Given the Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins’ different views on the property restitution to Jewish religious and community organizations, Berzins stepped down late on Wednesday, June 20. He explains the move with political pressure to lobby the issue.
On Wednesday afternoon, sources close to the National Association (NA) implied that the Jewish property restitution issue may lead to major changes in the government already this week. Berzins’ resignation now proves that behind-the-scenes talks on the possibility that it will be exactly the NA that will shake the government were no rumour, reports the portal Pietiek. NA members have informally informed the portal that the party might indeed have been promised the post of Economy Minister.
Recently, some politicians and influential businessmen (who are harshly critizing the current government) have informally signalled that the NA will play the lead role in overthrowing the government. “If we were as united as once, the government would have been brought down long ago,” an influential NA politican, who is not holding any public ofice at the moment, told Pietiek a month ago.
Allegedly, the idea of the government overthrow is to replace the Reform Party’s ministers with members from the Greens and Farmers Union. It is Economy Minister Daniels Pavluts and Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister Edmunds Sprudzs who could lose their top posts.
Informal consultations on possible changes in the government are believed to have been running for months. They represent the interests of the party Unity’s former sponsors, who are highly dissatisfied with the current government. These businessmen are associated with the actual leader of the Greens and Farmers Union, Aivars Lembergs, and ex-prime minister, Einars Repse. Besides, they are also believed to have great influence on Olsteins’ Six (a group of six independent parliament members). Repse’s association For Latvia’s Development member Donats Vaitaitis and Lembergs are both critisizing the Economy Minister Pavluts, as he has halted state subsidies for biofuel production. This is the most obvious example just because it measures in millions of lats, but there are numerous other examples that prove certain groups’ economic interest to change the government.
A couple of weeks ago, Unity-related sources in the government suggested that the government will most likely not make it until the next year’s budget adoption in the parliament. Renewal of subsidies to biofuel producers will most likely be the key issue on the new government’s agenda. It is expected that Dombrovskis might turn his attitude into a softer one when the new circumstances arrive and he is confronted by millionaires from the “political” biofuel business. “Greens/Farmers are more convenient for Unity, when it comes to its wish to enjoy power. This is what the Reform Party members are not allowing and the situation keeps growing worse,” the source said just recently. Unity can split up if some of its PMs do not approve the coalition with Lembergs and Greens/Farmers. To prevent this, another option has been put on table – Dombrovskis keeps his post to calm down this particular wing of Unity. There is still a possibility that the government composition is changed without the government going down.
Replacement of Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Sprudzs is another highly urgent issue for oligarch and Ventspils Mayor Lembergs. Sprudzs is actively collaborating with the General Prosecutor’s Office to achieve that Lembergs is again imposed house arrest as a security measure.
As reported, Dombrovskis had given Berzins two weeks to set up a working team until June 1, but he had failed to do it within the time limits. The party Berzins represents – National Association – has announced that it does not support denationalization in favor of one or another ethnic community. So the Justice Minister refused to move on with the issue.
In addition, NA co-Chairman Raivis Dzintars stresses that Dombrovskis’ resolutions on properties once owned by the Jewish people can be interpreted as ignoring the coalition agreement. The association is confident that repeated announcement of the initiative clearly suggests an intention to forward the bill.
Dombrovskis, on the other hand, says he is surprised by the information the NA presents to the media. He denies that Berzins was asked to draft a bill, stressing that Justice Minister’s task had been simply to draw up a list of properties once owned by Jewish communities. If such a list has indeed been developed hand in hand with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it must be made known to the Jewish community to see its response, Prime Minister says.
It should be noted that other Latvian politicians do not welcome the issue either. To give an example, Lembergs, who is accused of committing major crime, questions any compensations based on national and religious principles. According to the portal Pietiek, several years ago, when the issue was on the agenda of then Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, Lembergs commissioned a study to examine public attitude towards the subject. The results clearly showed that Latvians were reluctant to give the Jewish people back the properties that they lost during World War II.
Meanwhile, it has become known that United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will pay an official visit to Latvia after Midsummer celebrations. Neither the timing, nor the agenda is clear, but behind-the-scenes talks link the visit to the Jewish property issue, since Latvia is sorting it out much slower than, for example, Lithuania.
Latvia has already previously addressed the issue but without success. Back in 2006, the government submitted a draft law On the Support of the Latvian Jewish Community. Within its framework, it was planned to compensate the Jewish community 31 959 870 lats (58 108 854 dollars). It was also planned to return to the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities 14 properties in Riga, Jurmala, Liepaja, Ventspils, Kandava and Kuldiga. The above-mentioned amount was meant as a compensation for the remaining 282 properties across Latvia. However, the parliament rejected the bill. The list of properties was again revised in 2010.
Latvia happens to be one of the last European countries, where the issue still remains an open problem.