WASHINGTON –Members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission reacted to the recent statement by Polish Prime Minister Tusk indicating that, due to financial considerations, his government is suspending work on a draft law to provide some compensation for property wrongfully confiscated during the Nazi and Communist eras. Polish officials have indicated they may reopen work on this at a later time.
“I’m deeply dismayed by news that the Polish government is shelving work on draft legislation to provide some measure of justice to those whose property was wrongly confiscated as part of the persecutions of the Nazi and Communist periods,” said Chairman Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04). Smith chaired the Helsinki Commission’s first hearing on this issue in 1996 and sponsored a House resolution (H.Res.562) which passed in 1998. “Every major political party in Poland has supported the goal of passing a general private property compensation law. It is now time to marshal the political will to make this a reality. While this issue is exceptionally difficult for Poland due to the border changes and population movements after World War II, complexity is not an excuse for inaction – especially when it leads to injustice. I urge current the Polish Government to give justice to all those despoiled by past occupiers and governments,” Smith concluded.
Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (MD) observed that, “I am deeply disappointed that, after so many years, Poland is the only country in Central Europe which has not adopted a general private property compensation law. For most victims of wrongful property confiscation, the seizure of their homes or other real property was inextricably part of the religious or political persecution they suffered. Polish Government delay has added a layer of unfairness, especially for elderly survivor and their family members.”
Ranking Member Alcee L. Hastings added, “I have welcomed the steps taken by many other countries in the region to address past wrongs that have been inflicted on their citizens, and I commended Poland for the adoption of a limited property compensation law in 2005 for Poles who were originally from territory beyond the Bug River. That bill was a useful start to addressing private property claims – but it should not be the end.”
Since the fall of Communism, the Helsinki Commission has held several hearings and briefings examining post-Communist property claims issues, Commission leaders have raised these issues with Polish officials in Washington and Warsaw, and Commissioners have introduced resolutions in Congress and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly related to past injustices.