Viewing cable 06VILNIUS146

06VILNIUS1462006-02-13 13:36:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Vilnius
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF:A) 2005 VILNIUS 1222 
B) 2005 VILNIUS 283 
C) 2004 VILNIUS 1065 
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Lithuania is moving ahead with plans for 
the restitution of former Jewish communal property, an 
important element in addressing its Nazi and Soviet legacy. 
The government's support for restitution remains solid, and 
the GOL plans to submit the necessary legislation to 
Parliament for approval within a month.  The Prime Minister 
and other political leaders have given us assurances of 
their support.  Public opinion, however, will likely be 
against restitution.  That, combined with internal disputes 
within the Jewish community, could mean that the 
legislation faces a turbulent ride through Parliament. 
Passage of the restitution law is not guaranteed.  Given 
the USG's longstanding support for restitution, we will 
expand our outreach efforts to shore up support for the 
legislation. END SUMMARY. 
¶2. Lithuania has struggled for much of the past 15 years 
since regaining independence with making restitution for 
the damages of Nazi and Soviet occupation.  It has had some 
success in this struggle.  The government has returned 
almost all confiscated religious property to Lithuania's 
various religious communities, and the process of 
restituting Lithuanian citizens for lost private property 
is underway.  An important exception to this success has 
been in the area of Jewish communal property ? community 
centers, clinics, libraries and other property that 
Lithuania's prewar community held communally.  We have 
worked intensively with U.S. Jewish community 
representatives and the Brazauskas Government in support of 
legislation that will establish a restitution process, the 
proceeds of which will fund the revival of Jewish community 
life in Lithuania. 
¶3. The government has conducted extensive research on 
restitutable properties and worked with the Jewish 
Community of Lithuania and international experts to draft 
the necessary legislative amendment (ref A).  One point, 
regarding restitution of former health care institutions, 
remains on the table, but the government plans to introduce 
the draft legislation during the regular parliamentary 
session that begins in March. 
The Draft Legislation 
¶4. Lithuania's 1995 law on restitution places significant 
restrictions on claims for communal property and, as a 
result, the Jewish community has regained only a fraction 
of the communal property owned by the country's pre-war 
Jewish population of over 200,000.  The government-drafted 
legislation amends the 1995 law to broaden the definition 
of communal property and to establish a foundation that 
will manage the property restituted (or compensation paid) 
to the Jewish community.  A board of directors, consisting 
of six representatives appointed by the local Jewish 
community and six by international parties, will manage 
this foundation.  The amendment to the law would allow for 
the restitution of approximately 150 properties, with an 
estimated value of USD 200 million.  It would also leave 
open the possibility of further restitution in the future, 
should experts find evidence that additional properties 
¶5. The government and the Jewish community are putting the 
final touches on the draft legislation.  Final negotiations 
center on whether to specify health care facilities as a 
type of restitutable property.  (The Jewish community wants 
the language in; the government out.) The government 
intends to submit the draft to Parliament within a month, 
in time for the next regular session, which begins March 
¶10.  It is not clear when Parliament will actually take up 
the bill, and deliberations could be lengthy. 
Government Support Solid... 
¶6. (SBU) Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas has long been a 
driving force of the restitution process.  Although his 
Social Democratic party is now a junior partner in the 
governing coalition, the backing of his government remains 
firm.  Coalition partner Parliamentary Speaker Arturas 
Paulauskas is also sympathetic, and recently told the 
Ambassador that he is "guardedly optimistic" the 
restitution legislation will successfully pass through 
Parliament.  President Valdas Adamkus, an ex-American 
citizen, has made well known his support for the cause. 
Although the Labor Party has avoided any public 
commitments, Labor leader Viktor Uspaskich has repeatedly 
assured the Ambassador that he supports restitution and 
promised to deliver his party's votes. 
...But a Rocky Road Ahead? 
¶7. Jewish property restitution has long been a 
controversial issue in Lithuania.  Public opinion, 
sometimes influenced by anti-Semitism, will almost 
certainly run against restitution.  Some politicians are 
perplexed as to why there needs to be a "special" process 
for Jewish property restitution, and argue that the 
government should be taking care of "Lithuanians" first. 
Radical politicians from the opposition Liberal Democratic 
Party have already spoken out loudly against restitution, 
with some media outlets happy to provide them a forum. 
¶8. (SBU) Internecine conflict within the Jewish community 
itself also threatens to hamper passage of the bill.  Much 
of the controversy centers on restitution.  Several Jewish 
community and religious leaders contend that Simonas 
Alperavicius, the official chairman of the Jewish Community 
of Lithuania, has mismanaged the restitution process, has 
had difficulty coordinating with local and international 
experts, and has not always been actively engaged on the 
matter.  Others say he has pushed restitution solely for 
the benefit of his associates.  Most of Alperavicius's 
detractors have their own vested interests.  Leaders of the 
tiny Kaunas Jewish Religious Community oppose this 
restitution amendment, having themselves filed competing 
claims for some of the properties involved.  Rabbi Sholom 
Ber Krinsky has consistently complained that the other 
Jewish actors in this process have marginalized his Chabad 
Lubavitch organization, although community leaders have 
assured him that his group will also benefit (ref C). 
¶9. Meanwhile, Vilius Kavaliauskas, the Prime Minister's 
advisor for cultural affairs and long-time point man for 
Jewish property restitution, is embroiled in his own 
personal scandal involving allegations of Soviet-era 
activities that may force him to resign.  Kavaliauskas' 
case is pending in the courts but will undoubtedly draw to 
conclusion before the restitution legislation passes. 
Comment: Light at the End of the Tunnel 
¶10. (SBU) Lithuania's work on Jewish communal property 
restitution is finally approaching the home stretch, but 
passage is far from certain.  Success depends on party 
discipline: the willingness and ability of the PM, Speaker, 
and Labor Party leader to deliver their members' votes to 
get the amendment through; and the ability of the Jewish 
Community to overcome internal differences and not provide 
a reason for legislators to hesitate. 
¶11. (SBU) We have already begun an outreach campaign with 
parliamentarians from all parties to help familiarize them 
with the issue and international interest in it.  We also 
intend to encourage support from Lithuania's Catholic 
Church hierarchy, which would positively impact public 
opinion.  We will release a public statement praising the 
government when it introduces the legislation, and work 
with President Adamkus to examine how he might be 
supportive.  Encouraging Lithuania to make a just 
recompense for its Holocaust legacy remains a top Mission 
goal, and we believe the restitution of Jewish communal 
property will be an important step forward.