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Seized properties shame Poland (some relevance to TNC situation)

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Joined: 17/06/2007
Posts: 657

Message Posted:
19/08/2008 14:17

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Seized properties shame Poland

Since communism ended in Poland almost 20 years ago, the country has come a long way, embracing the future as a member of both the EU and Nato.

Piotr Sokolowski outside villa

This grand Warsaw building belonged to Piotr's family

But in the eyes of many Poles the historical legacy of property claims blights its onward march, the BBC's Michael Buchanan reports.

Standing on a street in central Warsaw, Piotr Sokolowski peers in the window of a renovated three-storey villa.

The building - currently owned by the Polish Academy of Sciences - used to belong to his grandmother. In 1955, however, the communist government, as part of a general nationalisation programme, seized the property.

Mr Sokolowski's family have fought for years to have it returned, but to no avail.

"It is the private property of my family, and it was confiscated due to some illegal rules," he says, adding that the property is worth "a lot of money, about $15m" (8m).

While all former communist countries faced similar problems to Poland, most have already settled the issue, paying in most cases some compensation to those who lost.

But in Poland the issue has never been fully addressed. Ownership claims hang over 89,000 properties in Poland, including 15,000 in Warsaw. They include part of Warsaw's City Hall, the Academy of Arts and even the site of the US embassy.

Jewish losses

Standing outside one building that is being reclaimed, Miroslaw Szypowski, who runs an umbrella group for claimants, forcefully put the case for his members.

"It was a plunder, plunder, because it was seizure without compensation. It was robbery.

Konstanty Gebert, a Jewish newspaper columnist

Konstanty Gebert blames anti-Semitism for the delays

"Today's Warsaw is a communist state, a socialist one, where 90% of the land is state property. There's not such a case in the whole of Europe."

Most of the claimants lost out as a result of communism. But a significant minority - about 20% - come from the survivors or descendants of Poland's once large Jewish community.

The country used to be home to Europe's biggest Jewish population - about 3.5 million people - but 90% did not survive World War II.

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the country's Jewish heritage, with festivals and cultural events springing up across the country. Such a development is obviously welcomed by Jewish leaders, but the issue of compensation is a running sore.

The president of the World Jewish Congress recently paid a visit to Warsaw, to urge the government to pass a bill paying compensation. Not having done so, said Ronald Lauder, "violates basic democratic principles".

Konstanty Gebert, a Jewish newspaper columnist, says that anti-Semitism in Poland has made it harder for the authorities to resolve the issue.

"The belief is that the compensation will go to the Jews, which much of Polish opinion doesn't want. The anti-Semitic motivation is strong enough to paint the whole issue as a Jewish extortion from the Polish state."

Costly compensation

Whatever the reasons for the delay in returning property or paying compensation, it has become harder and costlier for the Polish government to resolve the issue.

A building in Warsaw's Jewish quarter

A few reminders of the Jewish past survived the bombing of Warsaw

To compensate fully everyone who claims to have lost will cost an estimated $37bn - a quarter of the government's entire budget. That is not going to happen, but it perhaps partly explains why a recent opinion poll showed most Poles were opposed to paying any compensation.

Still, the government is determined to finally address this issue and has promised to pass legislation before the end of the year.

Treasury ministry spokesman Maciej Wewio


Joined: 15/12/2007
Posts: 4580

Message Posted:
19/08/2008 14:45

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Message 2 of 4 in Discussion


An interesting article. Lets hope that lessons have been learnt.



Joined: 17/06/2007
Posts: 657

Message Posted:
19/08/2008 16:45

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Its interesting that the EU hasn't done anything in relation to this and it obviously didn't cause any problems with Poland being admitted to the EU. I assume the issue probably exists on a smaller scale in the other former communist EU members.



Joined: 04/07/2008
Posts: 16617

Message Posted:
19/08/2008 17:29

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"Treasury ministry spokesman Maciej Wewior would not confirm media reports that successful claimants will receive 15%-20% of their assets, paid out over many years, but emphasised that the government was going to resolve the problem"

Presumably with a grant from the EU!.

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