Polish Restitution Plan Condemned

Polish Restitution Plan Condemned

Taking another step in a lengthy process, the Polish cabinet last weekend approved a draft bill outlining the conditions for restitution for those whose private property was seized by the Nazis and communists.
The bill must be sent to parliament, where debate is expected to be fierce.
Although details were not made public by midweek, the cabinet proposal apparently calls for the return of 50 percent of the value of property seized by the state before the fall of communism in 1989. In lowering an earlier plan to return 60 percent, the government said it could not afford to return more.
Polish Jewish journalist Konstanty Gebert said the proposal covers property confiscated between 1944 and 1962 — a sore point for critics who say the clock should start in 1939. The Nazis invaded Poland 60 years ago this month.
Gebert said Tuesday that requirements for who can make claims was unclear.
“There is confusion about who is entitled. It seems clear that the owner had to be a Polish citizen as of Sept. 1, 1939,” he said.
But the measure is already being sharply criticized by property owners both Jewish and non-Jewish.
“Fifty percent is totally unacceptable,” said Mel Urbach, an attorney who filed suit in Brooklyn Federal Court against Poland on behalf of 11 American Jews seeking restitution. “We’re digging our heels in for litigation.”
In Poland, a spokesman for a real estate owners group also denounced the proposal.
“The government’s draft law sanctions lawlessness. It is, in fact, a robbery,” said Tadeusz Koss of the Real Estate Owners Union.
Poland estimates that assets worth 110 billion to 130 billion zlotys ($28.2 billion to $33.3 billion) would be claimed — of which nearly 70 billion zlotys worth of confiscated or substitute property would be returned.
When returning property is not possible — for example, because it has been sold — former owners would receive special coupons enabling them to buy alternative assets, or units, in a “re-privatization” fund, according to an Associated Press report.
The fund would receive 15 percent of assets from privatizations during the 2000-2005 period and some shares in companies that already have been privatized.
“The bill on returning property reflects the situation of the state treasury,” said government spokesman Krzysztof Luft. “This is all that can be done.”

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