VILNIUS - Lithuania's hopes for reclaiming its pre-war embassy property in Rome, Villa Lituania, were dashed on July 2 when Italy's Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told the Lietuvos Rytas daily that Lithuania has no chance of getting the building back.
"We have conducted a detailed and prolonged investigation. There are no conditions to return, take and consign the real estate to Lithuania. It cannot be legally done. I can only be sorry: In 1940, Italy's government accepted the fact that Soviet rule had taken over Villa Lituania," the minister told the daily.
Lithuania purchased the early-19th century villa in 1937. However, immediately following the Soviet Union's 1940 occupation of Lithuania, Mussolini's government honored Moscow's claim to the property and forced the Lithuanian diplomats out. The villa was then taken over by the Soviet foreign ministry. It is now used to house Russian diplomats.
Since regaining independence, Lithuania has been trying to reclaim the property or have the Italian government give compensation for it, in the form of money or alternative real-estate, but so far the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement.
To make up for the loss of the villa, the Italian government has offered Lithuania a deal to rent the Strozzi Palace buildings for 99 years for the symbolic price of one euro, with the possibility to extend the contract. But it says it cannot give those 16th century buildings to Lithuania outright because they are on the nation's cultural heritage list. Lithuania has turned down the deal.
"For us this is a matter of principal because we want to get our property back," Audronius Azubalis, Deputy Chairman of the Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, told The Baltic Times.
He said that the Strozzi palace offer, besides being unacceptable because it doesn't involve actual transfer of property title, is less than ideal because the building doesn't meet the requirements of an embassy. His committee has recommended that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue negotiations in the hope of reaching a more favorable settlement.
"I understand the Italian position because it's hard to imagine how they could pressure Russia [to give up the property]," he said. Still, he said, Lithuania should stick to its position.
"If Italians could look ... back at history, if they are able to evaluate all of Mussolini's steps and decisions, it seems that some compensation should be given to Lithuania," he said.
Though Azubalis said that either a monetary sum or the title to an alternative property would be acceptable compensation, he stated that the Lithuanian government would like to reach a similar settlement to the one they made with France over the same issue. That settlement involved a monetary payment.
According to BNS, Lithuania is hoping for compensation of some 9 million euros.
"We are not going to ask for unrealistic compensation," said Azubalis. "It's a restoration of historical truth and justice, that's it."