Expat Lithuanians urged to take Russia to court

  • 2006-01-04
  • From wire reports
VILNIUS - Lithuanians living in the United States are being urged to turn to U.S. courts to win compensation for damages caused by the Soviet occupation, the daily Lietuvos Zinios has reported.

According to the daily, a session of the U.S. Lithuanian Community's council issued a resolution obligating the council to explore possibilities for people to take individual claims to courts for compensation of moral and material damages caused by a half-century of Soviet occupation.

Vytas Maciunas, head of a joint body of Lithuania's Parliament and the U.S.-Lithuanian community, said that Lithuanians living abroad would not forget the compensation issue.

"This is important not only for Lithuania but also Russia. It is important for Russia to face its history. Such things cannot be forgotten because Russia may decide that there are reasons to consider Lithuania, a formerly lawful part of its territory," said Maciunas, who resides in the U.S.A.

Lithuanian lawyers have also applauded the initiative.

"We do not really have any other means to influence Russia. If this became a mass occurrence, it would serve as political pressure upon Russia. This is what happened with Germany. After victims of the Nazi occupation flooded US courts with claims, Germany was forced to address the issue," said Dainius Zalimas of the Vilnius University's Law Department.

However, the case is more difficult. In Zalimas' words, it would be necessary to find not only the victims of Soviet occupation but also the respondents - legal successors of companies and organizations that employed the deported and imprisoned Lithuanians.

"It would be difficult to file a suit against a state because the state has certain immunity in national courts, while companies don't," he added.

Kazys Bobelis, former chairman of Lithuania's senior liberation committee, said there were attempts to receive damages from the Soviet Union immediately after WWII.

"After getting U.S. citizenship, many Lithuanians went to U.S. courts in 1950-1960 over lost farms, factories and damaged careers. Some cases were won, and many were left unfinished," said Bobelis.

He also said that the committee had calculated the scope of the occupation damages and prepared all necessary documentation. "These were highly detailed calculations. I presented all the documents to the then Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius and never heard anything about them ever after," said Bobelis.

In the framework of the Law on Compensation of Soviet Occupation Damages adopted by Parliament in 2000, the Lithuanian government estimated the damages at $20 billion. The calculated sum has not been formalized because since the Cabinet has so far failed to approve it by separate decision.