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Saeima approves restitution of five Jewish properties

Today Saeima passed legislation providing for the restitution of five pre-war properties in the final reading, reported Latvian Radio Thursday.

The move draws to a close a discussion that lasted for more than a year. 

The municipalities that currently own the above properties will turn the properties over to the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia.

Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš (Unity), chairman of the Saeima Foreign Affairs Committee, said he hopes that the final reading marks the end of the property restitution matter, at least during the term of the current parliament.

"I don't see us raising up something new. At least not in the near future," said Kalniņš, who discussed the matter with the US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Nicholas Dean during Dean's Latvian visit in November. Kalniņš said no new demands for the restitution of other properties were raised during the meeting.

During the debate, some repeated the claim that the Council of Jewish Communities of Latvia cannot represent the complete Latvian Jewry.

Aleksandrs Kiršteins (National Alliance) read a letter by Rabbi Menachem Barkahan of the Shamir Jewish religious community, which claimed that the council does not represent all Latvian Jews, and does not participate in the upkeep of the Rīga Ghetto Museum.

The bill was supported by all the parties except some MPs from National Alliance, Latvia From the Heart and Regional Alliance.  

In January last year the Latvian parliament decided to start reviewing the proposal for return of five properties that used to belong to Latvia's Jewish community before World War II to the Riga Jewish Community.

Three of these properties are situated in Rīga, one in Latvia's seaside town of Jūrmala, and one in Kandava, a town in western Latvia. They are to be returned to the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities.

The ruling coalition parties had been postponing decisions on this matter for many years until Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs’ visit to the US early last year.

Since then, while Unity and the Greens and Farmers Union back the restitution proposal for the five properties, the National Alliance has maintained a more reserved position, having sacrificed a Justice Minister in a previous Cabinet (Gaidis Bērziņš) ostensibly over the issue.

The Jewish diaspora has claims against a total of 270 properties. 

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