At last, France pays for Baltic pre-WWII embassies

  • 2002-01-10
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - In a year or two, the Lithuanian Embassy in Paris will no longer be neighbor to the Hard Rock Café. It will move to one of the most prestigious spots in Paris.

On Dec. 13, in Paris, the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia signed agreements with the French foreign minister on compensation for the Baltic states' pre-WWII embassy facilities. Russian diplomats occupy these pre-war embassies at the moment.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine signed the Lithuanian-French agreement to award compensation for Lithuania's pre-WWII embassy building.

"A problem lasting 10 years has been solved," said Petras Zapolskas, press secretary at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

He added that the Estonian and Latvian foreign ministers signed similar documents regarding their pre-WWII embassies.

When Lithuania was first occupied by the USSR in 1940, the mayor of Paris forced Lithuanian diplomats out. After the war the Lithuanian Embassy was transferred to the Soviet Union.

When Russia emerged as the legal successor state to the Soviet Union, it took control of the diplomatic facilities in Paris.

Russian citizens with diplomatic immunity are entrenched there, making their removal a sensitive issue.

The agreement maintains that since the legal owner of the building, the Republic of Lithuania, cannot in fact make good use of it, Lithuania will sell the building to France for an agreed sum.

France intends to pay Lithuania approximately 23 million French francs ($3.16 million).

"This important problem, for which a solution has been sought since the very advent of Lithuania's restoration of independence in 1990, is finally concluded," reads a statement from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

After the restoration of its independence, Lithuania unsuccessfully negotiated with Russia for several years on the return of the embassy facilities. Lithuania also discussed the issue of its Russian-occupied embassies in Paris and Rome in the Council of Europe and other forums. Western politicians supported the Lithuanian claims, but this made little impression on Moscow.

The building is located in Paris' 17th region, in the west of the city. The 16th district, called the home of the aristocracy, is located nearby. The currently functioning Lithuanian Embassy in France is operating in rented office space.

Lithuania will continue to demand the return of its pre-World War II embassy in Rome as well. That building is also still occupied by the Russian diplomatic corps.