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Cablegate: Latvia: Parliament Punts On Next Phase of Jewish

VZCZCXRO7896
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHRA #0959 3281502
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241502Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3556
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000959

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/OHI (J BECKER), DRL/SEAS (G RICKMAN)

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL SOCI LG
SUBJECT: LATVIA: PARLIAMENT PUNTS ON NEXT PHASE OF JEWISH
RESTITUTION (HEIRLESS PROPERTY BILL)

REF: A) RIGA 924, B) RIGA 921

1. Summary: The Saeima (Latvian parliament) on November 23 rejected
a draft bill that would have provided financial assistance to the
local Jewish community to compensate the losses suffered during the
Holocaust and the Soviet occupation of Latvia. The government's
bill failed because abstentions far outnumbered either the votes for
or against. The bill, tabled by the GOL itself, deals only with
heirless Jewish property that could not earlier be regained via
Latvia's denationalization laws--because there were no identifiable
heirs for the property. It stipulates that the GOL would pay 32
million lats (about USD 55 million) over a ten-year period to the
Jewish community. Now the bill has been sent back to the government,
and its fate is unclear. Both President Vike-Freiberga and the local
Jewish community have expressed their disappointment over the vote,
and said they hope that an acceptable solution to the issue will
eventually be found. End summary.

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2. With all four ruling coalition factions and the center-right
opposition New Era faction merely voting present, the Saeima on
November 23 voted down (12-6-67) a bill that provided 32 million
lats (USD 55 million) assistance to the Jewish communities to
compensate for the Holocaust and Soviet occupation losses. Despite
an earlier agreement reached between the Jewish community and the
Cabinet of Ministers, which tabled the bill, the Saeima rejected the
legislation without a debate citing "legal contradictions."
According to press accounts, this was the first time in history that
a Latvian cabinet approved draft legislation, sent it to the Saeima,
and then the parties making up the government abstained on the vote
to send the legislation to committee for consideration.

3. The vote comes after a week of intensive campaigning against the
bill in the Ventspils-controlled newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize.
The campaign began with an open letter from prominent lawyer Andris
Grutups, claiming that the compensation law was legally faulty and
unjust towards other minorities who suffered during the Holocaust
(e.g., Roma). Grutups has close ties with influential ex-prime
minister Andris Skele who is the founder of the People's party, a
senior coalition partner. Also, many members of parliament
reportedly consider other public issues, particularly in the area of
health care, as more urgent--and prefer to allocate state funds to
these issues first.

4. The bill only applies to heirless Jewish property. Most
restitution in Latvia, including for identifiable heirs within the
Jewish community, has already been accomplished. The GOL worked
closely with the local Jewish community to draw up a limited list of
properties "which can be legally correctly deemed as having belonged
to the Jewish organizations or natural persons and whose owners and
their heirs have perished during the Holocaust, and which
respectively have become the property of the state or a municipality
in Latvia but have not been regained within the scope of the
denationalization laws." The agreed compensation of 32 million lats
would be payable to the Jewish community from 2007 until 2016.

5. After the vote in parliament, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
expressed her surprise that the ruling coalition factions turned
down a bill tabled by their own government, and described the move
as a "lack of political courage." The President said she had
earlier understood that there was "political will" to resolve this
politically sensitive issue. Prime Minister Kalvitis suggested that
the members of the Jewish community should meet with Saeima deputies
and explain their position on the compensation bill. In its
statement, the Jewish community expressed the hope that the Saeima
"would realize the essence of the bill and its importance for
Latvia, and would eventually adopt it."

6. Comment: Even though the bill has not been forwarded to the
Saeima standing committees for further consideration, it has not
been definitively killed. Under Latvia's legislation, the
government, five members of the Saeima, or any of the standing
parliamentary committees can resubmit the bill to the Saeima.
However, given the sensitivity and the politicization of the issue,
at the least a delay is likely while supporters reassess the
situation. Post plans to meet with members of the local Jewish
community and members of the governing coalition to assess what
steps would be most effective in getting this legislation back on
track. End Comment.

BAILEY

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