During a visit to Riga, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has urged Latvia to return property of Jews killed by the Nazis which was later seized by the Soviet Union. The issue of returning property such as schools, some synagogues and other communal buildings is highly controversial in the Baltic country. Last week, a government minister resigned over the issue.
"The United States strongly supports restitution or compensation for those whose property was confiscated by either the Nazis or the Communists," Clinton told reporters at a press conference in Riga. Clinton said she had raised the restitution issue in all her meetings, with the president, prime minister and foreign minister. "We think that resolving these issues quickly and fairly is in everyone's interest and we hope that the process [...] will be able to move forward and that this issue about communal property restitution can be addressed as soon as possible because it is a piece of unfinished historical business," she said.
Latvia's main Jewish organisation has claimed back the property which belonged to Jews before World War Two and which was seized when the Soviet Union annexed Latvia in 1940. It acts in the name of the tens of thousands of Jews killed during the Nazi German occupation of the Baltic state from 1941 to 1944. An estimated 70,000 of Latvia's 94,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and introduced laws on returning seized property. However, with no one left to claim communal Jewish property, the issue was left unresolved.
Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the government had a good dialogue with the Jewish community and was establishing a process for restitution, but the process had to move gradually. "We have to exercise extra caution because [the situation] is very sensitive due to historical considerations," he said.