Italian minister pledges to find solution to embassy row
VILNIUS - Italy's new foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, has pledged support in helping find a solution to the row surrounding Lithuania's pre-war embassy facilities in Rome, the Foreign Ministry said. According to a press release, the issue was discussed at a meeting between Lithuanian and Italian foreign ministers, Antanas Valionis and D'Alema, in Austria on May 28, during an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Klosterneuburg. The Italian minister started working in the Romano Prodi government just several days ago.
Valionis stressed that Lithuania has been raising the issue of the inter-war Lithuanian embassy building in Rome, known as Villa Lituania, with all Italian governments, but that no progress had been made. D'Alema promised to look deeper into the Villa Lituania story and assist in finding a solution for the issue. Since Lithuania regained its independence 15 years ago, diplomats and top-ranking state figures have been demanding that Italian authorities return the former embassy building to Lithuania, or compensate the loss in cash or real estate.
Emotions surrounding the embassy have escalated in recent weeks, with one Lithuanian MP quoted as saying, "Could it be that they, the never-in-any-hurry southerners that they are, need a good kick? I believe that the Committee or some of its members could voice an idea to boycott the would-be reception at the Italian Embassy. They could encourage other state-respecting politicians to do likewise." The disputed Rome-based building belonged to Lithuania in the 1930s, but after the country was invaded by the Soviet Union, the embassy was taken into Russia's possession and is still used to house Russian diplomats.
Last week, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said he expected Italy's new prime minister, Romano Prodi, to address the matter of returning the pre-war embassy to Lithuania.
"I am glad that ties between our two countries are developing in the spirit of mutual understanding and interest. I am looking forward to your involvement in addressing the matter of Villa Lithuania's building as well," the prime minister's letter of greetings to Prodi reads. On May 24, Parliament's foreign affairs committee discussed steps to start solving the matter. "We discussed raising the issue with the new Italian government and concluded that it should be raised on bilateral grounds and later through our delegations in international organizations," committee chairman Justinas Karosas said after the meeting.
In his words, Parliament would take the first step in the receipt of compensation for Villa Lituania. "The first step will be adoption of a resolution at the Seimas 's a correct document stating our position and reasons behind the position as a new signal to the new government of Italy," said Karosas.