Viewing cable 09VILNIUS702

09VILNIUS7022009-12-22 11:37:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
DE RUEHVL #0702/01 3561137
P 221137Z DEC 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 VILNIUS 000702 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2019 
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Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission John M. Finkbeiner for re 
asons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
¶1.  (C)  SUMMARY:  During a visit to Vilnius, the director 
general of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) 
told Ambassador Derse that the GOL's current proposal to 
compensate Jews for the expropriation of communal Jewish 
property by Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes remained 
unacceptable, and that the Jewish community hoped the 
government would be open to further discussion.  He also said 
that the local and international Jewish communities were 
concerned about Lithuanians' lack of knowledge of the 
Holocaust and about the desire by some in Lithuania to 
diminish the Holocaust by equating it with Stalinist 
repression and murders of Lithuanians.  End summary. 
¶2.  (U)  David Peleg, former Israeli ambassador to Poland and 
now director general of the WJRO, was in Vilnius December 
14-15 to meet with GOL officials, Western ambassadors and the 
local Jewish community.  The Israeli embassy that covers 
Lithuania is in Riga, and the Israeli deputy head of mission 
accompanied Peleg to his meetings with GOL officials.  For a 
morning meeting with Ambassador Derse on December 15, Peleg 
was accompanied by Faina Kukliansky, a lawyer and deputy 
chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania (JCL). 
Communal property compensation 
¶3.  (C)  Peleg told the Ambassador that the GOL's current 
proposal to pay partial compensation for communal property 
(Ref B) was unacceptable.  He said the amount offered by the 
GOL -- 128 million LTL (56 million USD) -- was inadequate, 
that it did not offer the return of properties the Jewish 
community owned and wanted back, that only a fraction of the 
properties seized were included when calculating the 
compensation amount, and that the level of compensation had 
been set at just 30 percent of the value of the buildings. 
Even the distinction drawn by the GOL between restitution and 
compensation was offensive and wrong, he said.  "Their idea 
that it is not restitution but a goodwill gesture toward the 
Jewish community is completely unacceptable to us.  This was 
their property, and it is their right to get back their 
property for fair compensation for it." 
¶4.  (C)  The draft law calls for the GOL to designate a 
foundation to receive the compensation money and determine 
how to use it.  The WJRO and JCL have already created such a 
foundation.  Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius had previously 
promised he would name that foundation to receive and 
disburse compensation funds (Ref C), but could not say so 
explicitly in the draft legislation for fear of stoking 
opposition.  But Peleg told the Ambassador that the GOL 
apparently now wants its own representatives, as well as 
Jewish individuals who do not represent the larger Jewish 
community, on the foundation board, so it is unclear whether 
Kubilius plans to, or can, keep his promise.  "For us, this 
is the crucial issue," Peleg said.  Kukliansky said she 
believed the government was telling the Jewish community one 
thing about the foundation and telling the Seimas 
(parliament) something else entirely.  She said that if the 
GOL named its own representatives and hand-picked Jewish 
allies to the foundation, "they would leave the distribution 
of the funds in the hands of the government, and that is not 
compensating the Jewish community at all.  The worst thing 
would be if they passed the law and then named a different 
foundation" than the one created by the WJRO and JCL.  Peleg 
said, "If they pass the law and the situation with the 
foundation is not satisfied, if the Jewish community sees 
that restitution will not benefit them, it will be very bad." 
¶5.  (C)  Peleg said the future was unclear.  "Now the issue 
is whether it's in the interests of the Jewish community for 
the legislation to be passed at all," he said.  He said the 
WJRO would support any decision made by the JCL.  The current 
position taken by both organizations is to say the current 
proposal is unacceptable and call on the government to make 
improvements.  Peleg said Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius 
told him that he hoped to introduce the bill to the Seimas 
before the end of December, which would not leave much time 
for additional discussions.  "My feeling from the Minister of 
Justice was not a good one," Peleg said. 
¶6.  (C)  Whether the draft law will move forward in its 
current form is uncertain for another reason as well.  The 
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Seimas lawyers who reviewed the bill to determine whether it 
was constitutional identified a number of what they said were 
legal defects (Ref A).  GOL officials told Peleg -- and have 
told us -- that the purported problems are minor and 
surmountable, and shouldn't delay the bill. 
Nazi-Soviet equivalence 
¶7.  (C)  Peleg said he, like many Jews, is troubled by what 
he sees as an effort by Lithuania to diminish the importance 
of the Holocaust by giving equal status to the crimes 
committed against Lithuanians by the USSR under Stalin. 
"With all sympathy to the victims of Stalinism, we told them 
that Nazi Germany wanted to kill all Jews because they were 
Jews.  On the other side, there was no comparable situation," 
he said.  "This equation (argument) is very clear, even if it 
is not called an equation," Peleg said. 
¶8.  (U)  Since 1998, Lithuania's legal definition of genocide 
has included as an underlying factor the intent to destroy 
people belonging to "social or political groups" as well as 
groups defined by reference to race, color, religion, 
descent, and national or ethnic origin.  By that definition, 
the Soviet Union's murder, imprisonment and exile of 
thousands of Lithuanians, especially the nation's political, 
academic, civic and intellectual leaders, is considered 
genocide.  But GOL officials also say publicly that they are 
not trying to equate Soviet crimes with Nazi crimes.  In a 
December 16 speech at an anti-Semitism conference in Israel, 
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas 
Usackas said, "We do not apply a common measure to the 
Holocaust and the crimes committed by the Stalinist terror. 
The condemnation of the crimes of Stalinism in Eastern Europe 
should never be applied to diminish the moral and political 
lessons of the Holocaust....  We cannot tolerate any 
relativism in relation to the memory of the Holocaust." 
Education needed 
¶9.  (C)  Peleg told the Ambassador that attitudes and beliefs 
about the Holocaust and about Jews will not change in 
Lithuania without a concerted effort to educate people, 
especially young people.  "What saddened and depressed me was 
that most Lithuanians believe that the known fact that Jews 
were killed by Lithuanians in large numbers is a lie," Peleg 
said.  "I talked to them (GOL officials) about the need to do 
more with education and with teaching in schools.  I was the 
(Israeli) ambassador to Poland, and the situation is much 
worse in Lithuania than in Poland in this regard." 
¶10.  (C)  Kukliansky said that even when Lithuanians 
acknowledge that their countrymen killed some Jews, "they say 
the Jews were Communists who exiled Lithuanians to Siberia, 
and that was the reason for the killing of Jews.  How can you 
have education (when) they say the only reason for killing 
Jews was because they were Communists? And that's on an 
official level.  Their knowledge of history is on such a low 
level."  She also pointed out that several Jews who fought as 
anti-Nazi partisans have been sought for war-crimes 
questioning by Lithuanian prosecutors.  She said the 
blackening of the reputations of the Jewish partisans, who 
often fought together with Soviet troops or Communist 
partisans, was part of an effort to show the Jews as 
pro-Soviet and anti-Lithuanian aggressors rather than as 
victims of and fighters against the Nazis. 
¶11.  (C)  Peleg said he would recommend to the Israeli 
education ministry that it reach out to the Lithuanian 
education ministry to discuss possible student-exchange and 
teacher-education programs.  He said he also had suggested 
such programs to the Israeli ambassador.  When he was the 
Israeli ambassador in Poland, Peleg said, such programs were 
widespread and successful.  Israel sends about 30,000 
teenagers a year to Poland to visit the death camps and meet 
with Polish teens.  He said visits by Jewish-American youth 
groups also were helpful in reducing ignorance and 
anti-Semitism among Polish youth.  Peleg said he hoped that 
EU structures would be able to contribute to progress in 
Lithuania, especially in areas such as education and human 
rights.  Ambassador Derse said she would raise the issue with 
Washington and explore possibilities for the Embassy to do 
more to help with tolerance education and programs. 
¶12.  (C)  Comment:  The Kubilius administration has moved 
closer to passing a restitution bill than any previous 
Lithuanian government, but has moved farther away from a bill 
acceptable to the Jewish community.  We will continue to urge 
VILNIUS 00000702  003 OF 003 
the GOL to work with the WJRO and the JCL to craft a mutually 
acceptable solution.  If the local and international Jewish 
communities see the restitution process distorted so that 
funds will be distributed by a foundation they do not 
control, the destruction of their trust in the GOL will be 
complete and may be beyond repair.  In discussions with the 
GOL, we will continue to remind officials of the damage that 
will ensue to Lithuania's international reputation should the 
Jewish community reject the restitution law.  An unsuccessful 
restitution plan also would magnify greatly the attention 
paid by the international community to other elements of the 
Jewish population's treatment in Lithuania, such as 
anti-Semitic incidents and statements and the perceived 
downgrading of the Holocaust.  Those are important issues in 
their own right, of course, and we will work with the GOL, 
Jewish groups and other American, European and Lithuanian 
partners to strengthen education programs against 
anti-Semitism and for tolerance, as well as for an increased 
understanding of Lithuania's own history.