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Jewish concerns over Latvian restitution, Lithuanian construction

  • 2007-08-31
  • From wire reports
RIGA / VILNIUS - Israeli religious affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen met with Latvian deputy parliamentary speaker Karina Petersone Aug. 30 and urged Latvia to help with the restitution of Jewish property in the country.

The minister said that it would prove the friendly relations between both countries. Petersone agreed that it would be a symbolic gesture and voiced hopes that there could be a positive solution.

During the meeting both officials discussed the problem of anti-Semitism, the potential of Latvia's economic growth, energy problems and Latvian-Russian relations.

Cohen voiced a wish to establish closer contacts with Latvia while Petersone informed the Israeli official on the parliament's support voiced in spring to handing real estate properties to the Latvian Jewish community and the bill of the Riga Jewish parish. She said that the ethnic minorities are helped to feel at home in Latvia, underscoring that the parliament pays special attention to integration processes in the country.

In November 2006, the Latvian parliament rejected a proposal to pay 32 million lats (45.5 million euros) to Jewish organizations over ten years as compensation for the "unjust historical consequences the Jewish community has suffered due to the Holocaust committed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet occupation regime" on Latvian territory.

Meanwhile, Jewish affairs are also to the fore in Lithuania with a representative of a working group formed to decide on the future of a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius saying that foreign opinion should be taken into account as well as historical fact.

Speaking to the Baltic News Service, Justinas Karosas said: "Since worldwide public opinion believes that something bad is taking place, we must react somehow. Certain alterations to the project [might be made] as a reaction to the prevailing opinion, regardless of where exactly the cemetery ended and began, which is hard to determine."

The work group has been tasked with providing suggestions on expertise and continuation of the construction in progress by Sep. 4, with a final decision made by the end of the year.

"It is fixed in the contract [of the construction company] that the specifications must be changed in the case of confirming that the Jewish cemetery is under the building constructed. In my opinion, in such case the construction should be suspended. In brief, a correction will probably be necessary," Karosas said.

The dispute over the location of the Jewish cemetery that was closed in mid-19th century started in 2005, when a group of US Jewish community representatives drew attention to a construction site which they claimed was the location of a Jewish cemetery in downtown Vilnius.

The businesspeople behind the commercial and luxury apartment complex near the River Neris say that the building is located outside the cemetery's original boundaries, which they say are already occupied by the nearby Vilnius Concert and Sports Palace nearby.

However, a map discovered by specialists from the Lithuanian Institute of History shows that part of the construction site may extend over to the territory of the former Jewish cemetery as well.

The cemetery in question existed in the center of Vilnius from the 16th century until 1831, when it was closed by the Tsarist administration.