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Cablegate: Visit of Holocaust Issues Envoy Ambassador Kennedy To

VZCZCXRO9093
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0756/01 3041333
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301333Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8731
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLJ/AMEMBASSY LJUBLJANA 6437
RUEHVJ/AMEMBASSY SARAJEVO 0309

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ZAGREB 000756


EUR FOR OHI, EUR/SCE, And SEAS(Gregg Rickman)

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM CASC HR
SUBJECT: VISIT OF HOLOCAUST ISSUES ENVOY AMBASSADOR KENNEDY TO
CROATIA

1. (U) SUMMARY: Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Christian
Kennedy, visited Zagreb from October 17-20 and met with the Minister
of Culture, a State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and
representatives from the local Jewish communities. Ambassador
Kennedy reminded the government of its obligation to resolve
outstanding restitution claims for Jewish property and assets from
Word War II and the communist era. He also stressed the importance
of maintaining Jewish gravesites and advocated for the quick
construction of a Jewish synagogue in Zagreb. Ambassador Kennedy's
visit received positive press coverage. END SUMMARY

MEETING AT MINISTRY OF JUSTICE
-------------------

2.(U) In his meeting with State Secretary Drazen Bosnjakovic at the
Ministry of Justice, Ambassador Kennedy asked for clarity regarding
a case currently being heard by the Croatian Supreme Court regarding
restitution to foreign nationals of property that was confiscated
during and after WWII. (NOTE: Currently Croatian law states that
said property can be restituted to foreigners only if a bilateral
agreement exists between Croatia and the country of citizenship of
the applicant; at this time no such bilateral agreements exist
between Croatia and any other country. In February 2008 this law was
challenged and a lower court ruled that a bilateral treaty does not
need to exist in order for foreigners to receive restitution. The
government has appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court. In essence
the case before the Supreme Court will decide whether or not said
property can be restituted to non-Croatian citizens without a
bilateral agreement between Croatia and the state of citizenship of
the applicant.)

3. (U) State Secretary Bosnjakovic stated that he did not know what
to expect regarding a possible verdict in this case. He stated that
the government expects a verdict soon, but would not speculate as to
when a decision might be reached. He confirmed, however, that the
Supreme Court's decision would set a precedent for lower courts were
the original decision to be upheld. When asked by Ambassador Kennedy
whether other applicants would each have to go to court to argue
their case if the decision were upheld, Bosnjakovic nodded
affirmatively, but said there would be several possibilities and he
could not say at this time which would apply.

4. (U) Throughout the meeting Bosnjakovic repeatedly mentioned the
GOC's preference for resolving the issue of restitution through
bilateral treaties. He stated that if the Supreme Court annuls the
lower court's decision, the government would not seek to amend the
original law that is in question, but instead would go ahead with
the process of bilateral treaty negotiation. These treaties would
need to be approved by a simple majority in parliament. (NOTE:
These statements represent an apparent shift in the GoC position of
the past several years, during which they have repeatedly claimed to
be developing an amendment to the law so as to no longer require
bilateral agreements. END NOTE.) Bosnjakovic added that, in cases
where it was possible, restitution of property would be offered but
otherwise compensation would be the only available option.

MEETINGS WITH JEWISH COMMUNITY
------------------------

5. (U) Ambassador Kennedy also met with representatives from the two
Jewish communities that exist in Zagreb. Representatives from the
older and larger of the two communities confirmed that no progress
has been made regarding restitution of communal property and voiced
concerns regarding the maintenance of approximately 50 to 60 Jewish
graveyards in Croatia. Though some gravesites are well maintained
they claimed that others are in very poor condition. They also felt
they were encountering unnecessary bureaucratic delays in their
efforts to rebuild a historic synagogue that was destroyed in WWII.

6. (U) Representatives from the newer Jewish community reported that
they were also concerned with the increasing use of WWII era fascist
symbols and slogans amongst Croatian youth at public events.
However, they praised the government for its condemnation of this
behavior and believed that Croatia was unique amongst its European
neighbors because there was no extreme right political party or
figure in politics today. They also felt that much of this behavior
was the result of unemployed youth who were disenchanted with the
results of the transition from socialism to capitalism. Ambassador
Kennedy specifically asked the leaders whether they saw a
revisionist trend in society to equate war crimes committed during
WWII with the atrocities committed against Croatian Jews during the
holocaust. The community felt in general that revisionism in Croatia
is not as strong as it was ten years ago.

MEETING WITH MINISTER OF CULTURE
--------------------------


ZAGREB 00000756 002 OF 002


7. (U) In a meeting with Minister of Culture Bozo Biskupic,
Ambassador Kennedy stressed the importance of this Supreme Court
decision on restitution. Ambassador Kennedy inquired whether the
political will existed in Croatia to make the statutory changes
needed to further the process of restitution if the Supreme Court
annuls the lower court's decision. Biskupic was not familiar with
the case and refused to speculate on the repercussions of the case
though he stated that he personally felt the court should rule in
favor of the foreign applicant.

8. (U) Ambassador Kennedy also brought up concerns regarding the
maintenance and care of Jewish gravesites in Croatia. Biskupic
responded that the GOC will continue to maintain Jewish cemeteries
as cultural sites and will finance their upkeep the same as any
other monument. He lamented that divisions within the Jewish
community in Zagreb prevent the government from signing agreements
that would provide the communities with funding that could be used
to maintain gravesites.

9. (U) Ambassador Kennedy also brought to Minister Biskupic's
attention that the city of Zagreb was requiring that the main Jewish
community submit a proposal to the Ministry of Culture before they
would permit the community to start a geodetic survey of the land
for a new synagogue to be built on the site of a previous synagogue
destroyed during WWII. Biskupic felt that this was an unusual
requirement, and said that the city of Zagreb had its own historical
commission that normally handles these issues. He said that he had
not seen any proposal, but if it came to the Ministry they would
approve it. Ambassador Kennedy stressed the importance of rebuilding
on the site of the original synagogue in as expeditious a manner as
possible.

10. (U) Ambassador Kennedy has cleared on this cable.

BRADTKE

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