November 29, 2006

Latvia rejects Jewish community compensation bill

The Latvian parliament has rejected a US$ 56 million compensation bill for the country's Jewish community. In a vote on Thursday, only 12 lawmakers supported the bill which had been put forward by the government, six voted against and 67 abstained. The bill proposed compensation payments to be made to Latvia's Jewish community over the next 10 years to "compensate for the historically unfair consequences suffered under the Nazi German Holocaust and Soviet occupation regime". Several properties would also be returned to the Jewish community, which presently numbers close to 10,000 people in a country of some 2.3 million. One of the largest parties in the Latvian parliament, New Era, abstained from the vote because according to its leaders the bill did not make it clear if other groups that suffered under Latvia's occupiers last century would also receive compensation, a lawmaker from the party said.

"We are not against compensations for Jews per se, we are against the imperfections and gaps in the bill," lawmaker Solvita Aboltina, a former Justice minister,was quoted as saying by AFP. "From a legal point ofview, the bill is poorly worked out. It does notclearly show whether other groups who suffered under totalitarianism would be entitled to similar compensation from the state," she said, adding thatthe way the bill was worded could set a precedent forother groups to demand compensation for past wrongs, she said. Around 90,000 Jews lived in Latvia immediately before World War II, but many were deported or murdered when the Baltic state wasoccupied by Nazi Germany during the war. Under the Soviet Union, which forcibly annexed Latvia immediately after the war, ethnic Latvians, includingJews, were persecuted and murdered, and many deported to Siberia. Others fled into exile, returning to the Baltic state when it regained independence in 1991.The bill will now go back to the cabinet for review.

And folks, if you're really, really qwiet, you can hear Norman Finkelstein chuckling.