Title

Helsinki Commissioner Smith Hails Lech Walesa and 25th Anniversary of Solidarity Union

Monday, September 26, 2005

WASHINGTON - Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) praised today the former President of Poland, Lech Walesa, in a speech commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity Union.

“Mr. Walesa is a man of bravery, tenacity, faith and innate goodness, who set the first domino in motion that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final defeat of the Soviet Union,” said Smith.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

“Lech Walesa was one of the great leaders of freedom who in the 80s gave voice to his people and helped them to be free. What he started with the Solidarity Union in 1981, he led Europe into what can only be called its second Renaissance,” added Smith.

Rep. Smith’s remarks were made at an anniversary luncheon held on Capitol Hill and sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. Also in attendance were former Secretary of State, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

“The world will be forever in the debt of this modest man of faith, this electrician from a shipyard in Poland. He and the other brave men and women in the Solidarity Union, and the people of Poland, lifted the totalitarian nightmare of communism and gave a new generation hope that freedom would triumph,” said Smith.

The Solidarity Union was founded in Poland in 1981 and is credited with helping to bring about the downfall of communism in central and eastern Europe. Lech Walesa eventually went on to serve as President of Poland and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize.

Media contact: 
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes, stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  Dr. Kathrin Meyer addressed the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. Other witnesses – including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; and Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance also presented testimony at this briefing.

  • Excerpts of Remarks by Rep. Chris Smith

    Polish Solidarity Trade Union - 25th Anniversary Today we continue celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Solidarity and in particular, the bravery, tenacity and innate goodness of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa. It is especially timely to host the former President owing to yesterday’s stunning election results that have ushered Solidarity’s ideological soulmates back into power.  Projections suggest that the Law and Justice Party got almost 28% of the vote and the Civil Platform gained 24%. Some time ago, I read Lech Walesa’s powerful and riveting autobiography, “A Way of Hope.”  Filled with insight and brutally honest, the book walks the reader through a series of volatile events—personal and public—that have literally transformed the world. In the book, we get a glimpse into Lech Walesa’s deep faith—and the role his beloved mother, and her Catholic beliefs had on him; “Neighbors came to our house to say the rosary.” he tells us in the book.  The book is filled with remembrances of family—and his love for his wife. On leadership he tells us: I’ve never wished or prepared for a leadership role: paradoxically, it’s because I never really wanted it, absorbed as I was by quite different concerns, different problems which needed solving, that I found myself out in front, leading the others—“leading the flock,” I call it with a smile. He tells us of the strike of 1970 “All we wanted was to free our fellow workers, we wanted no violence.” And that his worst fears were realized: “Poles had fired against Poles.” In the chapter “The Strike and the August Agreement” he tells us how the movement had matured: Until then I had been talking, bluffing, playing “on credit.” Although we pretended to be holding all the high cards, our opponents knew our game inside out, they’d been playing against us for years! But what they didn’t know was the nature of our very last card: the determination that had been maturing for ten years now, since the death of three of our colleagues right in front of the second entrance to the shipyard.  When His Holiness Pope John Paul II made his historic trip to his homeland in 1979, he counseled his flock and his country men and women, “Be Not Afraid.”  But Lech Walesa gave us additional insight into how Solidarity and Pope John Paul II were “inextricably bound together” and how it almost ended in 1981.   It was in Japan that we heard of the dramatic attempt on the Pope’s life. The news broke in the middle of the night May 13-14, 1981. We were in my hotel room in Nagasaki, discussing the events of the day, and our visit the next day to the museum set up in memory of the victims of the atomic bomb. The first news flash was terrifying: the Pope was dead! The next news flash retracted it: no, the Pope was still alive, he was fighting for his life. I was overcome by a feeling of immense loneliness; the whole world seemed to have turned upside down; with our lodestar gone, some of us were wandering in a wilderness with out hope. The tragedy of the Polish Pope was also the tragedy of Poland and of Solidarity: they were inextricably bound together; this was just the beginning.  Then the news changed, became less alarming; there was still hope. In his chapter “Martial Law,” Lech Walesa tells us how they decided that if the militia invaded the shipyard during the night, they decided on passive resistance: “Our greatest strength is precisely our weakness—our living bodies and empty hands confronting tanks and nightsticks.” His wife Danuta writes in the book how she was discouraged when he was locked up during marital law but “he seemed rather pleasant, …we had to be dignified about it all, because even in a place like this, we still had the upper hand; we, not they, were making history.” By 1989, Solidarity leaders sat across the table from Wojtech Jaruzelski, the same General who had imposed martial law in 1981.  And they negotiated what had seemed to most of the world impossible:  the peaceful transition from communism to free and fair elections.  In August of 1989, less than a decade after the Gdansk shipyard strikes that gave birth to Solidarity, Poland would elect its first non-communist Prime Minister since the communist takeover. Finally, Lech Walesa tells us in the book that in his school years “history was my weak point.”  But, I am here to say to you, Mr. Walesa, studying history does not matter when you are the one who makes history by bringing freedom, respect for human rights, and enduring democracy not only to your own country, but the entire region as well.

  • Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Res. 328, a resolution recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland in 1980 that led to the establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union.  This legislation praises Polish workers in the shipyards of Gdansk and Szczecin for rising up against the repressive Soviet controlled communist regime in demand of greater political freedom. The actions of these courageous and peaceful individuals were directly responsible for the establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union, a profound social movement that ultimately ended communism in Poland without bloodshed.  This resolution rightly expresses the sense of Congress that our government should recognize and honor the struggle and sacrifice of the citizens of Poland, whose tireless efforts succeeded in restoring democracy to their country while simultaneously highlighting the correlation between organized labor and strong democratic institutions.  Now, more than ever, it is important that Congress pay tribute to, and support, those nations that willingly and actively allow the unimpeded formation of labor unions. For it is those countries that exhibit the most free and fair democratic policies. No such phenomenon is better exemplified than in the case of the Solidarity Trade Union. The formation of this important group ultimately led to the election of Poland's first post-World War II non-communist Prime Minister, Mr. Tadeusz Mazawiecki.  Mr. Speaker, let me conclude by again expressing my support for this legislation and encourage my colleagues' support. It should be a priority of this Congress to pay homage to members of the Solidarity Trade Union on the 25th anniversary of its inception and acknowledge the ensuing bond of friendship that has flourished between our two nations on account of workers' rights.

  • Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to support H . Res . 328, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland that led to the founding of Solidarity. Mr. Speaker, Stalin once said that trying to impose communism on Poland was like trying to put a saddle on a cow. As history showed, that was one time the Soviet Union's dictator was right. From the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union spread its suffocating net across a Central Europe devastated by war, Poles struggled to be free. Time and again, from the 1956 riots in Poznan, when workers took to the streets “For Bread and For Freedom,” through the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, Poles struggled to stretch the boundaries of freedom. Each time, they came closer, but each time they were pulled back into the Soviet fold.  The year 1976 marked an historic turning point. In that year, Polish intellectuals stood outside the court room door while workers stood inside, waiting for verdicts to be meted out against them for their strikes at the Ursus tractor factory. At those trials, only family members were allowed to be present. And, as one onerous prison sentence after another was handed down, the intellectuals standing outside the courtroom would hear only the sobs of family members. The harshness of the regime only served to galvanize opposition to it.  By 1980, when the workers struck in Gdansk, they were no longer alone; they were joined by intellectuals who had been pursuing a parallel path. The newly elected, Polish-born Pope, John Paul II, had countenanced his countrymen and women to "be not afraid.'' And an extraordinary individual, Lech Walesa, scaled the walls at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk to lead his country to a place in history. The Gdansk shipyard workers had 31 demands, one of which was a call for the Polish Government to fulfill its obligations it had under the in the 1976 Helsinki Final Act.  By December 13, 1981, the Soviet Union had seen enough of this Polish experiment and martial law was imposed. But, it seems, the power of the people could not be truly repressed. The joining of workers and intellectuals in Poland produced the only mass dissident movement in all of Eastern Europe. In spite of mass arrests and other forms of repression during the 1980s, Solidarity remained a force with which to be reckoned and, by 1988, the tide was inexorably turning. In that year, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a Solidarity activist who--in a few years’ time--would be Minister of Defense, came to Washington and testified before the Helsinki Commission about the human rights situation in his country. It was the first time a dissident from an East European Communist country had testified before Congress and then actually returned to his country. Although authorities briefly considered bringing criminal charges against him for his daring appearance before the Helsinki Commission, those plans were quickly abandoned.  By 1989, Solidarity's disciplined strikes had forced Communist officials to the negotiating table. These so-called “Round-Table Talks” produced an agreement to allow a fraction of the seats in parliament to be openly contested in June elections--the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. In July, when Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected Poland's first non-Communist Prime Minister in the post-War era, a delegation from the Helsinki Commission, led by Senator DeConcini, sat in the gallery of the parliament and watched this extraordinary moment unfold.  Mr. Speaker, there are many factors that led to the collapse of communism, and many heroes--some tragically fallen--who deserve credit for restoring freedom to Eastern Europe. The Solidarity Trade Union played a singular role in achieving that great goal, and I give my wholehearted support to this resolution which honors the men and women of that movement.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December (2004) meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Briefing: Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: a Status Update

    A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. The Helsinki Commission held three prior hearings on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This briefing surveyed developments since the Commission's July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region. Particular attention was given to the progress, or lack thereof, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania in removing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals--including U.S. citizen claimants--and religious communities seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land.

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

    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.

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

    The importance of this briefing, which then ranking member of the Commission Senator Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was underscored by the fact that a central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individual and religious communities. Communism’s demise in 1990 sparked hope that regional governments would redress wrongful seizures of private and communal property. This briefing was the fourth hearing that the Helsinki Commission held whose focus was on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist era Central and Eastern Europe. A goal of the briefing, then, was to survey developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • Mayor Giuliani, Chairman Smith Lead U.S. Delegation to OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held an historic international conference in Vienna, Austria on June 19-20 to discuss anti-Semitism within the 55 participating States. While the OSCE states have addressed anti-Semitism in the past, the Vienna Conference represented the first OSCE event specifically devoted to anti-Semitism. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (N-04J) led the United States delegation. Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who currently serves as a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was also part of the U.S. delegation. Public members of the delegation were: Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee; Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League; Cheryl Halpern, National Republican Jewish Coalition; Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Mark Levin, NCSJ; and, Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, also participated. The personal representative of the Dutch OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ambassador Daan Everts, opened the meeting expressing dismay that in the year 2003 it was necessary to hold such a conference, but "we would be amiss not to recognize that indeed the necessity still exists." Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy declared "anti-Semitism is not a part of [Europe’s] future. This is why this Conference is so important, and I believe it will have a strong follow-up." Former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Holocaust survivor, cited free societies as an essential element in combating anti-Semitism. The European Union statement, given by Greece, noted that anti-Semitism and racism are "interrelated phenomena," but also stated "anti-Semitism is a painful part of our history and for that requires certain specific approaches." Mayor Giuliani began his remarks to the opening plenary with a letter from President Bush to conference participants. Citing his visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, the President recalled the "inhumanity and brutality that befell Europe only six decades ago" and stressed that "every nation has a responsibility to confront and denounce anti-Semitism and the violence it causes. Governments have an obligation to ensure that anti-Semitism is excluded from school textbooks, official statements, official television programming, and official publications." Many OSCE participating States assembled special delegations for the conference. The German delegation included Gert Weisskirchen, member of the German parliament and a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Claudia Roth, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Policy and Humanitarian Aid. The Germans called for energetic actions by all the participating States to deal with anti-Semitism and stressed the need for appropriate laws, vigorous law enforcement and enhanced educational efforts to promote tolerance. Mr. Weisskirchen stressed that anti-Semitism was a very special form of bigotry that had haunted European history for generations and therefore demanded specific responses. In this spirit, Germany offered to host a follow-up OSCE conference in June 2004 focusing exclusively on combating anti-Semitism that would assess the progress of initiatives emerging from the Vienna Conference. The French delegation was led by Michel Voisin of the National Assembly, and included the President of the Consistoire Central Israelite de France, Jean Kahn, and representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Office of Youth Affairs, National Education and Research. The French acknowledged with great regret the marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in France during the past two years. In response, France had passed new laws substantially increasing penalties for violent "hate crimes," stepped up law enforcement and was in the process of revising school curricula. The work of the conference was organized under several focused sessions: "Legislative, Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement"; "Role of Governments in Civil Society in Promoting Tolerance"; "Education"; and, "Information and Awareness-Raising: the Role of the Media in Conveying and Countering Prejudice." Mayor Giuliani noted the fact that the conference was being held in the same building where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. "It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing this topic so many years later and after so many lessons of history have not been learned; and I am very hopeful that rather than just discussing anti-Semitism, we are actually going to do something about it, and take action." Giuliani, drawing on his law enforcement background and municipal leadership, enumerated eight steps to fight anti-Semitism: 1) compile hate crime statistics in a uniform fashion; 2) encourage all participating States to pass hate crime legislation; 3) establish regular meetings to analyze the data and an annual meeting to examine the implementation of measures to combat anti-Semitism; 4) set up educational programs in all the participating States about anti-Semitism; 5) discipline political debate so that disagreements over Israel and Palestine do not slip into a demonizing attack on the Jewish people; 6) refute hate-filled lies at an early stage; 7) remember the Holocaust accurately and resist any revisionist attempt to downplay its significance; and 8) set up groups to respond to anti-Semitic acts that include members of Islamic communities and other communities. Commissioner Hastings identified a "three-fold role" governments can play in "combating anti-Semitic bigotry, as well as in nurturing tolerance." First, elected leaders must "forthrightly denounce acts of anti-Semitism, so as to avoid the perception of silent support." He identified law enforcement as the second crucial factor in fighting intolerance. Finally, Hastings noted that while "public denunciations and spirited law enforcement" are essential components to any strategy to combat anti-Semitism, they "must work in tandem with education." He concluded, "if we are to see the growth of tolerance in our societies, all governments should promote the creation of educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people and to increase Holocaust awareness programs." Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith, who served as Vice Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Vienna Conference, highlighted how a "comprehensive statistical database for tracking and comparing the frequency of incidents in the OSCE region does not exist, [and] the fragmentary information we do have is indicative of the serious challenge we have." In addition to denouncing anti-Semitic acts, "we must educate a new generation about the perils of anti-Semitism and racism so that the terrible experiences of the 20th century are not repeated," said Smith. "This is clearly a major task that requires a substantial and sustained commitment. The resources of institutions with special expertise such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum must be fully utilized." In his closing statement Giuliani stressed that anti-Semitism "has its own history, it has a pernicious and distinct history from many prejudicial forms of bias that we deal with, and therefore singular focus on that problem and reversing it can be a way in which both Europe and America can really enter the modern world." He enthusiastically welcomed the offer by the German delegation to hold a follow-up conference on anti-Semitism, in Berlin in June 2004. Upon their return to Washington, Giuliani and Smith briefed Secretary Powell on the efforts of the U.S. delegation in Vienna and the importance of building upon the work of the Conference at the parliamentary and governmental levels. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

    As part of an effort to enhance its review of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, the OSCE Permanent Council decided on July 9, 1998 (PC DEC/241) to restructure the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings periodically held in Warsaw. In connection with this decision - which cut Human Dimension Implementation Meetings from three to two weeks - it was decided to convene annually three informal supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs) in the framework of the Permanent Council. On March 27, 2000, 27 of the 57 participating States met in Vienna for the OSCE's fourth SHDM, which focused on human rights and inhuman treatment. They were joined by representatives of OSCE institutions or field presence; the Council of Europe; the United Nations Development Program;  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;  the International Committee of the Red Cross; and representatives from approximately 50 non-governmental organizations.

  • Helsinki Commission on Property Restitution Issues

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law On September 10, 2003, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) held a briefing to assess the status of governmental efforts to provide restitution of, or compensation for, property wrongfully seized in Europe under communist and Nazi rule. Ambassador Randolph M. Bell, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, provided an update on developments since his participation in the Commission's July 2002 hearing on this subject. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) chaired the September 10 briefing, noting that "this issue will continue to be on our agenda until we accomplish the objectives of transparent laws in all of the states [and] fair and just compensation for the properties that were unlawfully taken during the Nazi and communist years." The Helsinki Commission has previously held three hearings specifically on these issues. In a related development, on October 13, Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Mr. Cardin, Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) met with Polish officials in Warsaw to raise directly their concerns regarding Poland's failure to adopt any private property restitution or compensation law at all. Members met with Piotr Ogrodzinski, Director of the Americas Department at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrzej Szarawarski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Treasury, and Under-Secretary of State Barbara Misterska-Dragan. The Members reminded their interlocutors that President Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz gave their personal assurances to congressional leaders (including Chairman Smith) in a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in July 2002 that a private property law would be ready by the beginning of 2003. Notwithstanding this pledge, the Government of Poland has failed to submit such a law to parliament. In Warsaw, Members voiced acute frustration at continuing delays and urged the Polish Government to move quickly on this time-sensitive issue. Briefing Reviews Mixed Record In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Bell stressed that a number of measures must be in place for effective restitution: open access to archival records, uniform enforcement of laws, clear procedures, and provisions for current occupants of property subject to restitution. Uniform, fair, and complete restitution is necessary to establish the rule of law and to safeguard rights and freedoms in many countries, he noted. Ambassador Bell also suggested that restitution can facilitate reform and thereby help countries gain entry into multilateral institutions. Most OSCE countries working toward restitution are making slow but steady progress on the return of communal property, such as educational, church, and hospital buildings. According to Bell, some countries have nearly completed the return of such property, including Slovakia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria. In other instances, returning property to its owners, or reimbursing them, is fraught with political obstacles. "While leaders may achieve our praise for facing these issues, they often gain little or nothing in the way of parliamentary support at home for doing so," Bell said. Speaking from the audience, one observer suggested that restitution often stalls when it becomes a political issue that leaders can manipulate and that economic challenges in restitution create further challenges. He added that politicians should speak more frequently and positively about their experiences restoring property to the rightful owners. "This is a part of the process of becoming an open democratic society, part of the family of Western nations," he said. Progress has been frustratingly slow, acknowledged Commissioner Cardin. The Commission has frequently encountered barriers to restitution, such as residency or citizenship requirements and management of funds under different domestic laws. "We have found that we have gotten commitments from the leaders of countries, only to find that those commitments are not really carried out," Cardin said. Another audience member expressed concern that the Slovenian Government has discriminated against American property owners, arguing that as foreigners, they were less likely to have property returned in Slovenia. Ambassador Bell noted that even when a court does rule in favor of a claimant, the Slovenian Government has the ability to appeal for a reversal. He said the State Department would continue to press for fair property returns in Slovenia. A few countries came in for particular criticism during the briefing. "I am following the advice of our chairman, Chairman Smith, when he says that we have to start naming countries and naming practices, because we cannot let this continue," Mr. Cardin said. "The current situation is not acceptable in Poland or in Romania or in the Czech Republic." Poland Poland has failed to adopt any law providing for private property restitution or compensation. In meetings with congressional leaders last July, visiting President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz gave assurances that a draft private property law would be ready by early 2003. The government has yet to submit a draft to the parliament. Ambassador Bell urged Poland to make good on its promises to return private property to its rightful owners. "To delay action will only make it more difficult to address this issue down the road," he said. Romania Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective. The laws enacted by the government to address the problem lack transparency, are complex, and have not been properly implemented. The law governing the restitution of private property was enacted in February 2001 and provided a one-year deadline for filing claims. Documentary proof of those claims was required to be submitted by August 2002. This deadline was revised several times and finally set for May 14, 2003, due to the fact that claimants were experiencing great difficulty in obtaining from state archives the necessary documents to support their claims. More than two and a half years after enactment of the restitution law, the government finally promulgated regulations governing the documentation necessary to support property claims--on May 14, 2003, the same day as the deadline for filing those claims. Of 210,000 claims registered, only 6,300 properties have been returned. Commissioner Cardin described one Romanian case that suggests the kinds of struggles involved with restitution. The claimant in that case had clear title to the property and had won multiple cases in court--but was still unable to regain the property because the government would not relinquish it. Ultimately, the property was returned because of the international publicity it generated. Czech Republic The Czech Republic's restitution laws limit redress for confiscated properties to people who are currently citizens of the Czech Republic. Prior to 1999, Czech law prohibited naturalized U.S. citizens from having dual Czech and American citizenship. In order to participate in the property restitution program, therefore, Czech-Americans had to renounce their U.S. citizenship and few, if any, Czech-Americans exercised this option. In other words, at the same time the Czech Republic was being welcomed into NATO, Czech Americans were uniquely excluded by virtue of their U.S. citizenship from the possibility of regaining properties stolen from them by Nazi or communist regimes. (Czechoslovak citizens who sought refuge in other countries--e.g., Canada, France, or Australia--were not automatically stripped of their Czechoslovak citizenship and were therefore eligible to make restitution claims.) Some Czech parliamentarians have sponsored legislation to remedy this injustice, but the Czech Government has consistently opposed it. Serbia Since the fall of the Milosevic regime, civil society has sought to advance a number of initiatives to address past wrongs, including property reform. While privatization is an important component of economic reform, there is concern that insufficient consideration is given to individuals seeking restitution of property they or their families owned prior to World War II. One observer from the audience noted that the International Crisis Group and others have reported that corruption may make the privatization effort in Serbia all the more difficult for those with property claims. Addressing this issue, Ambassador Bell asserted that corruption inevitably slows down privatization. In addition, he noted that, although the Serbia-Montenegro Government has said it will restitute property seized during communist rule, no law has yet been put in place to do so. "There is a gap between what the new democratic Government of Serbia said when it took office, and what has happened," he said. There are people in the government of Serbia and Montenegro who are serious about reform, but it is a difficult struggle, he added. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Lauren Smith contributed to this article.

  • Property Restitution Efforts Examined

    By Maureen T. Walsh, CSCE General Counsel On July 16, 2002, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe held a public hearing titled “Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: The State of Affairs for American Claimants” on the status of property restitution, with a particular focus on claims in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania. This was the Commission’s third hearing on the issue of property restitution; previous hearings were held in 1996 and 1999. In his opening statement, Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) acknowledged that “Central and East European governments have done much regarding property restitution that is commendable.” Smith noted that “governments seeking membership in Western institutions want to be perceived as reform governments by passing a private property restitution law. . Upon closer examination, however, one finds lackluster the implementation of the laws” as well as serious rule of law problems and discriminatory citizenship requirements that continue to impede restitution and compensation efforts. Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) expressed the need for countries addressing problems created by the legacies of fascism and communism to “address all pertinent issues and cases, including claims of those individuals or families who may fall between the cracks of current laws.” According to Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), barriers to restitution and compensation dealt the survivors of the Holocaust a second tragedy. In response, he made clear that “we will not stop until all the OSCE states treat property restitution in a serious way by having effective laws to compensate for illegally confiscated property.” Commissioner Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) expressed a need “to constantly be creating an atmosphere in which these claims are viewed as appropriate, legitimate, and justiciable.” She stressed “the rapid restitution of assets that were stolen during that horrible period is a critical step towards achieving some measure of fairness.” “As the countries of Eastern and Central Europe consider reforming their property restitution laws, they can look to the United States as a leader in considering the restitution of World War II era property,” Senator Clinton concluded. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), a member of the House International Relations Committee, urged the Bush Administration to ensure that progress on property restitution claims be considered as a component for European Union membership. Rep. Crowley’s remarks focused on the lack of a private property restitution law in Poland where he stated “as many as 170,000 property owners and their heirs still wait for legislation that will restore their rights.” He also noted that “the protection of property rights is a basic requirement for all democratic governments that operate under the rule of law.” Witnesses reiterated two themes throughout the hearing: the protection of property rights as a requirement of democratic governments and the need for states to recognize their responsibilities to resolve outstanding restitution claims. The first witness, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues at the U.S. State Department, Randolph Bell, said the U.S., in its diplomatic relations, emphasizes that restitution processes must be clear, straightforward and non-discriminatory. Countries are encouraged to adopt broad legislation that provides restitution for the variety of claims which are being made. Mr. Bell remarked, “in joining the Euro-Atlantic mainstream and applying for membership in organizations, [Central and East European states] are seeking to join a community of values.” He outlined the following principles that these states should bear in mind when addressing property restitution: Restitution laws should govern both communal property owned by religious and community organizations, and private property owned by individuals and corporate entities. To document claims, access to archival records frequently requiring government facilitation is necessary. Reasonable alternative evidence must be permitted if archives have been destroyed. Uniform enforcement of laws is necessary throughout a country. The restitution process must be non-discriminatory, there should be no residence or citizenship requirement. Legal procedures should be clear and simple. Privatization programs should include protections for claimants. Governments need to make provisions for current occupants of restituted property. When restitution of property is not possible, adequate compensation should be paid. Restitution should result in a clear title to the property, not merely the right to use the property. Communal property should be eligible for restitution or compensation without regard to whether it had a religious or secular use. Some limits on large forest or agricultural holdings may be needed. Foundations managed jointly by local communities and international groups may be appropriate to aid in preparation of claims and to administer restituted property. Cemeteries and other religious sites should be protected from desecration or misuse before and during the restitution process. Mr. Bell emphasized the common goals of the legislative and executive branches in pursuing these issues. He recommended Congress and the Administration continue to encourage Central and East European states to enact addition legislation to allow greater property restitution and to hold the governments of those states accountable to the public declarations they have previously made. The second panel of witnesses was comprised of Israel Singer, President of the Conference on Jewish-American Claims against Germany and Co-Chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization; Yehuda Evron, U.S. President of the Holocaust Restitution Committee; Mark Meyer, attorney and Chairman of the Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce; and Olga Jonas, economist and member of several non-governmental organizations addressing issues in the Czech Republic. These witnesses’ statements revealed broad dissatisfaction with the current status of restitution efforts. Israel Singer reported that many East European states had “enacted restitution legislation with cut-off dates with the effect, whether intended or not, of restricting the rights of Jewish communities and others with legitimate claims to reclaim their property.” He emphasized the critical importance of timeliness in resolving restitution claims by stating that Holocaust survivors are dying at a rate of 15 percent per year. Singer urged the Commission to pursue three goals: first, to follow his “report card” on countries’ efforts toward restitution and to insist on greater accountability for any shortcomings. Second, to question why NATO allies allow property restitution to be used as an excuse for anti-Semitism within their borders. And third, to reiterate to these allies that resolution of property restitution issues is not only a material obligation, but also a moral obligation. Yehuda Evron’s testimony focused on restitution in Poland where, Evron said, “Efforts to return property to former owners have been uneven, and often unsuccessful or worse, discriminatory.” Like Mr. Singer, he reiterated the dire need for resolution of these claims and declared the efforts thus far to resolve American claims in Poland a failure. Evron noted the law on restitution which the Polish Government is currently crafting will reportedly offer a symbolic monetary compensation to the rightful owners rather than actual return of confiscated property. Describing why Holocaust survivors will not be satisfied with symbolic compensation, Mr. Evron explained, “We survivors lost all of our families. The homes that are left are the only thing left from our family. There is no money in the world that can compensate for this house, and we don't want any money.” Mark Meyer described the property restitution situation in Romania. Mr. Meyer, an attorney with extensive experience representing property claimants, acknowledged Romania’s efforts in passing a restitution law, but criticized the law for having “so many exceptions to the overall principle of in-kind restitution that in fact it is not providing very much in the way of in-kind restitution at all. Instead it offers restitution in the equivalent.” Meyer described the claims process as a “procedural morass” and a “bureaucratic meltdown” because of the multiplicity of obstacles facing claimants. Meyer recommended that Romania broaden in-kind restitution. When in-kind restitution is not feasible, he suggested that long-term bonds be issued rather than cash compensation. He also argued for the inclusion of personal property restitution in any amendments to the Romanian restitution law. Meyer noted the importance of Romania rescinding Law 112 of 1995 which currently allows tenants of seized property to purchase that property, thus further complicating return of the property to the original owner. Olga Jonas testified concerning property restitution in the Czech Republic. Ms. Jonas criticized Czech policy on the return of confiscated properties as being intended “to directly benefit communist and former communist functionaries who have acquired these properties or who hope to acquire them in privatization.” Ms. Jonas enumerated several particularly egregious restrictions on property restitution including the disallowance of restitution to “all persons who are not considered Czech citizens by the Czech Government, to legal persons, and to those victims whose Nazi-confiscated assets were to be returned by the 1945 restitution laws but [which were not actually returned] before the communist takeover.” She noted the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s multiple rulings that by denying U.S. citizens the right to restitution of confiscated property the Czech Government has violated the non-discrimination requirement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Two days after the hearing, Co-Chairman Smith hand-delivered a letter to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski during a meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, stressing the urgent need for a non-discriminatory law governing restitution or compensation of private property confiscated from individuals by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland. In response, President Kwasniewski underscored Poland's good will in tackling this problem, which he characterized as more difficult in Poland that some other countries because of post-World War II border changes. He said he expected to have a draft law ready by the beginning of next year — one that would not include any citizenship restrictions. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Georgianna Gaines contributed to this article.

  • Romani Human Rights: Old Problems, New Possibilities

    This hearing discussed the mistreatment of the Romani, in particular the discrimination they face in Central and Eastern Europe. Witnesses commented on the exclusion of Romani from public facilities in several countries, which the governments justify as legal and legitimate public order measures. Witnesses also brought up articles in several European newspapers that explicitly described Roma children as less intelligent and more suited for “special” schools with limited academic resources. The hearing also discussed the use of a successful anti-discrimination program in Viden, Bulgaria as a model for other communities.

  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious liberties around the world, focusing on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The troubling trend followed by several OSCE participating states toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith was addressed. Panelists at the event – including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Dr. Gerhard Robbers, Member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army-Moscow – discussed the various ways governments are chipping away at religious liberty. New legislation concerning religious registration policies that could potentially stymie religious freedom within the OSCE region was also addressed.

  • International Roma Day Revisited

    Mr. Speaker, on International Roma Day last year, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities released a detailed report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE region. Unfortunately, in the intervening months, relatively little progress has been made by government authorities in addressing the problems he described. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, receives so many reports on an almost daily basis which demonstrate the magnitude of the problems Roma face. We receive reports of Roma who are denied access to public places, like the three Roma who were turned away from a Warsaw restaurant last September 29, just before the OSCE convened its annual human rights meeting in that city. We receive reports of discrimination in housing, like the January 27 Hungarian television report that local authorities in Rabakoez, Hungary, have called for prohibiting the sale of real estate to Roma. We receive reports of police abuse, such as the repeated cases of unlawful police raids in Hermanovce, Slovakia. We receive reports of violent attacks, such as the assault on a Romani church in Leskovac, Serbia, at the beginning of this year. Too often, courts are part of the problem, not the solution. Rather than providing a remedy for victims, they compound the abuse. Take a recent case from the Czech Republic. The Czech Supreme Court issued a ruling that a violent attack on a Romani man in 1999 was premeditated and organized, and then remanded the case back to the district court in Jesenik for sentencing in accordance with that finding. But the district court simply ignored the Supreme Court's finding and ordered four of the defendants released. I am hopeful that Slovak courts, which are currently weighing the fate of three of the defendants charged in last year’s brutal murder of Anastazia Balazova, will do a better job of bringing her murderers to justice. In a few places, there are some glimmers of hope. In Viden, Bulgaria, for example, the Romani organization Drom has led a successful effort to bring 400 Romani children, who previously attended segregated schools, into the mainstream school system. In that instance, the cooperation of local and national authorities, governmental and non-governmental bodies, is paying off. Unfortunately, too few government leaders demonstrate the courage necessary to address these issues. Some pass the buck, looking to the European Union or the Council of Europe to fix problems that must be tackled, first and foremost, through political leadership at home. Moreover, a number of EU countries have little to teach the applicant countries about tolerance towards Roma. Many OSCE countries, not just the former Communist states, are in need of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, a priority recognized in the 1999 OSCE summit agreement and by the European Commission in the adoption of its “race directive” in June of last year. Regrettably, nearly two years after Bulgaria received praise from many quarters for agreeing to adopt such legislation; the government is not one step closer to fulfilling its commitment. The Slovak Government's human rights office, in contrast, has undertaken a serious study of legislative options and may soon have a draft ready for a vote. In addition, it is imperative that political and civic leaders condemn anti-Roma manifestations in clear and unequivocal terms. Mr. Speaker, when the Mayor of Csor, Hungary, a publicly elected official, said “the Roma of Zamoly have no place among human beings; just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled,” I believe it is the responsibility of Hungary's political leadership to condemn these outrageous slurs. If more leadership was demonstrated, perhaps confidence would have been strengthened and maybe 5,772 Hungarian Roma would not have applied for asylum in Canada over the past three years. When the Mayor of Usti nad Labem built a wall to segregate Roma from non-Roma, all members of the Czech parliament, not just a paper slim majority of 101 out of 200 MPs, should have voted to condemn it. And when Mayor Sechelariu of Bacau, Romania, announced plans to build a statue of Marshall Antonescu, the World War II dictator who deported 25,000 Roma to Transniestra, where some 19,000 of them perished, Romanian officials, who have pledged to the OSCE community to fight intolerance, should begin at home by ridding their country of every Antonescu statue built on public land.

  • Religious Liberty: The Legal Framework in Selected OSCE Countries

    At the briefing, an in-depth study examining the religious liberties laws and constitutional provisions of twelve countries: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan formally released by the Helsinki Commission was discussed. The project was inspired by the agreement of OSCE participating States to “ensure that their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their obligation under international law and are brought into harmony with the provisions of the Declaration on Principles and other OSCE commitments.” Various panelists addressed the issue of governments continuing to impose restrictions on individual religious liberties, despite a prior agreement to curtail anti-religious laws and governmental practices designed to prevent people from practicing or expressing their religious beliefs. Legal specialists from the Law Library of Congress emphasized a “frightening” trend in France to limit an individual’s right to freely express religious views or participate in religious activities, a Greek policy requiring one’s religious affiliation to be listed on government-issued identification cards, and Turkish raids on Protestant groups as examples of the violations of religious liberty that continue to plague these selected OSCE countries.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

    This briefing assessed the role of ombudsmen institutions in the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from an American perspective. The ombudsman institution was described as a flexible institution; adaptable to national and local government structures in a wide variety of countries, and a brief evaluation of the evolution of this institution was presented. Dean M. Gottehrer, a consultant on ombudsmen in human rights institutions for the United Nations Development Program, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and the United States Information Agency, presented a personal analysis of the role of ombudsmen institutions in protecting human rights in OSCE participating states.

  • Deterioration of Religious Liberty in Europe

    This briefing addressed the persisting question of problems of religious liberty and the patterns of discrimination against religious minorities and other belief groups that had developed in a number of countries in the OSCE region in the aftermath of the Cold War. Efforts of improving religious liberty in former communist countries were discussed, as well as the need for spending time and attention on countries farther west, like France, Belgium, and Austria, in which concern for religious minorities was also expressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights without Frontiers and James McCabe, Assistant General Counsel of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – examined the multi-tiered system that European countries employ regarding religion, and the different statuses and treatment of citizens based on where their religion falls within this system. The issues faced by minority religious associations, like being targeted by fiscal services, were also topics of discussion.

Pages