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Cablegate: Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ambassador

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BUCHAREST 000914

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH; EUR/OHI - JOHN
BECKER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI RO
SUBJECT: SPECIAL ENVOY FOR HOLOCAUST ISSUES AMBASSADOR
EDWARD O'DONNEL MARCH 20-23 VISIT TO ROMANIA

1. (U) Summary: Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues
Ambassador Edward O'Donnell March 20-23 met with senior GOR
figures and members of the Romanian Jewish community to
discuss property restitution and other concerns related to
Romanian efforts to redress its Holocaust past. The
Romanian delegation to the International Taskforce on
Holocaust Education and the Ministry of Education
underscored a commitment to improving Holocaust education
curricula in Romanian schools. Slightly off-key were
opinions offered at the MFA and Presidency that pointed to a
more protracted and less decisive approach to the rescinding
of an award given to a notorious Romanian anti-Semite and
extremist. End Summary.

2. (U) Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ambassador Edward
O'Donnell traveled to Bucharest March 20-23 for a series of
meetings with key figures involved in Romanian efforts to
recognize, commemorate, and redress the country's
involvement in the Holocaust. In most cases, officials and
private citizens were receptive to U.S. interest in these
core human rights issues and optimistic that Romania was
finally come to terms with this tragic period in history.
Presidential Advisor: Basescu "Moved" by Holocaust Museum
--------------------------------------------- ------------
3. (SBU) In his meetings with Senior Presidential Advisor
Claudiu Saftoiu and other senior GOR figures, Ambassador
O'Donnell underscored the importance for the success of the
Romanian restitution process to strive for transparency, non-
discrimination and relaxed standards of documentation. He
also stressed the need for swift action by the GOR in
resolving the awarding of a Star of Romania medal of honor,
Romania's highest decoration, to known anti-Semite and
extreme nationalist party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor.
Saftiou stated that a Commission of Honor, already announced
in the official monitor, will convene for the first time in
coming weeks and will have the authority to revoke awards.
(Note: Saftoiu subsequently told PolChief April 7 that the
independent commission will actually review the status and
conduct of all recipients of the Star of Romania, although
Commission members will no doubt focus on Tudor and recent
revelations that in the early 1990's he "procured" under-
aged girls for sexual purposes for Eugen Barbu, the now
deceased founder of his political party. End note.)

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4. (U) Saftoiu remarked that Basescu was "moved" by his
visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and had told his
advisers that he had previously been, like many Romanians,
"a victim of misinformation about the Holocaust." Saftoiu
also underscored that Basescu strongly supports the GOR's
intention to introduce new legislation regarding the
Holocaust and punishment for hate crimes. He asked for
advice on a possible "role model" among other former Soviet
Bloc countries who have recently passed similar legislation.
Separately, Saftoiu observed that Basescu is personally
committed to restituting communal religious property to its
rightful owners, whenever possible, or alternatively,
finding a suitable compensation solution for owners.

MFA State Secretary: Anti-Semitism still a Problem
--------------------------------------------- -----
5. (U) Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary Teodor
Baconschi observed that latent anti-Semitism remains a
problem in Romania, stemming from misconceptions about
Romanian Jews, sometimes combined with a misdirected
nationalism. He suggested that a dialogue between the
Romanian Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities would be
one way of helping to resolve remaining anti-Semitic
attitudes. "We need to dismantle clichs about Jews and
communist rule," he stressed, referring to the view that
Jews were disproportionately involved in Romanian Communist
regime. Baconschi expressed support for Culture Minister
Mona Musca's proposed establishment of a museum of Romanian
Jewish history and culture. Turning to restitution,
Baconschi noted that "restitution issues are extremely
complex" but that the GOR is committed to finding a
transparent resolution of restitution cases. On the Star of
Romania, Baconschi noted that it was important that the GOR
move cautiously so as to avoid the impression that revoking
the award to Tudor would be "viewed as an attack on the
former government."

New Moves Toward Property Restitution
-------------------------------------
6. (U) Delegate Minister Bogdan Olteanu, chairman of the
Prime Minister's inter-ministerial working group on
restitution, and Prime Ministerial Counselor Vlad Moisescu
discussed at length the GOR's intention of comprehensively
reforming the restitution process. (Note: The Prime
Minister recently formed the inter-ministerial working group
consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Culture
and Religion, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Finance and
other concerned GOR bureaus when he moved restitution into
his personal mandate. End note.) Olteanu stated that the
GOR would introduce an amendment to the current legislation
that would revamp what he characterized as the inefficient
and nontransparent current model. Olteanu criticized the
former Government's Restitution Commission, which he
insisted aimed to "halt restitution," rather than justly
return properties or compensate their owners.

7. (U) Moisescu and Olteanu energetically discussed
possible legislative solutions, to include, "GOR bond
issuances by way of compensation" and sanction (including
removal from office) of local officials. The latter is
aimed at mayors who refuse to obey current legislation and
restitute properties which have met the restitution criteria
or for which favorable decision by the Restitution
Commission has been given. Olteanu emphasized that the GOR
views overhauling the restitution legislation as critical
and is considering presenting that legislation by way of a
"no confidence" vote in Parliament. He underscored that the
current government is "serious" about restitution, observing
that his own National Liberal Party (PNL) headquarters would
be returned to its rightful owners. Olteanu and Moisescu
acknowledged, however, that the GOR is "still working on
financial issues," but concluded that the GOR is firmly
committed to "fair financial compensation."

8. (U) State Secretary for Restitution Ingred Zaarour
stressed her first priority is to assist the inter-
ministerial working group with reforming the existing
restitution legislation through amendments created in
consultation with the parties involved, including religious
denominations, property owner associations and ethnic
groups. They hope to introduce this legislation to the
Parliament for approval by the end of May 2005. Another
priority is to review all of the pending cases and contact
the petitioners with regard to any missing documentation
which is slowing the pace of restitution decisions. The
Secretariat hopes to soon have a website where petitioners

SIPDIS
can inquire electronically as to the status of their pending
case. After a number of dossiers have been completed the
Restitution Commission will meet weekly to approve the
backlog of cases. Additionally, the Secretariat is
launching a new program of independent "inspectors" who will
survey buildings and land to determine the situation of
properties subject to claim as well as to assess the value
of the properties which cannot be returned owing to special
circumstances.

9. (U) Tova Ben Nun, Chairperson of local Jewish charity
Caritatea Foundation, remarked the Foundation is pleased
with recent promises made by the Prime Minister on the
reformation of the restitution system, including the goal of
restitution in kind whenever possible. However, they remain
cautious, as none of the statements have been transformed
into actions. She mentioned they do not have a preference
among restitution in kind, monetary compensation for
demolished buildings or awarding of a like property. The
Foundation is particularly troubled by the great number of
restitution cases being challenged in court. Caritatea has
55 active cases, most of which were introduced by local
government agencies. Ben Nun presented a letter to
Ambassador O'Donnell, as well a dossier of documents
explaining the most egregious restitution problems.
Ambassador O'Donnell subsequently raised the examples of
restitution problems provided by Ben Nun with senior GOR
representatives. Of particular concern is a situation where
the Mayor of Iasi sold restituted land without the
permission of the Foundation who was to receive the land
back from the Restitution Commission. Ms. Ben Nun has
contacted the State Secretariat for Restitution as well as
Prime Ministerial Advisor, Vlad Moisescu, for help in
resolving the issue. While she has received verbal
assurances of help from the GOR, no firm steps have been
taken at this time.

10. (U) Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania Acting
President Iulian Sorin also noted how pleased the Community
was with the recent statements made by the Prime Minister
regarding the property restitution process and his
participation in the opening ceremonies of the New Holocaust
Museum at Yad Vashem in Israel. He too is cautious as such
promises have also been heard in the past. He remarked that
the Jewish Community claims are being processed and followed
by the Caritas Foundation (Tova Ben Nun), as the Jewish
Community has little financial support. Its resources are,
in fact, entirely devoted to social welfare projects.
President Sorin expressed that the restitution process must
be sped up and local authorities punished for abusing the
system through court challenges. On another note, the
Jewish Community is concerned about lack of state funding to
maintain and restore synagogues. President Sorin remarked,
"The newest Synagogue is 80 years old and we do not have the
resources to save these historical monuments." Jewish
community leaders also expressed concern about signs of
resurgent anti-Semitism, providing Ambassador O'Donnell
copies of recent quasi-underground and overtly anti-Semitic
Romanian journals.

Improvements in Holocaust Education
-----------------------------------
11. (U) State Secretary Joszef Koto, Director of Curricula
Development and Liliana Popescu from the Ministry of
Education stated that they are very happy that Romania has
been accepted onto the International Taskforce for Holocaust
Education. They hope to use the membership to further
develop both the Holocaust school curriculum, as well as
increase the teacher training programs. Popescu noted that
new text books are being developed for use in secondary
schools with improved sections on Jewish history and the
Holocaust in Romania. The textbooks will be reviewed and
approved by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of
Religions and Culture in the near future. They hope to have
them in use in schools by the beginning of the next academic
year. The Ministry is particularly pleased with the
development of optional Holocaust and Jewish History courses
at the local and regional level. Several schools have
developed regionally based optional courses for secondary
students. Some of these courses are being approved at the
National Level, with input from outside experts such as Yad
Vashem, for use by all teachers. They hope to have a
website soon where teachers will be able to download and
share online curricula.

12. (U) Popescu also mentioned that several hundred teachers
have participated in one of many teacher training programs
both in Romania and abroad in the last two years. The
Ministry of Education is currently working with "pre-
teaching" courses at Universities to add a component on the
Holocaust to all teacher preparation courses. Teaching
centers in Bucharest, Iasi, Cluj and Craiova are offering
Holocaust education short courses and seminars. Finally,
the Ministry of Education wants to build upon the success of
the first annual Holocaust Remembrance day held in October
2004. The activities sponsored by the Ministry and the
individual schools sparked a great deal of interest with the
students. The Ministry would like to further encourage the
use of Holocaust speakers, movies, literature and other
creative media in schools.

13. (U) Stelian Stoian, MFA Director General for UN Global
Affairs chaired the first meeting of the new Romanian
delegation to the International Taskforce for Holocaust
Education. Romania became a full member of the Taskforce at
the Triste in December. Ambassador O'Donnell addressed the
group on their future role as Romania's representatives to
the Taskforce. He stressed that education is in integral
part of a three step process (education, legislation and law
enforcement) in combating Holocaust deniers and anti-
Semitism. Also in attendance were the Israeli Ambassador to
Romania and representatives from the French and Polish
Embassies.

14. (U) Comment: The meetings with the GOR and other
representatives were, on the whole, positive. The
intentions to reform the restitution process are good, well
laid out with timelines for completion and appear to be
moving forward. We now look to the GOR to match these plans
with credible actions. Less impressive are current plans to
lift the "Star of Romania" from leading anti-Semite and
xenophobe Vadim Tudor. The process envisioned to strip him
of this recently awarded honor has become more complex and
less focused. Without outside encouragement, it may fail to
live up to the expectations. The Embassy will continue to
push for results in this endeavor - in a reasonably brief
time.

15. (U) This cable has been cleared by Ambassador
O'Donnell.

16. (U) Amembassy Bucharest's reporting telegrams are
available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website:
www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest .

DELARE

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