Poland committed to restitution, visiting foreign minister tells 'Post'

Says "We are willing to take [on] this problem... but the issue is extremely complicated because of our budgetary obligations."

polish fm 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
polish fm 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Poland is committed to dealing with the prickly issue of Holocaust property restitution, Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said Sunday, adding that she could not say whether a bill on the issue before parliament would be passed by the end of the year. "We are willing to take [on] this problem... but the issue is extremely complicated because of our budgetary obligations," Fotyga told The Jerusalem Post during a state visit to Israel timed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day. The bill before parliament, which has passed its initial reading, would pay 15 percent compensation to former property owners - Jewish and non-Jewish - whose properties were seized during World War II. Polish officials estimate that Jewish-owned private property makes up nearly 20% of the property in question. Earlier this year, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a delegation of Jewish leaders that his government would do its utmost to ensure parliament passed a compensation law by the end of the year. Fotyga was noncommittal about the deadline for the bill's passage. "It is inappropriate for a government member to interfere in a parliamentary procedure," she said when asked about a time line for the passage of the compensation bill. The Polish parliament was willing to proceed on the legislation, she added. The value of seized property is estimated to be Euro16 billion - Euro18b., according to Polish groups working to attain the compensation. Fotyga said Poland was one of the poorest countries in the European Union. She said it was only now starting to overcome half a century of Communist rule that had "absolutely demolished" Poland. "We have to find some equilibrium between our budgetary obligations and the need to fulfill our obligations according to international law," Fotyga said. A 1997 agreement had already started the process of restitution of public property in Poland, she added. The bill, if passed, would set a one-year deadline for the submission of restitution claims. But groups representing former property owners say that is not enough time. Fotyga told the Post it was "more than appropriate" for the Polish foreign minister to take part in Israel's commemoration of the Holocaust, saying it was symbolic of the centuries-old relationship between Poles and Jews. She said it was essential to further expand youth exchange programs between the two countries to enable young people to meet each other and overcome stereotypes. "We would prefer further opening these programs so that young Israelis could see [more of] young Poles and the attitude of the youth," Fotyga said. Eight thousand Jewish youth from around the world - including a delegation of 1,800 Israeli high school students - will take part in the annual "March of the Living" in Poland on Monday. Fotyga declined to comment on reports a senior Polish Foreign Ministry official had suggested that the founder of the March of the Living, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, who is under investigation on corruption charges, should not attend the event. "This is an internal Israeli affair, and there is no official Polish position on this," she said. Hirchson, who has been questioned by police over alleged embezzlement, is not going to the event. Fotyga is due to meet top government leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during her visit. She voiced appreciation that Vice Premier Shimon Peres, a Nobel Prize laureate, had supported the Polish government's position that Irena Sendler, a 97-year old Polish Righteous Among the Nations who is credited with saving up to 2,500 Jewish children during the Holocaust, should receive the Nobel Prize. "This is a symbol of our joint dark history, and how much we are linked and bonded together," Fotyga said.