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Jewish Property May Become Issue in Lithuania’s Presidential Campaign

The issue of Jewish property restitution may influence the upcoming presidential election here.

In a March 29 meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas proposed the president form a special committee to solve the nation’s “very urgent and very sensitive” issue of Jewish communal property restitution.

Both politicians are the assumed leading candidates for president, although neither has announced candidacy for the December election.

The prominent Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, recently wrote, “Brazauskas wants the president to solve the problem of Jewish property restoration, which is unpopular in Lithuania, all the more so because anti-Semitic sentiments are still strong in Lithuania.”

In January, Brazauskas formed a working group to address restitution issues, but he says its implementation is largely dependent on nonsubordinate institutions and Parliament. Now, he’s looking to enlist Adamkus’ help.

All of this while international pressure to restitute Jewish property is heating up.

Brazauskas said returning Jewish property is “very closely related” to Lithuania’s acceptance into Euro-Atlantic alliances like NATO and the European Union.

Perhaps because of a fear of widespread anti-Semitism, few politicians have willingly addressed Jewish issues since Lithuania gained independence in 1991.

Brazauskas tasted such sentiments in 1995, when as president he received widespread criticism in Lithuania when he apologized for his nation’s contribution to the Holocaust during a visit to Israel.

A proposal to rebuild fragments of the former Jewish ghetto in Vilnius has stalled in Brazauskas’ hands for the past 19 months, despite receiving sweeping approval in Parliament in 2000.

Approximately 240,000 Jews lived in Lithuania before World War II. Vilnius was known as one of the greatest Yiddish culture centers. The Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators annihilated approximately 94 percent of Lithuanian Jewry.

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