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„Mēs turpināsim izdarīt spiedienu uz [Latvijas] valdību saistībā ar ebreju īpašumu restitūciju un tikšanās ar augstām amatpersonām, uzstājot uz konsultācijām ar [ebreju] kopienu un normatīvajiem aktiem komunālā un bezmantinieku īpašuma restitūciju,” – kā liecina Wikileaks publiskotās ASV valdības šifrogrammas, šādi pagājušā gada 25. februārī Vašingtonai ziņojusi pašreizējā ASV vēstniece Latvijā Džūdita Garbere. Līdz ar to ir atklāts jau iepriekš skaidri nojaustais – ka ASV valdība izdara spiedienu uz Latviju ebreju kopienas bijušo īpašumu atdošanas vai kompensēšanas jautājumā.

Kā zināms, jau kopš 2006. gada ik pa laikam tiek spriests, vai un kādā veidā ebreju kopienai atdot vai kompensēt tai savulaik piederējušos īpašumus. Tad Saeima tā arī nepieņēma valdības iesniegto likumprojektu Par atbalstu Latvijas ebreju kopienai, ar kuru bija paredzēts ebreju kopienai piešķirt gandrīz 32 miljonu latu kompensāciju par 282 īpašumiem Rīgā un citviet Latvijā, kā arī ebreju kopienai īpašumā bez atlīdzības nodot 14 nekustamos īpašumus Rīgā, Jūrmalā, Liepājā, Ventspilī, Kandavā un Kuldīgā.

ASV valdības pārstāvji nekad oficiāli un skaidri nebija paziņojuši, ka sagaidītu no Latvijas valdības tieši kādu konkrētu rīcību ebreju īpašumu sakarā, lai gan neoficiālu signālu ir bijis pietiekami daudz. Vēl šā gada janvāra beigās ASV īpašais sūtnis holokausta jautājumos Duglass Deividsons, uzturoties Rīgā un tiekoties ar Saeimas Ārlietu komisijas deputātiem, paziņoja, ka ebreju kopienai jāatdod holokausta laikā atņemtie īpašumi, nevis jāatmaksā nauda. Nu ir kļuvis skaidrs, ka ASV valdības pārstāvji un vēstniecība Rīgā ir izdarījuši skaidru un nepārprotamu spiedienu, lai ebreju kopienas īpašumi tiktu atdoti vai kompensēti.

Pietiek šodien vienkopus publisko visas ASV vēstniecības Rīgā šifrogrammas, kas saistītas ar ebreju kopienas īpašumu atdošanu un saistītajiem jautājumiem. Tās rāda, ka ASV vēstniecība gadu gaitā regulāri un mērķtiecīgi interesējusies par ebreju īpašumu tēmu, tās interesi piesaistījuši pat atsevišķi īpašumi, un tāpat vēstniecības pārstāvji labprāt uzklausījuši arī pazīstamu žurnālistu ziņojumus par jautājumiem, ka saistīti par šo tēmu.

Šo šifrogrammu vidū pēc apjoma īpašu vietu ieņem ziņojums par advokātu, „tiesu ķēķa” pārstāvi Andri Grūtupu, par kuru bijušā ASV vēstnieka Čārlza Larsona ziņojumā teikts: „Grūtupa paziņojumi presei un viņa nesenās publikācijas parāda to, kas parasti Latvijas dzīvē ir paslēpts – spēcīgu neiecietības zemūdens straumi, ieskaitot antisemītismu. Tas, ka politiskās elites pārstāvis ar tik labiem sakariem izsaka savus aizspriedumus publiski, daudz ko pasaka par Latvijas sabiedrību.”

Pēdējās oficiālās ziņas saistībā ar ebreju kopienas īpašumu atdošanas vai kompensāciju izmaksas jautājumu datējamas ar šā gada janvāra beigām: tad Latvijas Ārlietu ministrija oficiāli paziņoja, ka šis jautājums pašlaik esot „pārdomu stadijā”, - taisnība esot jāatjauno, tomēr vispirms esot jāpanāk izpratne sabiedrībā un politiķu vidū, un vēl neesot iespējams pateikt, kā šis jautājums tiks aktualizēts.

Pietiek pagaidām nav izdevies saņemt komentārus par to, kā ASV vēstniecības spiediens izpaudies pēdējā pusotra gada laikā kopš Gārberes šifrogrammas nosūtīšanas. Savukārt pati Gārbere intervijā laikrakstam Diena aizvadītajā sestdienā šo tēmu nav pat pieminējusi, tā vietā apgalvojot: „Nav jautājumu, ka mūs ļoti interesē, kas notiek Latvijā, jo jūs esat mūsu draugi un stratēģiskie partneri, un, protams, mēs tiekamies un runājam ar cilvēkiem. Mēs runājam ar dažādām politiskajām partijām. Runājam par to viedokļiem, sevišķi ārlietu politikas jautājumos. Cilvēki kādreiz izdara nepareizus secinājumus - ja šādas sarunas notiek, notiek arī kas cits. Taču mēs vienkārši izrādām interesi par cilvēku viedokļiem, iespējamiem lēmumiem.”

US embassy cable - 10RIGA94

LATVIA JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION: HOPE BUT NO CHANGE SO FAR

Identifier:

10RIGA94

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2010-02-25 13:07:00

Classification:

Tags: PHUM PGOV KNAR LG

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INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS RIGA 000094

SENSITIVE SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, KNAR, LG SUBJECT: LATVIA JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION: HOPE BUT NO CHANGE SO FAR

1. (SBU) While discussion of restitution of Jewish property in Latvia continues, little progress has been made.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister requested an additional 90-day review by a GOL Working Group, which has been studying the question of restitution of communal property since September, 2008, before accepting a report on their findings.

Chances of any movement on the issue during 2010 are limited, particularly against the backdrop of October Parliamentary elections, but representatives of the Jewish community see some cause for hope.

While the PM has not demanded a quick turnaround on his inquiries, it appears his questions were serious, and not solely a delaying tactic.

 The government has yet to discuss restitution of heirless property.

2. (SBU) MFA contacts explained a plan to split the properties in question into four categories of difficulty, based on the factors complicating each case. Representatives of the Jewish community expressed reservations about this approach, preferring one solution that deals with all properties concerned.

In addition, MFA State Secretary Teikmanis said that the political risk of being tied to work on the project before elections would prevent even preparatory efforts, let alone actual return of property.

3. (SBU) On February 22 and 23, David Peleg and Elie Valk of the World Jewish Restitution Organization visited Riga for meetings with GOL officials and representatives of the Jewish community. Peleg and Valk expressed satisfaction with the relatively positive attitude on the part of the PM.

However, they shared our concerns about the GOL's slow progress and apparent lack of willingness to start laying any groundwork now for action after the elections. Peleg also expressed continued concern about the Jewish community's exclusion from the working group process, and urged greater transparency and consultation with the Jewish community.

They further note that the GOL appears unlikely to send a high-ranking official to upcoming meetings in Prague to follow up on last year's Conference on Holocaust Era Assets - perhaps due to budget constraints, or perhaps an indicator of GOL lack of dedication to the issue.

Peleg and Valk were in broad agreement that the best strategy moving forward is to stress the underlying principle of justice in order to reach a comprehensive solution, rather than focusing on single properties or even a tranche of supposedly "easier" properties.

4.

(U) We will continue to press the government on Jewish property restitution in meetings with senior officials, pressing for consultation with the Community and a legislative framework for communal and heirless property restitution. GARBER

US embassy cable - 09RIGA470

JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION: ONLY MINOR PROGRESS

Identifier:

09RIGA470

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2009-09-18 12:28:00

Classification:

Tags: PREL PHUM LG

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SENSITIVE SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/OHI

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREL, PHUM, LG SUBJECT: JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION: ONLY MINOR PROGRESS

1.

(SBU) Summary: There has been little progress over the last year on completion of Jewish property restitution in Latvia.

A GOL Task Force studying the issue is expected to issue its much-delayed report soon.

They will likely declare that there is no legal mechanism for returning any property to the Jewish community.

The government has pledged to facilitate use by the Jewish community of one school building in time for the next academic year.

No formal agreement has been reached, however, and it is not clear that the GOL has any plan to turn over the title to the building.

End summary.

2.

(SBU) The GOL Task Force studying property restitution, established last September, is reportedly prepared to release a final report on September 25th.

(Note: This is not the first promised deadline for the report.)

The Task Force has conducted an exhaustive investigation into properties owned by many minority groups, including Jews, Poles, Germans, and others.

They have identified 53 communal properties to be returned, including, but not limited to, the 14 communal Jewish properties covered in previous draft legislation.

Contrary to prior indications, the MFA believes the report and recommendations will be made public after they are delivered to the Prime Minister.

3.

(SBU) One property in particular may be made available to the Jewish Community in the near term.

A former Jewish school, commonly referred to by its address "Abrenes 2," has been used as a professional school for years.

As Latvia's economic downturn has forced consolidation of the school system, the Ministry of Education's need for the facility has declined.

Despite some reluctance, the Ministry of Education transferred the building to the Ministry of Finance, which holds title now.

4.

(SBU) MFA State Secretary Teikmanis informed Ambassador that Abrenes 2 should be returned to the Jewish community in time for use next school year.

Andris Razans, Director of Policy Planning and the lead at MFA on property restitution, has since admitted that several challenges remain.

So far, no agreement has been reached, and the Ministry of Justice has concluded that the GOL has no authority to return any property without an act of parliament. Instead, the GOL is exploring alternatives such as renting Abrenes 2 to the Jewish community for a "symbolic" rent payment.

Despite this, Razans believes that there are "no major obstacles" to getting a Jewish school running at Abrenes 2 by next fall.

To avoid any anti-Semitic reaction, particularly during a time of economic crisis, the GOL hopes to maintain a low profile on any deal.

5.

(SBU) Razans was unwilling to venture whether the GOL would pursue a case-by-case approach or, instead, adopt a strategy to deal with the whole list of properties once the Task Force report is finalized.

Rather, he explained that an act of Saeima would be needed to return anything, and with elections coming next year, he did not feel that there was much political opportunity for any properties to be returned under either strategy.

6. (SBU) Comment:

Post continues to press the GOL at every opportunity to engage in substantive negotiations with the Jewish community.

While Abrenes 2 might still be a positive example, it is far from the done deal that some have seemed to imply.

Furthermore, renting the school to the community, even for a nominal fee, is a far cry from actually returning the title.

While intentions are clearly good in some quarters, such as the MFA, entrenched resistance at the Ministry of Justice and the GOL's fiscal crisis are proving a difficult combination to overcome.

GARBER

US embassy cable - 08RIGA619

LATVIAN PM: SLOW PROGRESS ON ENERGY AND JEWISH PROPERTY, CONFIDENCE IN BANKS

Identifier:

08RIGA619

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2008-10-09 13:08:00

Classification:

Tags: PREL PGOV PHUM ECON ENRG LG

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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5297

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000619

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/08/2018 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, ECON, ENRG, LG SUBJECT: LATVIAN PM: SLOW PROGRESS ON ENERGY AND JEWISH PROPERTY, CONFIDENCE IN BANKS

Classified By: Ambassador Charles W. Larson for reason 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis detailed a laborious multi-stage process preceeding a settlement on Jewish Property restitution in Latvia in a meeting October 8 with Ambassador Larson and UK Ambassador to Latvia Richard Moon.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the PM also explained that Latvia and Lithuania hope Sweden will determine the location of a cable to transmit electricity across the Baltic. Both the PM and his advisors stated that the Latvian banking system is strong and that they are not preparing to bail out Latvian banks, as they see no indications that a bailout will be necessary.

--------------------------- Jewish Property Restitution ---------------------------

2.

(C) Though ostensibly the purpose of the meeting, the discussion of Jewish property resitution was relatively brief.

Godmanis noted that the task force studying the issue is scheduled to meet for the first time on October 15.

He explained that the group would explore how to complete an exhaustive world-wide search for potential claimants of currently heirless Jewish properties.

(Note: The previous proposal in 2006 dealt with this issue by transferring responsibility for dealing with future claims to the Jewish community.)

The GOL believes that it cannot separate the issues of communal and heirless properties, and must deal with them in one package, so the communal properties cannot be returned until the search for heirs is settled. Lastly, the group will study what the best mechanism for compensation will be: for example cash payments or return of properties in kind. When asked about a timetable for results, Godmanis said that he expected the task force would report progress (although not necessarily final recommendations) by the end of the year.

The sole member of the task force present at the meeting said afterwards that this was the first time he had heard such a deadline.

3. (C) Godmanis warned that any legislation on Jewish property restitution would surely bring up claims by other groups on Soviet-era property losses.

The task force chairman had previously indicated to Embassy officers that the task force would need to study property restitution for groups other than just the Jewish community.

In a final note, Godmanis acknowledged that all the questions and study he outlined were preface to the difficult political discussion of an actual negotiated settlement.

------ Energy ------

4. (C) Godmanis said that Latvian efforts to push a combined Baltic electricity sytem operator would not bear fruit soon. Estonia is legally barred from entering such an agreement until at least 2012.

Godmanis said that after discussions with the Lithuanians, they planned to allow Sweden to decide whether a trans-baltic electric cable should link Sweden to Latvia or to Lithuania.

Prior reports have indicated that Sweden plans to allow Latvia and Lithuania to sort out where the link should be located.

Godmanis re-affirmed the GOL dedication to building a combined coal/biomass power plant in Liepaja.

While other options technically remain on the table, Godmanis said that coal was clearly the best choice.

 ------- Banking -------

5. (C) During the meeting Godmanis addressed the crisis in the global financial system.

While conceding that the GOL did not have any plans to bail out banks, or the resources to do so, Godmanis expressed no concerns that it would be necessary.

He noted that Latvia has already whethered banking crises in the 1990's and the banking system here has few of the financial instruments that have led to liquidity issues elsewhere.

On the margins, his advisors were more firm in allaying any concerns about the stability of Latvia's banking sector. Senior advisor Ilze Petersone said that there is ample money available to guarantee existing deposits and said "The banks are the least of the problems" facing the GOL now, given fiscal issues and a general economic downturn.

------------------- Defense, ACS issues -------------------

6. (C) The Latvian budget that has passed first reading in the Saeima will include funding for lightly armored vehicles,

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 as opposed to armored personnel carriers the GOL had previously indicated interest in. Ambassador Larson also noted the increase in incidence of robberies, extortion, and druggings of foreign visitors in bars in Old Riga.

Godmanis reacted with surprise and expressed concern about the situation, which he thought had been improving.

 7. (C) Comment:

Godmanis continued the trend of establishing lengthy procedural barriers to initiating a serious negotiation on settling the Jewish property issue.

The task force seems to be a solution in search of a problem, sorting through issues that have already been addressed in the 2006 negotiations.

Godmanis's statements serve to further ground fears that the task force will use theoretical restitution claims of non-Jewish groups to muddy the waters in resolving the Jewish property claims.

Regarding energy, the Sweden-Baltic cable will not happen any time soon with the Baltics and Sweden each waiting for the other to make a decision on location and nobody forcefully pushing for progress.

However, the consistent message on construction of a coal-fired power plant is a welcome sign; the project continues to look likely to go ahead. LARSON

US embassy cable - 08RIGA468

JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION PROCESS SLOW TO RE-START

Identifier:

08RIGA468

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2008-08-11 11:23:00

Classification:

Tags: PHUM PREL SOCI LG

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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5141

INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000468

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/OHI (J BECKER)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/06/2018 TAGS: PHUM, PREL, SOCI, LG SUBJECT: JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION PROCESS SLOW TO RE-START

REF: 07 RIGA 00507

Classified By: Ambassador Charles W. Larson for reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)

1. (C) Summary:

The GOL says that it intends to move forward on Jewish claims to pre-holocaust communal property, but has sent mixed signals about chances for rapid action.

GOL also advised against a unified effort from foreign embassies to push for resolution.

Both the Ambassador and American representatives of the Jewish community have signaled the importance of progress on the issue in meetings with GOL, but signs of movement are still scant and that is unlikely to change any time soon.

End Summary.

2. (U) Background:

In 2006, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups, the Council of Latvian Jewish Communities (CLJC), reached an agreement with the GOL to settle outstanding restitution claims for both communal and heirless properties.

However, when the negotiated agreement was put to an initial vote, the majority of representatives in the Saeima abstained, which killed the measure rather than allowing further debate (See Reftel).

The CLJC decided that it had exhausted all possible local approaches to the issue, and signed an agreement with the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WRJO) to conduct future negotiations on behalf of the Latvian Jewish community. The WRJO is now pushing for the re-formation of the task force that developed the initial agreement.

--------------- Recent Activity ---------------

3. (C) On July 3, the Ambassador, DCM, and Pol/Econ Chief, along with the UK Ambassador to Latvia, Richard Moon, met with Ambassador Gints Jegermanis, the MFA lead on holocaust legacy issues, and Martins Lazdovskis, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice. Jegermanis affirmed that the GOL will again need to form a task force to negotiate possible solutions.

However, he said the formation of the task force has been stalled by debates over which GOL institution should serve as the lead, with the Prime Minister's office and the Ministry of Justice as the primary candidates.

While he explained that numerous difficulties have prevented the decision, Jegermanis said that the issue would be raised again the following week, but was unwilling to promise that the leadership of the task force would be determined with certainty in that time frame.

Lazdovskis indicated that the previous task force had resolved the legal issues at hand, and that the remaining issues were not legal but political, and therefore best handled by the PM, not Justice.

He said the Justice Minister had been firm with the PM on this point.

4. (C) Jegermanis advised against forming a large coalition to press for movement on the issue and encouraged the Ambassadors to take up the issue directly with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

To follow up, the UK and U.S. Ambassadors wrote a joint letter to the MFA on July 8, requesting prompt action to form the promised commission.

No response has yet been received.

5. (C) Later in July, representatives of the WRJO came to Riga.

Post arranged meetings with both the MFA and the President's foreign policy adviser.

WRJO reports a cordial meeting with the President's office, but no promises of action.

The MFA, however, told WRJO that Justice should indeed lead the new task force.

WRJO representatives emerged from the meeting with the impression that the Prime Minister had instructed Justice to form the task force and that they could be expected to act quickly to do so.

Subsequent discussions with MFA indicate that this reflects an ideal "scenario," but does not reflect a course of action decided with any finality.

In early August, MFA representatives told us that FM Riekstins would be pushing in the cabinet for the task force to be formed, and that no reply to the letter from the U.S. and UK Ambassadors would be sent until that occurred.

We responded that we had no intention of simply waiting idly until Latvian politicans determined they were willing to move forward.

6. (C) Comment:

Post continues to encourage the GOL to re-form the task force and work with WRJO to bring about a mutually agreeable solution.

While the GOL continues to express a desire to resolve the issue, we do not see any signs of imminent movement.

The Justice Ministry claims this is a political issue best handled by the Prime Minister, while the Prime Minister (and the MFA) argue that it is a legal issue, best handled by Justice.

In fact, this is clearly a political issue at this point, and one that will not gain Latvian politicians much goodwill if they solve it.

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 The continued delays in the simple task of forming a task force to discuss what the previous task force had agreed on are a clear indicator of the lack of political will to move this process forward.

Given the current tensions in the political landscape and the level of economic hardship in the country, it is hard to foresee substantial progress on property restitution in the near future.

Nevertheless, continued engagement by U.S. officials with Latvian counterparts on this issue will be essential in at least keeping it on the radar. LARSON

US embassy cable - 08RIGA87

ANDRIS GRUTUPS AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF LATVIA

Identifier:

08RIGA87

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2008-02-15 15:27:00

Classification:

Tags: PHUM PREL SOCI LG

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000087

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/OHI (J BECKER), DRL/SEAS (G RICKMAN)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/15/2017 TAGS: PHUM, PREL, SOCI, LG SUBJECT: ANDRIS GRUTUPS AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF LATVIA

REF: A. 06 RIGA 924

B. 06 RIGA 921

C. 06 RIGA 959

D. 07 RIGA 507

Classified By: Classified by Ambassador Charles W. Larson for Reason 1. 4(d).

1. (C) Summary.

Andris Grutups is a prominent lawyer and closely connected to one of Latvia's most influential people - former PM Andris Skele.

He is also often not far from the scene when charges of anti-Semitism are raised in Latvia. For example, in a late November 2007 interview with local press, Grutups accused then-Ambassador Bailey and former Latvian President Vike-Freiberga of threatening the job of then-Prime Minister Kalvitis if he did not pass Jewish property restitution legislation at the end of 2006. Furthermore, Grutups has made several dubious claims about "the Jews" in Latvia, and his publications have been condemned as anti-Semitic.

He also sponsored a private showing of a play viewed as anti-Semitic for its seeming support for the blood libel charge.

Grutups' behavior is more noteworthy due to his close relationship to oligarch Skele.

We don't want to overstate the case, but the fact that someone as influential as Grutups can produce such bile with little or no public reaction is an indication that at least some amount of anti-Semitism is rather wide-spread in Latvia.

End Summary

2 (U) On November 29, 2007, in an article published in the Latvian daily Neatkariga Rita Avize, prominent Latvian Lawyer Andris Grutups claimed that then-Ambassador Bailey and former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga made passage of Jewish property restitution legislation (reftels) in late 2006 a "condition" for Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis to continue in his position as PM after the October elections in 2007. Neatkariga Rita Avize is controlled by Latvian oligarch, Aivars Lembergs, who is under house arrest for a number of corruption charges.

The paper has a history of criticism of the U.S. embassy in Latvia and of Ambassador Bailey in particular.

A Busy Year of Anti-Semitism ----------------------------

3. (SBU) Grutups is known for his weakly hidden anti-Semitic views.

During the past year and a half, he has focused considerable energy on Jewish matters--showing a disturbing trend of criticizing "the Jews."

He published articles in late 2006 attacking the proposed Jewish property restitution legislation, providing much of the intellectual cover for the legislation's eventual defeat.

In early 2007, he staged a private showing of a play based on a book he wrote called "Belisade: on the court case of a boy murder believed to be committed by Jews in the beginning of the 20th century in Russia."

The book and play discuss the Beilis Trial that took place in early 20th century Russia and involved the "blood libel" accusation against Jews.

The play was condemned by the head of the local Jewish community in Latvia, Arkady Suharenko, as clearly anti-Semitic.

In addition, this past fall Grutups published a book called Scaffold that details the trail and execution in 1946 in Riga of several high ranking German officers.

In this book Grutups purportedly accuses "the Jews" of welcoming the Soviets into Latvia--as well as making other inflammatory statements.

Grutups presented copies of "Scaffold" to the Ministry of Education, though the ministry appears to have been unfamiliar with the contents of the book.

We have since learned that the book has been distributed to all schools in Latvia, as Grutups requested, but is not included as part of any official curriculum.

The Jewish community, political parties with strong Jewish support and the Israeli Embassy here all are stumped by how best to discredit the book without actually increasing its prominence.

4. (C) In response to Grutups' attacks on Ambassador Bailey, DCM met Latvian MFA State Secretary Normans Penke at the end of November to register Post's concern that an individual as politically connected as Grutups was making such accusations about the Ambassador--as well as publishing materials that assert Jewish culpability for the Soviet Occupation of Latvia, among other things.

(Note: U/S for bilateral affairs, Edgars Skuja, urged the DCM to broach the issue with Penke.

According to Skuja, Penke was troubled by Grutups behavior but needed an excuse to raise the issue with Foreign Minister Riekstins.

The issue is a sensitive one for MFA officials to raise with Riekstins because he is very close to the People's Party.

End Note.)

Penke responded that the PM might distance himself from Grutups' specific accusations about Ambassador Bailey, but made no commitments regarding further actions People's Party officials might take to

RIGA 00000087

002 OF 002

 distance themselves from Grutups in general. PolEconOff also raised the issue of Grutups comments with Ambassador Gints Jegermanis, the MFA's lead official on Jewish issues.

(Note: To date, Post has seen no movement on the part of the GOL to distance itself from Grutups in general, or from any of his specific comments.)

Who is Andris Grutups? ----------------------

5. (U) Though Andris Grutups has never been a member of any political party in independent Latvia (he was a member of the Communist Party in the Soviet period), he was very active in the re-establishment of Latvia's independence.

His professional work at a very high political level for many years, as well as his close ties with ex-premier Andris Skele, have led to speculations that he has been one of the most influential people in Latvian political circles.

Some claim that Grutups was the one who recommended the then politically unknown Andris Skele for the post of PM to president Guntis Ulmanis in 1995.

6. (U) From the beginning of the re-establishment of the independent state, Grutups was a key player in re-building Latvia's legal system. He is the author of a number of important original laws (e.g. The Law on De-nationalization of Real Estate) and the author of several legal texts such as "Litigation and Comments" and "Civil Law and its Comments" which are still highly regarded and relied upon by the Latvian legal profession.

However, his overall contribution to re-establishment of the rule of law in Latvia is a subject of some debate.

7. (C) Grutups received the highest academic degree in Law in 1985 from the University of Latvia and worked in law enforcement and security establishments during the Soviet period--including in the Prosecutor's Office.

There are persistent but unproven speculations that Grutups had ties to the KGB in Soviet times.

Boris Cilevics, a Jewish member of parliament in Latvia, told emboff that Grutups is known for being anti-Semitic in a very smart way that is not straightforward and open, but is well understood and supported by a part of the public and his circles.

His father was a member of the Latvian Waffen SS.

A Tarnished Reputation ----------------------

8. (C) A book called "Litigious Kitchen" published in August 2007 may have weakened Grutups' influence. The book contained allegedly taped conversations from Grutups' office in which he and his associates lobby and negotiate with certain Latvian judges to obtain positive rulings for Grutups' clients.

Prominent Latvian journalist Ilze Jaunalksne told Post that "Litigious Kitchen" seriously damaged Grutups reputation, but that he knows how to make people dependent and then use it to achieve the results he wants. Jaunalksne claimed that at one time Grutups may have had half of the Supreme Court and Riga Regional Court judges under his influence.

According to Ingrida Karina-Berzina, a Latvian American attorney, Grutups current reputation is as a member of the inner circle of the Latvian legal profession who is "a shady, money-making character," but he is also known as "someone who gets things done in a dirty system."

She added that the whole system is so corrupt that few would be willing to point the finger at his behavior, as "so many are mixed up with him."

She, too, stated that "Litigious Kitchen" weakened Grutups' influence.

Comment -------

9. (C) Grutups statements to the press and his recent publications bring to light what is usually hidden below the surface in Latvian life: a strong undercurrent of intolerance, including anti-Semitism.

That such a well-connected member of the political elite would express these convictions publicly says much about Latvian society. He is likely using his close ties to Skele as a vehicle that helps give him continued access and prominence despite his diminished standing.

Ambassador Bailey gave a number of interviews in December and January prior to her departure in which she specifically spoke out against intolerance and anti-Semitism.

However, Latvia has a very long way to go on issues of tolerance. LARSON

US embassy cable - 07RIGA507

LATVIA BACKPEDALING ON JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION LEGISLATION

Identifier:

07RIGA507

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2007-07-10 13:04:00

Classification:

Tags: PHUM PREL SOCI LG

VZCZCXRO7939

PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR

DE RUEHRA #0507/01 1911304

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

P 101304Z JUL 07

FM AMEMBASSY RIGA

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4160

INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIGA 000507

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/OHI (J BECKER), DRL/SEAS (G RICKMAN)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/10/2017 TAGS: PHUM, PREL, SOCI, LG SUBJECT: LATVIA BACKPEDALING ON JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION LEGISLATION

REF: A. 06 RIGA 924

 B. 06 RIGA 921

C. 06 RIGA 959

Classified By: Ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey for Reason 1.4(d)

1. (C/NF) Summary.

We recently met with members of the Latvian Jewish Community as well as the Government of Latvia to gauge progress on Jewish property restitution legislation.

Local Jewish community leaders stated that they have reached a dead end and are now turning to the international community "to take the lead."

The GOL says that it no longer embraces the heirless private property portion of the draft legislation agreed to last year--due to "legal concerns" that a portion of the legislation is inconsistent with prior denationalization laws and could set a precedent for other minority groups in Latvia.

The GOL is now only willing to consider the communal property portion of the legislation, and that on a "case by case" basis.

This was the first time that the GOL explicitly backpedaled on the heirless private property portion of the legislation, and the GOL's explanations appear to be cover for what is a pure political decision that reflects the firm opposition of Latvian oligarch Andris Skele to this legislation.

End Summary.

2. (C/NF) On July 5, PolEconOff met with Arkady Suharenko, Chairman of the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities, to discuss the state of stalled Jewish property restitution legislation in Latvia (ref C) and consider steps forward. Suharenko stated that the local Jewish community has been unable to overcome political opposition to the legislation and has exhausted all channels available to it locally. Though clearly a bit reluctant to discuss the issue, Suharenko observed matter-of-factly that the exact reason that property restitution has stalled is due to the opposition of one man--Andris Skele, a Latvian oligarch and eminence grise of the ruling coalition's People's Party.

In a magazine interview in May, Skele quoted (but would not name) a supposed representative of the Jewish community as stating that the draft legislation is "the law of modern marauders" and the "Jews of Latvia do not need this law." Skele also stated in this interview that those pushing for this legislation are "not the friends of Latvia."

Until Skele changes his views on the matter, Suharenko is convinced that Jewish property restitution legislation will not move ahead.

Within this context, the local community is bringing in the international Jewish community to "give new blood" to the effort and "take the lead."

3. (C/NF) PolEconOff asked Suharenko if he believes that meetings between Skele and representatives of the international Jewish community would help.

Suharenko, with extreme reticence, stated that his sole recommendation would be that "the General Prosecutor of Latvia become involved"--implying that, since Skele's oligarch's hands are so dirty, he should be brought to heel under the law and his influence diminished.

4. (C/NF) In an earlier meeting with Dmitry Tsymber, a young leader in the Jewish community, A/DCM heard similar points. Tsymber stressed that the local community was not walking

SIPDIS away from the issue but felt it needed outside help.

He pointed to the election of Valdis Zatlers as president as evidence that Skele was on the ascendency and local forces could not stop his opposition to the legislation.

(Comment: Zatlers, a political neophyte, has been criticized by some in the press as a "puppet" for Skele.)

Tsymber made clear that they had no evidence that Zatlers himself was an obstacle, but the community viewed his alleged ties to Skele as meaning he would not be helpful on this question.

5. (C) Also on July 5, Acting DCM and PolEconOff met with Ambassador Gints Jegermanis, Head of Policy Planning and Ambassador at Large in the Latvian MFA, to discuss the GOL's position on the legislation.

Jegermanis, the GOL's point person on holocaust issues, called us in to report on consultations with the Prime Minister's office on Jewish Property Restitution.

According to Jegermanis, the GOL is no longer willing to embrace the heirless Jewish private property part of the legislation due to legal concerns that this part of the legislation is inconsistent with broader denationalization laws and could set a precedent for other minority groups.

He added, however, that the GOL would consider the communal properties listed in the draft legislation on an "item-by-item basis."

This was the first time that the GOL has explicitly told Post it will no longer consider the heirless property portion of the legislation. Jegermanis said that this was a political reality--there was no support for the heirless private property.

He said the Latvian Embassy in DC would brief the State Department.

RIGA 00000507

002 OF 002

 A/DCM, noting he had no instructions, commented that he was glad to hear acknowledgment that this was a political decision.

The legal argument didn't fly considering the lengthy debates on the draft law last year and cabinet approval.

He also noted that the GOL should be prepared for the community to be skeptical.

What assurances did they have that in a step-by-step process the government would follow through on all 14 communal properties.

6. (C/NF) In both this meeting and prior conversations, Ambassador Jegermanis has intimated his discomfort with the GOL's current position on this legislation.

At the close of the July 5 meeting, he mentioned that "if the issue were up to me or the Latvian MFA, we would not be having these difficulties."

7. (C/NF) Comment. The local Jewish community has not given up on property restitution; its leaders have simply decided that the current political dynamic in Latvia (i.e. the opposition of Skele) is such that they see no viable way forward with the local community in the lead.

As such, they are hoping that a new push from the international Jewish community (and support from the USG) will shake up the political status quo and create a dynamic for progress.

The government's assertion that the property restitution legislation has been found to be inconsistent with prior denationalization legislation is clearly an attempt to find cover for what is a political decision.

8. (C/NF) Comment Continued.

Looking ahead, Post and the Department need to stress to the Latvians that the decisions they are making are political ones--that a post facto argument that the draft legislation is legally flawed is nothing more that a fig leaf to cover the reality of political decisions.

(Note this legislation was vetted and cleared by GOL lawyers in mid-2006.)

However, Post also wishes to stress that in dealings with the GOL, USG interlocutors must remain engaged and at least express appreciation for the fact that the GOL is maintaining dialogue on the issue and offering something of a new proposal (the idea of considering communal properties separately on a case by case basis); we do not want to let the GOL walk away from discussions entirely.

In any case, the local Jewish community will likely approach any new proposals from the government with extreme skepticism, given the events in 2006 when the GOL made assurances that the legislation would be implemented after fall elections--and then failed to deliver.

End Comment BAILEY

US embassy cable - 06RIGA959

LATVIA: PARLIAMENT PUNTS ON NEXT PHASE OF JEWISH RESTITUTION (HEIRLESS PROPERTY BILL)

Identifier:

06RIGA959

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2006-11-24 15:02:00

Classification:

Tags: PHUM PREL SOCI LG

VZCZCXRO7896

PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA

RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG

DE RUEHRA #0959 3281502

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

P 241502Z NOV 06

FM AMEMBASSY RIGA

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3556

INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000959

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/OHI (J BECKER), DRL/SEAS (G RICKMAN)

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM, PREL, SOCI, LG SUBJECT: LATVIA: PARLIAMENT PUNTS ON NEXT PHASE OF JEWISH RESTITUTION (HEIRLESS PROPERTY BILL)

REF: A) RIGA 924, B) RIGA 921

1.

Summary: The Saeima (Latvian parliament) on November 23 rejected a draft bill that would have provided financial assistance to the local Jewish community to compensate the losses suffered during the Holocaust and the Soviet occupation of Latvia.

The government's bill failed because abstentions far outnumbered either the votes for or against.

The bill, tabled by the GOL itself, deals only with heirless Jewish property that could not earlier be regained via Latvia's denationalization laws--because there were no identifiable heirs for the property.

It stipulates that the GOL would pay 32 million lats (about USD 55 million) over a ten-year period to the Jewish community. Now the bill has been sent back to the government, and its fate is unclear. Both President Vike-Freiberga and the local Jewish community have expressed their disappointment over the vote, and said they hope that an acceptable solution to the issue will eventually be found.

End summary.

2.

With all four ruling coalition factions and the center-right opposition New Era faction merely voting present, the Saeima on November 23 voted down (12-6-67) a bill that provided 32 million lats (USD 55 million) assistance to the Jewish communities to compensate for the Holocaust and Soviet occupation losses. Despite an earlier agreement reached between the Jewish community and the Cabinet of Ministers, which tabled the bill, the Saeima rejected the legislation without a debate citing "legal contradictions." According to press accounts, this was the first time in history that a Latvian cabinet approved draft legislation, sent it to the Saeima, and then the parties making up the government abstained on the vote to send the legislation to committee for consideration.

3.

The vote comes after a week of intensive campaigning against the bill in the Ventspils-controlled newspaper Neatkariga Rita Avize. The campaign began with an open letter from prominent lawyer Andris Grutups, claiming that the compensation law was legally faulty and unjust towards other minorities who suffered during the Holocaust (e.g., Roma). Grutups has close ties with influential ex-prime minister Andris Skele who is the founder of the People's party, a senior coalition partner.

Also, many members of parliament reportedly consider other public issues, particularly in the area of health care, as more urgent--and prefer to allocate state funds to these issues first.

4.

The bill only applies to heirless Jewish property.

Most restitution in Latvia, including for identifiable heirs within the Jewish community, has already been accomplished. The GOL worked closely with the local Jewish community to draw up a limited list of properties "which can be legally correctly deemed as having belonged to the Jewish organizations or natural persons and whose owners and their heirs have perished during the Holocaust, and which respectively have become the property of the state or a municipality in Latvia but have not been regained within the scope of the denationalization laws." The agreed compensation of 32 million lats would be payable to the Jewish community from 2007 until 2016.

5.

After the vote in parliament, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga expressed her surprise that the ruling coalition factions turned down a bill tabled by their own government, and described the move as a "lack of political courage."

The President said she had earlier understood that there was "political will" to resolve this politically sensitive issue. Prime Minister Kalvitis suggested that the members of the Jewish community should meet with Saeima deputies and explain their position on the compensation bill. In its statement, the Jewish community expressed the hope that the Saeima "would realize the essence of the bill and its importance for Latvia, and would eventually adopt it."

6.

Comment: Even though the bill has not been forwarded to the Saeima standing committees for further consideration, it has not been definitively killed. Under Latvia's legislation, the government, five members of the Saeima, or any of the standing parliamentary committees can resubmit the bill to the Saeima. However, given the sensitivity and the politicization of the issue, at the least a delay is likely while supporters reassess the situation.

Post plans to meet with members of the local Jewish community and members of the governing coalition to assess what steps would be most effective in getting this legislation back on track.

End Comment.

BAILEY

US embassy cable - 06RIGA924

LATVIA: JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION MOVING FORWARD

Identifier:

06RIGA924

Origin:

Embassy Riga

Created:

2006-11-07 12:49:00

Classification:

Tags: PHUM PREL SOCI LG

VZCZCXRO1894

PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA

RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG

DE RUEHRA #0924 3111249

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

P 071249Z NOV 06

FM AMEMBASSY RIGA

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3516

INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RIGA 000924

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/OHI (J BECKER), DRL/SEAS (G RICKMAN)

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM, PREL, SOCI, LG SUBJECT: LATVIA: JEWISH PROPERTY RESTITUTION MOVING FORWARD

REF: RIGA 921

1.

Our lobbying efforts of recent weeks appear to have helped unblock stalled progress on Jewish property restitution (reftel). On November 6, the Latvian cabinet approved the draft legislation for Jewish Property Restitution for heirless properties.

The legislation will now be moved to the Saeima (parliament).

This is a very positive development since the issue appeared stalled despite an agreement between the government and the local Jewish community dating back to June.

Representatives of the local Jewish community tell post that they are very satisfied with the cabinet action and cautiously optimistic that parliament will approve the legislation in the coming weeks.

Post will continue to follow the issue and stay in touch with the Jewish community to monitor progress.

2.

Post no longer believes that the Washington action requested reftel is needed, given the cabinet action.

Should there be any difficulties in the legislative process that cannot be addressed here, we will consider if Washington action would be beneficial and report.

BAILEY

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