(JTA) — World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder criticized plans by the Polish government to change the way communal property is restituted.
A government proposal currently under discussion would change the current system, instituted in 1997, in which specially appointed commissions adjudicate claims for communal properties by Jewish and various Christian faith communities. Under the proposed change, restitution claims would go through the court system rather than be be handled by the commissions.
In a statement, Lauder said that any move to unilaterally disband the existing public property commissions was “ill-conceived and perhaps even unconstitutional.” He urged the Polish government to reconsider its position and maintain the current system.
“Warsaw seeks to close down the commissions before they have concluded their work, leaving thousands of properties unrestituted,” Lauder said. Left to local courts, he said, “claims for the restitution of communal property would become entangled in burdensome and time-consuming legal proceedings. Pursuing such cases across the length and breadth of the country would be an unbearable burden on the minority religious communities and harm them."
The reason for the proposal to change the procedure is unclear. Articles in the Polish media speculated that it could be a cost-cutting measure for the state.
"At the moment, discussions are continuing; a process of consultation has been initiated," Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, the Polish consul general in New York, told JTA. "This does not mean that any decision has been made."
A Jewish source close to the restitution process said that about a year ago, the commission dealing with restitution of Catholic property had been closed down because of corruption charges. He said it did not seem that the proposed procedural changes regarding communal property had anything to do with Jewish criticism of Poland’s failure to deal with claims for restitution of private Jewish property.
Earlier this month, Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, was invited for consultations over the proposed reforms by the minister for administration and computing.
"I hope they will withdraw the proposed change," Kadlcik told JTA. "We will try to come to some kind of agreement that works."