Viewing cable 04VILNIUS1292

04VILNIUS12922004-10-19 11:55:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 001292 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/18/2014 
     ¶B. VILNIUS 1065 
     ¶C. VILNIUS 657 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Officer Christian Yarnell 
for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 
 ¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Meetings we facilitated between American 
Jewish Committee official Andrew Baker and key Lithuanian 
political leaders October 13-17 resulted in a reaffirmed 
commitment to restitute communal Jewish property.  On the eve 
of round two of parliamentary elections, President Valdas 
Adamkus expressed optimism that the next government will 
complete restitution.  PM Algirdas Brazauskas, who has long 
backed Lithuania's restitution efforts, reiterated his 
support.  Viktor Uspaskich, leader of the ascendant Labor 
Party, pledged that his party would carry out the current 
government policy.  The Conservative Party's Andrius Kubilius 
said he too supported property restitution in principle, but 
hoped to ensure that the process was equitable.  Overall, the 
meetings advanced U.S. interests in achieving a just 
recompense for Lithuania's legacy of the Holocaust era.  We 
are well positioned to pursue Jewish communal property 
restitution with Lithuania's next government, regardless of 
who leads it.  END SUMMARY. 
Background on Jewish Property Restitution 
¶2. (U) The Lithuanian government has already restituted much 
of the private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet 
occupations, and has drafted an amendment to the country's 
1995 restitution law to enable the return of former communal 
property.  (Note: Lithuania's Jewish community did not 
distinguish between secular and religious holdings and 
"communal property," which included, among other things, 
synagogues, schools, and hospitals.)  An international 
committee of Jewish organizations, in coordination with the 
Jewish Community of Lithuania, submitted a list of 
unrestituted former Jewish communal properties in February 
¶2004.  The list identified over 1000 properties, and archival 
research (nearly complete) indicates that about 200 
properties will qualify for restitution under the envisioned 
amendment to the 1995 law.  Prime Minister Algirdas 
Brazauskas has made clear his support for Jewish property 
restitution.  Despite Jewish community urging that the 
Parliament immediately pass the authorizing legislation, the 
GOL has consistently held that the Jewish community must 
present a final list for restitution and allow the Government 
to research the property claims before it will move to amend 
the law (ref C). 
Government: End is in Sight 
¶3. (C) Despite the internal political flux attendant to 
Lithuania's current parliamentary election process, we 
encouraged Baker to come forward with a visit to Lithuania in 
a coordinated effort to focus Lithuania's political 
leadership on moving the restitution process forward.  Baker 
met with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, President Valdas 
Adamkus, Labor Party leader Viktor Uspaskich, and 
Conservative Party leader Andrius Kubilius. 
¶4. (C) Prime Minister Brazauskas, who has been one of the 
strongest supporters for restituting communal Jewish 
property, assured Baker and the Ambassador October 15 of his 
continued support.  While Brazauskas said he could not yet 
say who would head Lithuania's new government, he affirmed 
that there seemed to be support across the political spectrum 
for resolving the issue, provided that the Jewish community 
could come to final agreement on the properties that it 
believes merit restitution.  Baker told Brazauskas that the 
Jewish community would be ready to submit its final, verified 
list to the government before the end of November, and 
expressed hope that the new Parliament would act swiftly to 
pass legislation authorizing restitution for those 
properties.  Brazauskas welcomed this commitment, but 
expressed special interest in obtaining support from the 
international Jewish community for what he said would be the 
difficult process of combing through largely damaged and 
missing archives in verifying claims to the property. 
Brazauskas said he also personally supported forming a 
foundation comprised of international and local Jewish 
representatives to manage restituted assets on behalf of the 
local Jewish community once restitution is finally made.  He 
said the government would facilitate the rapid legal 
registration of such a foundation, and be ready almost 
immediately to grant it a substantial financial contribution 
to help begin its work. 
Adamkus: Optimistic for Future Success 
¶5. (U) Baker, accompanied by the DCM, visited President 
Adamkus October 13.  The President confirmed Baker's 
speculation that the government failed to deliver on its 
commitment to forward restitution legislation to Parliament 
out of fear that the issue would become a political football 
in the run-up to the parliamentary elections.  At the same 
time, he said that the GOL's commitment to seek communal 
restitution "has not been retracted."   While noting that he 
was in no position to provide a "100 percent guarantee" for 
the next government, he pronounced himself "very optimistic" 
that the new government would reaffirm the commitment.  He 
explained that this confidence was based in large part on his 
expectation that PM Brazauskas would hold the same post in 
the next government. 
Uspaskich: Would Continue Current GOL Progress 
--------------------------------------------- - 
¶6. (U) Baker and the DCM met October 14 with Viktor 
Uspaskich, the leader of the Labor Party, which took first 
place in the first round of Parliamentary elections.  Baker 
opened by briefing Uspaskich on the issue's history, the 
rationale for focusing on communal restitution, the current 
state of play, and the relatively modest sums involved. 
Admitting that his understanding of the issue was 
"superficial," Uspaskich expressed support for the general 
principle of restituting private property to its original 
owners.  He told Baker proudly about local municipality 
efforts in his adopted hometown of Kedainiai to restore and 
maintain two of the town's historical synagogues.  On the 
specific matter of nationwide restitution of Jewish communal 
property, Uspaskich was positive, but kept his options open. 
Speaking carefully, he declared "support for continuity on 
this issue" and vowed that "you won't have problems with me 
or my party."  At the same time, he said that he would want 
to scrutinize any legislation "for pros and cons" and said 
that any restitution "must be carried out correctly." 
Kubilius: Cautiously Supportive 
¶7. (U) Meeting October 14 with Opposition Conservative Party 
leader Andrius Kubilius, Baker provided a brief history of 
the initiative to draft a legislative amendment authorizing 
Jewish communal property restitution.  He told Kubilius that 
he anticipated the archival work on the list of properties to 
be complete around the end of November and expressed his hope 
that the Seimas would be able to move the legislation along. 
Kubilius said that he had not closely followed this issue, 
supported it in principle, but was uncomfortable with the 
idea that the law would favor one religious group over 
others.  Speculating that groups like the Lithuanian Karaites 
(a religious minority of Turkic descent) might have analogous 
claims, he suggested it would be more practical for the 
amendment to reference restitution of communal religious 
properties, generally, rather than single out the Jews. 
Kubilius offered that a general reference might avoid an 
anti-Semitic backlash.  Baker said that while other groups 
might have claims to property restitution, he suspected that 
their claims might differ from the Jewish community's, and he 
said would hate to see time lost to have to redraft the 
legislative text.  We suggested that Kubilius might frame the 
legislative amendment and the Jewish communal property 
restitution program as a model for government action to 
address other communities' property claims. 
¶8. (C) Kubilius mentioned that many properties identified for 
restitution might be in poor condition, and noted that on 
occasions in the past the Jewish community declined the 
return of dilapidated properties, which remained public 
liabilities.  Baker told Kubilius about the foundation that, 
among other things, would raise funds internationally and 
take on responsibility for restoring or maintaining 
properties.  (NOTE: Baker privately mentioned to us that 
Citibank had recently discovered a prewar bank account worth 
around $50,000 that had belonged to the Lithuanian Jewish 
Community.  Baker is working with Citibank officials to have 
these funds transferred to the foundation once it is 
created.)  Baker agreed with Kubilius that restitution of 
destroyed properties would be highly problematic and remarked 
that a symbolic settlement might be appropriate recognition 
and settlement. 
Comment: A Homerun Visit 
¶9. (C) The progress on Lithuanian property restitution has 
recently slowed, as Lithuanian leaders addressed their 
parliamentary futures and the Jewish community leaders dealt 
with internecine wrangling (ref B).  Baker's well-timed and 
productive meetings with the country's major political 
players secured commitments from all sides to proceed with 
the restitution of former Jewish communal property once the 
elections end and the work of the new Government begins. 
Brazauskas appears likely to remain on as PM, putting him in 
a good position to deliver on his commitments.  Even the 
issues raised by Kubilius, which to others might appear 
obstructionist, reflect a genuine concern that the government 
act equitably and a recognition that public perception of 
biased treatment could backfire, derailing the restitution 
program.  The Conservative Kubilius is a strong USG ally, and 
he will likely entertain creative solutions to successfully 
complete restitution.  Following his meetings, Baker noted 
that he feels well-positioned to move forward with the next 
government of Lithuania, regardless of which parties actually 
form it. We agree that Lithuania is now heading for the 
homestretch in realizing communal property restitution.  To 
that end, we will remain engaged with the GOL and Jewish 
Community on this issue, an important and long-term Embassy 
goal, to capitalize on this highly successful visit.