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Cablegate: Jewish Property Restitution: Only Minor Progress

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RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSL RUEHSR RUEHVK
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DE RUEHRA #0470 2611228
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 181228Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY RIGA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6044
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000470

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/OHI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM LG
SUBJECT: JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION: ONLY MINOR PROGRESS

1. (SBU) Summary: There has been little progress over the last year
on completion of Jewish property restitution in Latvia. A GOL Task
Force studying the issue is expected to issue its much-delayed
report soon. They will likely declare that there is no legal
mechanism for returning any property to the Jewish community. The
government has pledged to facilitate use by the Jewish community of
one school building in time for the next academic year. No formal
agreement has been reached, however, and it is not clear that the
GOL has any plan to turn over the title to the building. End
summary.

2. (SBU) The GOL Task Force studying property restitution,
established last September, is reportedly prepared to release a
final report on September 25th. (Note: This is not the first
promised deadline for the report.) The Task Force has conducted an
exhaustive investigation into properties owned by many minority
groups, including Jews, Poles, Germans, and others. They have
identified 53 communal properties to be returned, including, but not
limited to, the 14 communal Jewish properties covered in previous
draft legislation. Contrary to prior indications, the MFA believes
the report and recommendations will be made public after they are
delivered to the Prime Minister.

3. (SBU) One property in particular may be made available to the
Jewish Community in the near term. A former Jewish school, commonly
referred to by its address "Abrenes 2," has been used as a
professional school for years. As Latvia's economic downturn has
forced consolidation of the school system, the Ministry of
Education's need for the facility has declined. Despite some
reluctance, the Ministry of Education transferred the building to
the Ministry of Finance, which holds title now.

4. (SBU) MFA State Secretary Teikmanis informed Ambassador that
Abrenes 2 should be returned to the Jewish community in time for use
next school year. Andris Razans, Director of Policy Planning and
the lead at MFA on property restitution, has since admitted that
several challenges remain. So far, no agreement has been reached,
and the Ministry of Justice has concluded that the GOL has no
authority to return any property without an act of parliament.
Instead, the GOL is exploring alternatives such as renting Abrenes 2
to the Jewish community for a "symbolic" rent payment. Despite
this, Razans believes that there are "no major obstacles" to getting
a Jewish school running at Abrenes 2 by next fall. To avoid any
anti-Semitic reaction, particularly during a time of economic
crisis, the GOL hopes to maintain a low profile on any deal.

5. (SBU) Razans was unwilling to venture whether the GOL would
pursue a case-by-case approach or, instead, adopt a strategy to deal
with the whole list of properties once the Task Force report is
finalized. Rather, he explained that an act of Saeima would be
needed to return anything, and with elections coming next year, he
did not feel that there was much political opportunity for any
properties to be returned under either strategy.

6. (SBU) Comment: Post continues to press the GOL at every
opportunity to engage in substantive negotiations with the Jewish
community. While Abrenes 2 might still be a positive example, it is
far from the done deal that some have seemed to imply. Furthermore,
renting the school to the community, even for a nominal fee, is a
far cry from actually returning the title. While intentions are
clearly good in some quarters, such as the MFA, entrenched
resistance at the Ministry of Justice and the GOL's fiscal crisis
are proving a difficult combination to overcome.

GARBER

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