Title

Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

Wednesday, September 10, 2003
334 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Benjamin Cardin
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Alcee Hastings
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Anne Northup
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Ambassador Randolph Bell
Title: 
Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues
Body: 
Department of State
Name: 
Sen. Jerahmiel Grafstein
Title: 
Member
Body: 
Senate of Canada

This briefing was the fourth hearing held by the Helsinki Commission held on restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist-era Central and Eastern Europe.  The goal of the briefing was to discuss developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

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  • Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension

    This Hearing was convened by Chairman Dennis DeConcini and Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer to address the Human Dimension of the of the Helsinki Final Act. In attendance were Ambassador Max Kampelmann, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Copenhagen CSCE Conference on the Human Dimension, Prof. Thomas Buergenthal, public member of the U.S. Delegation, and Prof. Hurst Hannum, public member of the U.S. Delegation. Those in attendence discussed the state of human rights in the OSCE region and various humanitarian causes that should be emphasized in the coming sessions.

  • Elections in the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic

    This report is based on the findings of a staff delegation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic from 6-11 June 1990. The staff met with representatives of several political parties and movements, as well as of the Electoral Commission. It also observed the voting and some aspects of the counting of ballots. The Commission wishes to thank the National Democratic and National Republican Institutes for International Affairs for allowing the staff delegation to be included in the activities of their international election observer mission to the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

  • Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria

    Bulgaria's first free and contested elections in over 40 years were held on June 10 and 17, 1990 to choose representatives to its new parliament. Although they were marred by instances of irregularities and intimidation, the Bulgarian parties have accepted the results of the elections. In the words of one opposition leader, the elections were "free and democratic, but not completely fair." Based on Commission staff election-day visits to over 30 polling places, the election process appeared to be calm, orderly and, considering the relatively brief period of time in which Bulgarians had to prepare for the elections, fairly well organized and efficient. Election procedures were consistent among precincts and problems appeared to be resolved quickly. This was consistent with the observations of other international observers. Representatives of different parties and independent observers monitored the majority of polling stations, thus helping to ensure the integrity of the voting process. Nevertheless, the elections were marred by numerous reports of irregularities and violations during the campaigning and in the elections themselves. The most serious problem appeared to be that of widespread intimidation of opposition supporters and especially voters.

  • Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in Romania

    Romania's first free elections in over 40 years were marred by a variety of irregularities, from the campaign through the course of the elections themselves, which cast significant doubt on their fairness. The Front for National Salvation (FSN), which took over power in Romania following the December revolution, won the elections with an overwhelming margin. FSN Presidential candidate Ion Iliescu won 85.07 percent of the votes, while the FSN gained 66.31 of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies and 67.01 percent for the Senate. The contestants to the election were competing on an uneven field, with unequal accessboth to resources and to the most far-reaching mass medium, television. FSN candidates enjoyed decided advantages in these areas. Inconsistent and faulty application of electoral procedures on election day, together with the absense in some polling places of opposition party representatives, likewise shifted the advantage to the Front.

  • Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny Hoyer presided over, was to examine what was happening in Afghanistan at the time, specifically in relation to the U.S.S.R. At the time of this hearing, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had ceased, and Moscow had expended financial, military, and human resources that had cost the country dearly, towards a war that had grown to be overwhelmingly with the Soviet populace, no less. Likewise, the Soviet conflict with Afghanistan had serious repercussions for the Soviet economy, which was why it was surprising that, even after the war, the U.S.S.R. had continued to spend significant capital to prop up the government in Kabul. Another issue was where U.S. aid was going and whether or not it was being properly spent.

  • The Supreme Soviet Elections in Estonia

    The March 18 elections to the Estonian Supreme Soviet were the first since 1940 in which many political groups and parties freely took part. The crucial issue in the election, in which everyone took for granted the participation of non-communist parties, was Estonian independence; the crucial question was whether pro-independence forces would win the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution and declare independence. Like the surrounding society, opinions on independence tended to divide along national lines: Estonians have generally backed "independence," through they differed about its meaning, while Russians have generally favored Estonia's remaining within the Soviet Union. The campaign and the results of the March 18 Supreme Soviet elections also broadly reflected this alignment of nationality and politics.

  • Congressional Delegation Visit to Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria

    The Commission delegation to Yugoslavia had three main goals: (1) to observe the first, free, multi-party elections in post-War Yugoslavia, which took place in Slovenia on April 8; (2) to discuss a variety of human rights concerns; and (3) to examine firsthand the situation in Kosovo province by meeting with both Serbian and Albanian groups. The delegation visited the cities of Ljubljana, Belgrade and Pristina, and Chairman DeConcini made a separate visit to the village of Medjugorje. Meetings were held with federal, republic and provincial officials, as well as with human rights activists, religious figures, representatives of alternative groups and parties, journalists, and other private individuals. Overall, the delegation was able to accomplish these objectives. Moreover, its efforts were immediately followed by several positive developments in Yugoslavia, including the lifting of the state of emergency in Kosovo and the announced release of 108 political prisoners, including Adem Demaqi, a political prisoner with whom the delegation had sought to meet. In addition, the members of the Youth Parliament of Kosovo detained just prior to the Commission's visit were released, and former Kosovo official Azem Vlasi was acquitted in a major political trial. All of these developments addressed concerns specifically raised by the delegation during its visit.

  • Parliamentary Elections in the Republic of Hungary

    After reading through Hungary's complex electoral law this winter, a Hungarian scholar concluded that if he did not yet fully comprehend the mechanics of Hungary's leap to democracy, at least he understood why it had to have been a Hungarian who invented the Rubik's cube. The law was a product of Hungary's first democratic exercise, the roundtable among the ruling Socialist Party, its allied social organizations, and the major opposition parties which together mapped out the transition to a multi-party system. It represented the first of many compromises Hungarian political leaders have made and will continue to make in the transition to democracy. Common wisdom holds that unlike the situation in other countries in the region, Hungary's reform was masterminded by the ruling Socialist Party. Yet the issues at stake in this election underlined the essential role of the opposition in the 1970s and 1980s in setting the agenda for Hungary's journey to democracy. If massive street demonstrations did not force the ruling party to bend, unrelenting discussion of Hungary's future among the Democratic Opposition, and its sustained impact on public opinion, did. During the past two years, reform-oriented Socialist Party leaders have hustled to get to the right side of the issues, and they have consequently found themselves playing the incongruous role of morticians for the ruling party they helped to nurture. One of the most remarkable transformations to be witnessed in Hungary over the past year was the new political engagement of people who had associated politics with dirty business all their lives. Candidates who entered the campaign with some ambivalence about the corrupting power of politics quickly shifted their attitudes. Voters who had been forced to participate in electoral charades in the past, or subjected as one Free Democratic representative put it, "to a life of unrelenting Communist Party campaigning," felt that their vote could make a difference this time. Yet some voters who had been forced to participate in electoral charades in the past, or subjected as one Free Democratic representative put it, "to a life of unrelenting Communist Party campaigning," felt that their vote could make a difference this time. Yet some voters objected bitterly to the divisive nature of the campaign, which they attributed to the "arrogance" of the vying parties. At a time when the country needed to pull together, they felt, the parties were tearing communities apart in the run-up to elections. Yet by the time election day arrived, the parties were pulling together after all. The major parties participated in orchestrating the country's transition with the current government. Rival party representatives staffed local electoral commissions, and worked together elbow-to-elbow to inform voters of procedures and collect and count the votes. The bitterness and personal acrimony between leaders of Hungary's two leading opposition parties, the Hungarian Democratic Forum and Alliance of Free Democrats, melted away -- at least for election day melted away -- at least for election day.

  • April and May 1990 Elections in Slovenia and Croatia

    This report is based on the findings of two Helsinki Commission delegations to Yugoslavia. First, Commission Chairman Dennis DeConcini led a congressional delegation to Ljubljana, Slovenia, from April 7-8, 1990. The delegation observed the voting at polling stations in Ljubljana as well as in nearby villages on April 8, and met with the President of Slovenia, the President of the Slovenian Assembly, the Slovenian Republic Election Commission, and representatives of the LCS-Party of Democratic Renewal, DEMOS­ United Opposition, and the Progressive People's Party of the Center. A staff delegation then traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, from April 20-23, 1990. It observed the voting and some counting of ballots at polling stations in Zagreb and surrounding towns and villages on April 22, as well as voting in Krsko, Slovenia, for the run-off elections in that republic. The delegation also observed voting and the counting of ballots at work places on April 23, and met with the Croatian Republic Election Commission, the Committee for Information, and representatives of the Croatian Democratic Union and the Democratic Union of Albanians in Croatia. During the course of both visits, the delegations also had numerous informal meetings with Communist, opposition and independent candidates. Other sources include the Croatian and Slovenian press, Tanjug news agency and Radio Free Europe reports. The U.S. Consulate in Zagreb and U.S. Embassy in Belgrade both provided considerable assistance in arranging the congressional and staff delegation visits, which was greatly appreciated. In April and May 1990, the republics of Slovenia and Croatia in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia held the first genuinely free elections in that country since World War II. In both cases, a large number of alternative parties fielded candidates, and the local Communist Parties lost control of both republic governments. The Slovenian and Croatian elections took place during a time of major political and economic problems within Yugoslavia, as well as ethnic strife. Beyond the creation of multi-party, democratic political systems in Slovenia and Croatia, the election debate in these two northern republics focused on their respective futures in the Yugoslav federation, with consideration being given to the formation of a confederation and, sometime in the future, perhaps even independence.

  • Status Report on Soviet Jewry

    This hearing, which Representative Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was a portion of multiple hearings held on March 7, 1990, when attendees looked at the dramatic consequences of the Soviet government’s decision to relax its emigration policies, in addition to the impact of Glasnost on Jewish life in what was then the U.S.S.R. This new decision, the emigration policy of which was expected to soon be codified by the Supreme Soviet soon after the hearing took place, had negative and positive implications. While a record number of Jewish individuals were allowed to leave the U.S.S.R., Soviet citizens still needed explicit permission to leave the country. In spite of these reforms, though, there were still at least 100 refusenik cases, not to mention fear of an active anti-Semitic movement in the country.

  • The Supreme Soviet Elections in Lithuania

    This report is based on the findings of a Helsinki Commission staff delegation to Vilnius, Lithuania, from February 21 through February 26, 1990 to observe the political processes taking shape around the February 24 elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. The delegation interview representatives of the Communist Party, the Lithuanian Reform Movement Sajudis, the Lithuanian Democratic, Christian Democratic, Social Democratic and Green Parties, Yedinstvo, the Union of Poles in Lithuania, and various other organizations and minority groups. Officials from district and republic-level electoral commissions, as well as candidates, their supporters, and the voters at the polls, were also interviewed.

  • Revolt Against the Silence - The State of Human Rights in Romania: An Update

    Patterns of repression in Romania remain sadly the same year after year. The Romanian regime has kept up pressure on members of religious and national minorities, as well as on all who have sought to express themselves freely. It has harassed and punished would-be emigrants by removing them from jobs and housing. It has exiled writers, philosophers and former leaders. It has jailed those who have sought the means to worship freely, and used psychiatric incarceration to punish free expression. The regime has steadily curtailed the opportunities for members of ethnic minorities to maintain and cultivate their cultural heritage, cutting minority-language instruction and publishing to a minimum. Minority cultural and family ties have also been strictly limited. The regime has used violence and threats of violence to discourage citizens from seeking to exercise their rights. Many Romanian dissidents inside and outside the country have received black-bordered death threats, widely believed to be a favorite calling-card of Romania's notorious Securitate (secret police). Increasingly, the regime's persecution has touched all Romanian citizens, who suffer from severe, state-imposed food shortages and the threat of displacement through the sjstematizare, or systematization, program. Despite the Romanian Government's March announcement, with great fanfare, that it had repaid the country's foreign debt, there is no sign that the regime will reorder its fiscal priorities in favor of consumption. Rationing continues unabated, while construction of new industrial projects seems to be moving forward with redoubled speed.

  • THE NEW AND IMPROVED SUPREME SOVIET AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS REFORM

    The hearing looked into the role of the Supreme Soviet in promulgating and institutionalizing human rights in the Soviet Union. Our Soviet guest today was Mr. Fyodor Burlatskiy who gave testimony alongside Louise Shelley, consultant to the Helsinki Watch on issues of Soviet law. This briefing was a follow-up to talks in Moscow in November of 1988.

  • The Baltic Question

    This Helsinki Commission hearing was brought to order due to the independence movements in the Baltic States. The independence movements in these states expressed the desire for self-rule on the part of peoples who, after forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, had been brutally colonized for 50 years, reduced to the status of minorities and second-class citizens in their historic homelands, robbed of their language, their culture and their history, and victimized by police brutality and environmental assault. They sought independence from Moscow not because they hate Russians, but because they saw it as a prerequisite for physical and cultural survival.

  • Sofia CSCE Meeting on the Protection of the Environment

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer chaired, was to examine the first meeting in CSCE history devoted exclusively to the environment. The hearing predated the Sofia Meeting itself, whose purpose was to address environmental problems that recognize no borders and threaten every individual’s right to a peaceful and secure life. Unfortunately, the Sofia Meeting had been marred by the Bulgarian government’s lack of tolerance in its treatment of its Turkish and Muslim minorities, specifically the Bulgarian government’s campaign to assimilate Turkish minorities, which constituted a serious violation of human rights. Needless to say, then, intersectionality existed and continues to exist among environmental issues and the Helsinki process’s other top priorities.

  • CODEL DeConcini - Trip Report on Turkey and Poland

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, more commonly known as the Helsinki Commission, was established by law in 1976 to monitor and report on compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The Helsinki Final Act, as well as successor agreements, includes provisions regarding military security; trade, economic issues, and the environment; and human rights and humanitarian concerns. Thirty-two European countries participate in the Helsinki process, plus the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union. The Helsinki Commission is currently chaired by Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) and co­ chaired by Representative Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), and has 18 members from the Senate and House, as well as one each from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense. In accordance with its legislative mandate, the Commission undertakes a variety of activities aimed at monitoring and reporting on all three sections (known as baskets) of the Helsinki Accords. These activities include the solicitation of expert testimony before Congress, providing to Congress and the public reports on implementation of the Helsinki Accords, and the publication of human rights documents issued by independent monitoring groups. In addition, the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Commission lead delegations to participating States and to meetings of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In undertaking a trip to Poland at this time, the Helsinki Commission had two main objectives. First, the Commission hoped to evaluate the status of human rights reform in the wake of the quantitative and qualitative changes which had taken place in Poland since the Commission's trip to Poland in April 1988 and in light of the new opportunities for reform created by the Round-Table Agreement of April 1989. Second, the delegation was interested in establishing direct contact with those segments of the National Assembly which were democratically elected.3 During the course of the trip, the delegation visited Gdansk, Warsaw. and Krakow. Meetings were held with senior leaders from key political groups, memhers of the Polish parliament, independent human rights advocates, opposition journalists, and environmental activists.

  • Paris Human Dimension Meeting: Human Rights in the Helsinki Process

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Steny Hoyer, took place after the first meeting of three 4-week meetings of the Conference of the Human Dimension. These meetings were a function of the Conference on the Security and Cooperation in Europe the first of which took place on June 23, with the 35 member states of the OSCE in attendance. On the U.S.’s part, the goal was to seek greater implementation of the human rights and human contacts provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The atendees discussed the Vienna Concluding Document of January 1989, continued Soviet and East European violations of the rights of national minorities and religious believers and restrictions on the rights of free assembly, association, expression, and noncompliance with human contacts provisions, and fostering greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • A Changing Soviet Society

    This hearing addressed Soviet nationalism and the Baltic States’ argument for self-determination. The April attack by armed troops on peaceful demonstrations in Georgia was provided as an example of how dangerous official Soviet reaction to popular protests can be. The need for the Kremlin to learn tolerant methods of dealing with dissent was emphasized. Witnesses testifying at this hearing addressed the changes occurring in the U.S.S.R and called for a set of criteria by which Soviet progress or lack thereof could be assessed. The impact of these changes on the human rights arena, including the right to due process, was also a topic of discussion.

  • THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE AND IMPART INFORMATION - PRELUDE TO THE LONDON INFORMATION FORUM

    This Commission hearing focused on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Accords in the member countries of Eastern Europe. The hearing reviewed the compliance records of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with the provisions regarding the free flow of information. The East has had a mixed record in regards to its compliance of the information provisions of the Helsinki Accords. Expert witnesses gave testimony to bring better understanding of the bewildering, and sometimes contradictory signals the East is sending on its information policies.

  • Conclusion of the Vienna Meeting and implications for U.S. Policy

    The general tenor of East-West relations has changed considerably in recent years. Some changes give cause for hope, others reinforce longstanding doubts. The Helsinki process in general, and the Vienna Meeting in particular, have contributed to this dynamic period, and rightly so, for change is what the Helsinki process is all about, the changing relationships between governments, their citizens, as well as between states. The Vienna Concluding Document itself contains more precise provisions than any previous CSCE document. Particularly noteworthy are those texts concerning religious freedoms, the rights of national minorities, freedoms of movement, the environment, and information. The document, like those which preceded it, will be used as a standard against which to measure the behavior of the participating States. For it is a demonstration of commitment which will give the document its true meaning.

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