 3,500 of the restituted buildings were returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. Smaller numbers of buildings and houses of worship were returned to non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. While the Russian Orthodox Church has had the most success in securing restitution, the Ministry of Culture has not restored to the Church full control over several of its most high profile properties. For example, Moscow's Kremlin cathedrals (St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral, and Vologda's Archbishop's Courtyard) remain state-run museums. Two large museum complexes -- Solovetskiy Monastery and Ryazan Kremlin - have been returned. The Russian Orthodox Church continues to claim 44 monasteries, 12,665 parishes and two million hectares of land.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia reports that federal officials generally have been cooperative in the community's efforts to seek restitution of former community property; the level of cooperation of regional and local officials varies from region to region. One obstacle to restitution is the need to find new premises for organizations currently housed in former religious buildings.
Examples of restitutions to the Jewish community include a synagogue in Oryol in 2003, and in 2004-2005 a synagogue in Vladivostok and school buildings in Rostov-on-Don and Orenburg. Even with these modest successes, the Jewish community faces the same obstacles as other religious communities in obtaining the restitution of properties seized during the communist era. Some in the Jewish community assert that only a small portion of the total properties confiscated under Soviet rule has been returned.
The Moscow Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been quite successful in restituting properties. The ROC now owns more than 1400 buildings, compared to 130 in 1998. Property claims for the ROC are legally complicated, since there was no separation of church and state before the revolution. Most of the Orthodox Church buildings that have been returned to the ROC were not considered ROC property before 1917. The ROC was only entitled to use these buildings. The ROC now owns only churches built, bought, or received after 1991.
The Roman Catholic Community reports 44 disputed properties, most of which were used for religious services. While most state-owned property has been returned, the community has had no success with buildings that have been privatized. For example, an oil company currently occupies the Saint Peter and Saint Paul cathedral in Moscow and the Catholic parish is meeting in a former disco hall. The Church is making some progress toward building a new Catholic Church in Moscow to replace the cathedral. In Vologda, Catholic authorities have not succeeded in achieving restitution of a pre-revolution church that now houses a restaurant. In March 2004, Tula City Duma Deputies returned a church to the local Catholic community. The church was officially given to the Tula Catholic community in 1994, but the building was occupied by a forensic medical practice until 2003.
The St. Petersburg Russian Orthodox Old Believers' Community has not been able to re-obtain its church building, which Soviet authorities confiscated in 1922, only 7 years after the community purchased it. In a positive development, an Old Believer community in Samara has regained its pre-Revolution church.
Although Russia passed a law in 1997 proclaiming that all captured foreign cultural objects from World War II were property of the Russian Federation, the law permits the restitution of three important categories of property: (a) objects that originally belonged to countries that were themselves victims of Nazism; (b) objects that were the private property of individuals persecuted by the Nazis on racial or political grounds, and (c) cultural artifacts that belonged to churches and religious organizations that did not serve the political of military interests of the Nazis.
In 2005, Russia returned the Sarospatek library collection to a Catholic educational institution in the Czech Republic. An interagency council is reviewing Hungarian claims for archives. Two American claims remain to be reviewed.
The international Chabad Lubavitch organization as well as the U.S. Government has repeatedly sought return of the Schneersohn Collection, a large collection of revered religious books and documents of the Lubavitcher rebbes. The government has rejected this request, maintaining that the Collection is part of Russia's cultural heritage.
Many American citizens with claims in Serbia received compensation under two settlement agreements concluded between the United States and Yugoslavia in 1948 and 1965. The 1948 agreement pertained to property expropriated between 1939 and 1948; the 1965 agreement covered property seized between 1948 and 1964. The claims processed under these agreements ended in the 1960s. Under these agreements, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) paid a total of $20.5 million. The two agreements do not hold Yugoslavia or its successor states harmless from additional claims of current American citizens. The agreements provided access to settlement to claimants who were American citizens at the time their property was taken. Under Serbian law, heirless property reverts to the state.
The military conflict of the 1990s delayed consideration of property restitution legislation in many of the former Yugoslav republics. Serbia does not yet have restitution legislation. However, a law providing for the registration of potential claims went into effect on June 8, 2005. The law covers property taken through confiscation, nationalization, agrarian reform, sequestration, expropriation and other regulations that became effective after March 9, 1945. The legislation set a June 30, 2006 registration deadline, and allowed deprived owners, their legal inheritors or legal successors to register claims. According to the law, registering a claim for seized property does not represent a request for restitution or compensation for that property. The Embassy is concerned that the 1945 date may disadvantage Jewish claimants who generally had property seized prior to that date, and Jewish and Muslim groups have opposed this benchmark.
The most recent proposed draft law to govern the restitution of private property was presented by the interim government in May 2007, but was not accepted by the current administration. A Serbian government working group will begin revising that latest proposed draft law in early autumn 2007. The draft presented in the spring provides for regional commissions to adjudicate claims, awarding in rem restitution when possible and compensation in marketable bonds if the property is being used for a public purpose or has been purchased in good faith by an individual. Bond compensation would be limited to Euros 1 million per claimant and 1 million per property. The proposed draft law also provides for consideration of claims dating back to April 6, 1941. A number of claimants have objected to compensation in the form of bonds, the limit of Euros 1 million per claimant, as well as a number of other provisions in the draft law.
In addition to considering the various objections and suggested modifications to the latest draft, the government working group is also contemplating breaking the current proposed draft law into two separate laws: one on privatization of urban construction land and the other on general denationalization. Both could be approved by the end of the year in the most optimistic estimates.
The Finance Minister has publicly estimated the value of nationalized property in Serbia at between $60 billion and $150 billion, a daunting amount compared to Serbia's current total public debt of $13 billion and $23 billion GDP.
Several U.S. citizens have raised ownership claims on commercial properties that are in the process of being privatized. The American Embassy in Belgrade is aware of 32 potential claims in Serbia involving U.S. citizens. These claimants were not able to benefit from previous legislation and/or bilateral agreements because they were not U.S. citizens when their claims arose. These claimants often accuse the Government of Serbia of delaying a restitution law until claimed assets have been sold.
Serbian officials have expressed concern that restitution would delay completion of privatization. Serbian law provides that 5% of all privatization revenues must be placed in a compensation fund for eventual restitution. The Embassy has raised restitution repeatedly with officials at the municipal, republic and state union levels, urging authorities to move ahead with a fair restitution law. Several EU member state embassies have also become engaged on behalf of their citizens.
In post-WWII Yugoslavia, religious communities were limited to possessing 10 hectares of land or 30 hectares of religious sites of cultural importance. In Serbia, a separate law is to regulate restitution of church and communal property.
In mid-2006, the Serbian National Assembly adopted the Law on Return (Restitution) of Property of Churches and Religious Communities, seeking to expedite the restitution of property to Serbia's religious communities. The law calls for the creation of a Restitution Agency, which will adjudicate claims.
With the exception of the Igumanova Palace, which was returned to the Serbian Orthodox Church by Milosevic as a goodwill gesture, no church properties have been restituted in Serbia.
Slovakia took over the laws passed by Czechoslovakia in 1990 and 1991 for the restitution of Jewish and non-Jewish properties confiscated by the communist regime. But those laws did not include provisions for the disposition of property for which no heirs could be identified. In April 2000, the government and the Slovak Jewish community established a Joint Commission to discuss heirless property, among other restitution issues. The commission consisted of Slovak government representatives and ten Jewish representatives -- seven from the Slovak Jewish community, including the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (UZZNO), two representing the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and B'nai B'rith International, and one representing the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO).
Following an agreement reached in the inaugural meeting, experts reported that heirless Jewish movable property and real estate, excluding agricultural lands, was valued at approximately 8.5 billion Slovak Crowns ($185 million). The Slovak Jewish community agreed to accept ten percent of this amount, equal to 850 million Slovak crowns ($18.5 million), as payment for the unrestituted property.
In September 2002, the Cabinet agreed to this proposal. Final negotiations between the government and UZZNO concluded in July 2003. The entire amount has been deposited at the Slovak National Bank. One-third of it was made available immediately due to the advancing age of Holocaust survivors. The Jewish community will draw interest on the account for 10 years before receiving the remaining principal. The community intends to use the funds for compensation to some community members as well as to fund social, educational, and cultural programs.
A 1993 law covers communal religious property. The implementation of these laws led to the restitution of a majority of eligible property throughout Slovakia, with a few important exceptions.
The Orthodox Church received six of its seven claimed properties. The Catholic Church received nearly 90% of its claimed properties; the remaining claims were denied since the properties were undeveloped at the time of their confiscation but have since been developed. The major obstacles facing Slovakia's outstanding restitution claims are the government's lack of financial resources to pay compensation, current tenants occupying restituted property and bureaucratic resistance to specific claims.
The Reformed Christian Church continues to complain that its restitution claims remain unresolved. Though acknowledging that the new restitution law adopted in May 2005 has helped resolve some complex claims, the Church maintains that its claims on approximately 70 properties that were owned by individual parishes before being nationalized have not been addressed.
In 2005, Slovakia passed a law enabling registered churches and religious communities to make a claim to agricultural land and forests, as well as any administrative buildings or construction on those sites, if the land was nationalized between May 8, 1945, and January 1, 1990 (in the case of the Jewish community, the start date is November 2, 1938). The filing deadline was April 30, 2006. Parliament also approved a proposal declaring that after the April 30, 2006 filing deadline the restitution of church and religious community property would be considered complete.
Recent laws benefit mainly the Catholic Church. The Jewish community had difficulty identifying additional properties, or the funds with which to maintain any additional properties (many of which are in disrepair).
In 1998, UZZNO won a ruling for the reimbursement to the Slovak Jewish community of the Slovak Jewish deposit, the forced deposit of Slovak Jewish money and gold into the national bank in 1940. The deposit ($600,000) is being used for a retirement home in Bratislava and a day care center in Kosice, both of which serve Holocaust survivors
Slovenia passed and began implementing a law on the restitution of property (the Denationalization Act) in 1991 soon after independence. Court backlogs, a lack of trained judicial and administrative personnel, amendments to the Denationalization Act, and inadequate records of land ownership have slowed the processing of claims. In recent years, the government has devoted additional resources in a successful effort to accelerate the processing of claims. As of June 30, 2007, the government had completed processing 37,776 cases (95.4%) of the 39,617 property restitution claims filed.
Unresolved cases include those in which the courts have not reached a final decision and those pending appeal. Claimants have complained of a general lack of transparency and procedures that are inconsistent with the law.
In summer 2007, the Government submitted to the Parliament a proposed law that, if adopted, would further accelerate the denationalization process by imposing strict deadlines on courts and other administrative bodies hearing these cases.
Heirless property currently devolves to the state.
Under current regulations, communal property claims are treated in the same manner as private claims, with the same rights to appeal and compensation. The unresolved communal property claims of the Catholic Church are currently being litigated in the Slovenian courts. In July 2001, the Ministry of Agriculture returned over 8,000 hectares of land in the Triglav forest to the Catholic Church. The Ljubljana Administrative Court annulled this decree in May 2002, ruling that roads built on the land were public goods and therefore not restitutable. Following the annulment, the Minister of Agriculture stated that he still expects to return to the Church all but about one percent of the land in question.
The Slovenian Jewish community has never been very numerous and remains small today, numbering approximately 150. The limited population led to only a small number of Jewish communal property claims; there has been no restitution of those properties to date. In October 2005, the Ministry of Justice created a new Department for Restitution and National Reconciliation to study the issue of restitution of Jewish communal and heirless properties.
In 2006, the government issued a tender for a research institution to compile a historical inventory of heirless and communal Jewish properties seized or nationalized after World War II. This research is expected to be completed during fall 2007. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) is doing a separate study. The two sides plan to compare the studies and then devise a solution to the communal and heirless property issue.
Ukraine has no laws or decrees governing the restitution of private property, nor has the government made any proposals in this regard.
Ukraine has no state religion. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), Ukrainian Orthodox Church - Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church are the predominant religious organizations. These churches can exert political influence at both the local and regional levels, and most religious groups allege that local governments discriminate in favor of the predominant religion of the region.
Registered religious organizations are the only entities permitted to seek restitution of property confiscated by the Soviet regime, and restitution is generally limited to buildings and objects immediately necessary for religious worship. A 1992 decree commenced Ukraine's restitution program for religious buildings. In August 2007 the Interagency Commission on Restitution of Property to Religious Organizations instructed the Ministry of Justice and State Committee for Nationalities and Religions (SCNR) to draft a law on restitution of property to religious organizations.
The slow pace of restitution was partly a reflection of the country's economic situation, which limited funds available to relocate occupants of seized religious property. Most groups asserted that there was slow progress in the restitution of property. However, the SCNR has now declared that the majority of buildings and objects in question have been returned to religious organizations and that many of the remaining properties for which restitution was being sought were complicated by that fact they were occupied by state institutions, were historic landmarks, or were previously transferred to private ownership. The SCNR also noted that restitution claims frequently fall under the jurisdiction of local governments. All major religious organizations called on the Government to establish a transparent legal process to address restitution claims.
In October 2006, with the urging of representatives of various denominations, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych called for the resumption of activity of the Interagency Commission on Restitution of Property to Religious Organizations. The commission, established in 2002 but active only intermittently, resumed its work in March 2007. The commission's primary goal was to return property to religious communities, and it took 316 restitution cases under consideration. Some observers expressed concerns about its effectiveness and the transparency of its procedures. According to the government, 3, 600 religious properties and more than 12,000 religious items were transferred-in ownership or in usage-to religious organizations between 1992 and 2006. In July 2007 the SCNR estimated that religious organizations of all denominations had 68.9% of the required number of houses of worship. Between 1992 and 2004, government funds and donations were used to rebuild or construct 4,398 places of worship. However, Jewish and Baptist groups have complained that such funding has been allocated for Orthodox Church buildings only.
Intra-communal competition for particular properties complicated the restitution issue for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. For example, the UOC-MP and UOC-KP have not resolved differences concerning the Holy Trinity Church in Rokhmaniv Village in Ternopil Oblast despite an August 31, 2006, ruling by the High Administrative Court that overturned a 2005 resolution by the Ternopil Region State Administration that parishioners of the two churches should share the church on a rotational basis. On June 22, 2007, while commenting on the events in Rokhmaniv, the Chairman of the SCNR stated that although he hoped to see an end to the practice of various denominations sharing a house of worship, the Government should not intrude into interdenominational disputes.
Representatives of the UOC-KP complained that local authorities in Kyiv ignored its requests for return of a former monastery building at Tryokhsvyatytelska St. to the St. Michael's Monastery.
The Government has not transferred ownership of St. Nicholas' Cathedral and a former residence of bishops in Kyiv to the Roman Catholic Church. However, the Church was permitted to use the cathedral for daily morning Mass, on weekends, and during major religious holidays. Church representatives also expressed frustration about unrealized restitution claims of buildings formerly belonging to St. Oleksander's Church in Kyiv, which they stated were improperly privatized in the 1990s, as well as in Chernivtsi, Dnipropetrovsk, Lviv, Mykolayiv, Sevastopol, and Simferopol. The Government continued to refuse to facilitate the restitution of Odesa's Roman Catholic seminary, which was confiscated by the Soviet regime.
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church leader Cardinal Huzar told the press that authorities in Lviv had not returned its former premises adjacent to the St. George's Cathedral in Lviv. Local officials declared that the Government did not have the money to resettle more than a dozen families residing there since Soviet times.
According to Bishop Bronislav Bernatsky, the Government continued to refuse to facilitate the restitution of Odesa's Roman Catholic seminary, which was confiscated by the Soviet regime.
Jewish community representatives report that some progress has been made, on the restitution of Jewish communal properties, although the process is slow. Competing claims by different Jewish groups is a complicating factor. Muslim community leaders have also complained of unresolved restitution claims involving several mosques. For example, representatives of the Muslim community asserted that the Government's slow pace of communal property restitution undermined the authority of moderate Muslim leaders. Muslim community leaders complained in particular about unresolved restitution claims involving a 118-year-old mosque in Mykolayiv, a famed mosque in Dnipropetrovsk, a 150-year-old mosque in the Crimean town of Masandra, a mosque in Yalta, and the ruins of an 18th-century mosque in the Crimean coastal city of Alushta.
There were some positive developments in 2007 in resolving long-standing restitution claims. For example, in May the Prosecutor General's Office dropped its investigation into claims that the All-Ukraine Baptist Union had illegally acquired its headquarters in downtown Kyiv. In February 2007, Odesa's Presbyterian community won a court ruling on the local actors' guild effort to gain ownership of the recently renovated historical Presbyterian Church building, and the actors' guild appeal of the verdict was overruled.