Viewing cable 09VILNIUS391

09VILNIUS3912009-07-16 14:31:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius

DE RUEHVL #0391/01 1971431
P 161431Z JUL 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000391 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/16/2019 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Damian R.Leader for reasons 1.4 (b) an 
d (d). 
¶1. (U) SUMMARY:  The GOL on July 15 approved a plan for 
compensation of communal Jewish property expropriated by the 
Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes.  The compensation plan 
calls for the government to pay 128 million litas (about 52.2 
million USD) to a foundation to be determined by the GOL. 
The first 3 million litas, to be used for the support of 
Holocaust survivors, would be paid by March 2011.  The rest 
would be paid over a 10-year period, beginning in 2012.  This 
plan differs markedly from the one negotiated last year by 
the GOL and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), 
which has been a partner of the Jewish Community of Lithuania 
(JCL) for years.  The GOL abandoned that plan, which called 
for buildings to be returned when possible and compensation 
to be paid when buildings could not be returned, because of 
vague concerns about its constitutionality.  The new plan 
calls for compensation at a rate of 30 percent of market 
value, with a provision for only two buildings to be 
returned.  The JCL and WJRO on July 16 issued a joint 
statement calling the plan "wholly inadequate and 
unacceptable."  The bill now goes to the Seimas (parliament), 
which is expected to debate the issue in its autumn session. 
¶2. (SBU) Although Jewish groups say the compensation called 
for in the plan is too little, the GOL is in dire financial 
straits and, politically, is taking an unpopular decision. 
In a country where anti-Semitism is strong, the government is 
proposing to pay millions of dollars to the Jewish community 
at the same time it is cutting social benefits and government 
salaries.  We will continue to press the GOL and Seimas, and 
work with Jewish groups, to ensure that the Jewish community 
gets adequate compensation for property stolen from it.  End 
¶3. (U) The Lithuanian government on July 15 okayed a plan to 
pay compensation for communal Jewish property seized by the 
Nazi and Soviet regimes that occupied Lithuania beginning in 
World War II.  The plan will now go to the Seimas, which is 
expected to take up the issue in the autumn.  The plan, which 
was drawn up without significant input by the local or 
international Jewish communities, calls for the GOL to pay 
128 million litas over a period of 11 years.  The first 
payment of 3 million litas (about 1.2 million USD) would be 
paid by March 2011 for the support of elderly Holocaust 
survivors, many of whom live in poverty and poor health. The 
remainder would be paid out over 10 years, starting in 2012. 
¶4. (C) Although international and local Jewish communities 
are unhappy with the plan approved by the GOL, some had 
argued that compensation on the basis of that plan should be 
accepted, because they feared that the alternative would be 
no compensation at all.  They are unhappy that after eight 
years of negotiations, the GOL drew up the current plan 
without consulting with Jewish leaders.  But even more 
important, they say, is that the plan calls for too little, 
too late, and without any clarity on who would receive the 
money.  They say: 
-- The compensation level is too low.  The GOL says it is 
paying for property at 30 percent of its full value.  The 
Jewish communities say the total does not come close to 30 
percent, and asks why that number was chosen in the first 
place.  They say they would be happy to take the buildings 
themselves -- which was what the plan agreed to in 2008 
called for -- as that was what was stolen from them.  The GOL 
has said it would allow the Jewish community to acquire 
buildings it once owned, but to do so it would have to pay 
100 percent of their value, and not the 30 percent they are 
receiving for the same buildings.  Thus, the GOL could find 
itself in the position of appearing to make a considerable 
sum of money by selling expropriated property back to the 
Jewish community from which it was stolen. 
-- The payments start too late.  The Jewish community would 
like money to support Holocaust survivors paid immediately, 
before too many more of them die.  They also would like to be 
able to take immediate ownership of the two buildings 
mentioned in the plan.  But the plan would not allow those 
buildings (which would be the only ones compensated at 100 
percent of their value) to be turned over until the 
compensation payments begin in 2012, because the community 
would use compensation money to "buy" those buildings.  One 
of the buildings in question houses the JCL offices and the 
Jewish Museum; the other was the wartime Jewish Ghetto 
-- The funding mechanism is unclear.  The WJRO and JCL have 
formed a foundation to be the recipient of restitution funds. 
 Citing political reasons, the GOL will not specify in the 
plan that the foundation will, in fact, receive the money. 
Kubilius has given private assurances that he intends to 
designate that foundation or one very similar to it, but the 
Jewish communities do not have much trust in his government 
right now.  Also, they note, the foundation would not need to 
be designated until early 2011, and the government could well 
change by then. 
-- The JCL wants buildings that the local Jewish communities 
in the cities of Kaunas, Klaipeda, Panevezys, Siauliai and 
Ukmerge could use.  Despite repeated requests to the GOL that 
such buildings be handed over as part of the restitution 
plan, none was included. 
¶5. (C) Simonas Gurevicius, executive director of the JCL, 
told us that he believed the community would have been better 
off had it waited and used the time to try to strike a better 
deal. "We could say, 'We're ready to wait because the country 
is in a financial crisis.'  The feeling I have now is the 
government wants to get this problem finished with, and is 
using the economic crisis to excuse themselves why the amount 
is so small."  He also said that he thought the people of 
Lithuania, where anti-Semitism and intolerance are 
widespread, would strongly oppose the payment of 128 million 
litas to Jews.  "We should be very unhappy," he said of the 
government's plan.  "It's not a very good result for us." 
¶6. (SBU) It also may not be a very good result for the GOL, 
which is taking a political risk by putting forth this plan. 
On the same day that the Cabinet approved the compensation 
plan, the Seimas was debating significant cuts in 
maternity-leave benefits.  The government has severely cut 
spending in all areas and has raised taxes, yet the financial 
situation in Lithuania remains precarious.  So far, the media 
have not blamed the government for cutting benefits while 
simultaneously seeking to pay money to the Jewish community. 
But with the Seimas not likely to debate the bill until fall, 
that leaves months for such speculation and attacks to form. 
The Jewish community already is being attacked for 
greediness.  A July 16 article on one of the top Lithuanian 
news websites said:  "Looking at the news on television, you 
hear that they are cutting pension and salaries of civil 
servants, trying to resolve a financial catastrophe.  Yet at 
the same time the Jews are demanding not 130 million litas 
but 300 million litas." 
¶7. (U) The plan agreed to by the WJRO and the GOL last year 
called for restitution of properties when possible, and for 
monetary compensation only when actual return of buildings 
was impossible or impractical.  That plan, Jewish leaders 
say, would have given their community back its rightful 
property without requiring a massive cash payout by the 
government.  The GOL abandoned that plan in the face of vague 
worries by some government lawyers that it might be found 
unconstitutional if challenged in court.  The statement by 
the JCL and WJRO points out that just a few weeks ago at the 
Prague Conference on Holocaust-era Assets, Lithuania endorsed 
the Terezin Declaration, which encourages countries to "make 
every effort to provide for the restitution of former Jewish 
communal and religious property."  In most other countries, 
it was eventually returned or compensated at full value, the 
statement said. 
¶8. (C) Comment:  The GOL believes it has done well by 
approving this plan in parlous economic times.  The 
politicians who make up the government could well face voter 
backlash if they tried to offer more.  The Jewish communities 
are in a difficult position, because while they rightly see 
this plan as providing grossly inadequate compensation, it 
may provide their last best chance for getting any 
compensation or restitution at all.  We will continue to work 
with the GOL and with the Seimas -- as well as with local and 
international Jewish organizations -- to ensure that the 
Jewish communities receive equitable restitution or 
compensation for their stolen property.