There are still outstanding issues in Croatia regarding the restitution of Jewish property, and the United States would like to see a solution which is "financially sustainable" for Croatia and which will redress the injustices inflicted on Holocaust victims, the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Tom Yazdgerdi, said in Zagreb on Thursday.
Yazdgerdi, who arrived in Croatia this past Monday at the helm of a delegation that included representatives of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation (WJRO), met with Croatia's top officials this week, including President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic.
He is expected to brief the U.S. Congress in November about progress which countries have made in the restitution of Jewish property and in implementing the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues, which deals with issues such as welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution, the status of Holocaust-era confiscated communal and private immovable property by country and preservation of Jewish cultural property and archival materials, as well as education.
The legally non-binding document was approved by 46 countries at the conclusion of the Prague Conference in 2009, and Croatia was one of the signatories.
Although Yazdgerdi visited Croatia in the past, too, he told a press conference in Zagreb today that this year was special owing to the Just Act under which his office is supposed to submit a report on the state of affairs in the countries-signatories of the Terezin Declaration.
Ten years after the declaration was signed is a good period to inspect what has been done, the U.S. envoy said, adding that it is not a secret that there are outstanding issues regarding property restitution in Croatia as well as in other countries, particularly in central Europe.
Yazdgerdi said that Croatia had legislation regulating property restitution, but the shortcomings of that law lie in the fact that it focuses on the restitution of property confiscated since 1945 and fails to take into account the property confiscated before 1945, that is during the Holocaust.
The WJRO organisation, whose representatives were in the delegation led by Yazdgerdi, notes that the process of the restitution of private property in Croatia "suffers from a number of problems".
Apart from the fact that property confiscated prior to May 1945 is not covered by the law, "only partial compensation is provided (in inverse proportion to the value of the property) in 20-year government bonds and no payment provided for demolished buildings," the WJRO says on its website.
"Claimants are required to be Croatian citizens or citizens of a country with a bilateral treaty with Croatia, and Croatia has no law for the restitution of confiscated heirless property," the organisation says on its website.
The organisation also underscores that "the Jewish Communities in the Republic of Croatia submitted claims for 135 communal properties under the Act on Restitution/Compensation of Property Confiscated During the Yugoslav Communist Rule (1996, amended in 2002)."
Before the Holocaust, an estimated 40,000 Jews lived in Croatia, and today there are about 1,700 Jews in the country, and most of them live in Zagreb, the WJRO says.
Concerning the restitution of confiscated heirless property, Yazdgerdi told the press conference that many countries took over such property, but the WJRO does not think that this is a good idea.
He recalled that under the Terezin Declaration, "heirless property could serve as a basis for addressing the material necessities of needy Holocaust (Shoah) survivors." This means that the property formerly owned by such Jewish families should be used, in part, to meet the growing and urgent needs of the living victims of the Holocaust.
Yazdgerdi underscores that the U.S. wants property restitution to be financially sustainable for Croatia and to give Holocaust survivors a feeling of justice.
He went on to say that emphasis should be put on taking responsibility for what had happened in the past.
The WJRO does not want to do injustice out of injustice. If somebody bought property in good faith, being unaware that the former owners were Jews, there is no point in evicting new owners, the U.S. envoy said.