WASHINGTON — “Anti-American discrimination must cease in the area of property restitution,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today following a hearing “The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe.”
Chairman Smith also commented “ill treatment afforded some religious communities suggests that religious inequality and discrimination are often at the heart of a government’s restitution policies rather than economic constraints or other legitimate issues that need to be worked through.”
Testifying at the hearing, attended by Smith, fellow Commissioners Reps. James C. Greenwood (R-PA) and Michael P. Forbes (R-NY), and Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-CA), were: Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio; Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia; Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada; and, Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group.”
Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, commented, “property restitution and compensation are not favors these newly free countries do for those who fled for their lives. They are essential steps forward in their own economic and political development.”
Eizenstat testified, “Restitution claims should be honored before privatization takes place. Governments should be very cautious about privatizing property, confiscated by the Nazis or Communists, whose ownership is in dispute. If this is not done, original owners should have a right to fair compensation,” and “We [the U.S.] encourage governments to establish equitable, transparent and non-discriminatory procedures to evaluate specific claims. In most countries this requires national legislation.”
Lewan, Bishop Botean, Bevc, Sammer and Sliupas detailed the lack of willingness on the part of most central- and east-European governments to meet appropriate restitution standards and procedures. Copies of their testimonies are available from the Commission.