WJRO Latvia Operations
Latvia has established limited programs for the restitution of confiscated private and certain communal real property. Approximately 95,000 Jews lived in the country before the war, while about 10,000 currently reside there.
In 1992, Parliament enacted the Law on the Restitution of Property to Religious Organizations, which provided for the return of religious property primarily houses of worship and related property confiscated in the period 1940-1992, to registered religious organizations. In fact, the government returned some twenty properties and paid compensation for several others to the small, observant, Latvian Jewish community under the limited 1992 law. However, well over 200 pre-war communal properties, other than cemeteries, have been identified as belonging to the Jewish community prior to World War II.
Beginning in 2003, the Latvian Council of Jewish Communities (LCJC) sought to supplement the (1992) restitution law, adding types of communal property which could be recovered. Eventually, the government and Jewish community agreed on proposed legislation which would have provided a combination of restitution (of fourteen formerly Jewish-owned communal buildings) and compensation (of 32 million lats/about $60 million over a ten-year period) to the local Jewish community. Parliament did not pass the draft. Subsequently, the WJRO requested and the government (in September 2008) established a new working group to evaluate the communal restitution situation.
In June, 2012, the working group identified approximately 80 Jewish community properties eligible for restitution. In June 2012, the Prime Minister sought a new working group of government and Jewish community representatives to create a list of Jewish community property and recommend whether the government should return the properties or pay compensation. However, the working group was not established, and subsequently the Prime Minister announced that future action on restitution would require parliamentary action.
In February 2016, Latvia passed long-awaited legislation to return an additional five properties. WJRO and the LCJC have asked for the Latvian government to return, or provide compensation for, the remaining Jewish communal properties.
The Latvian claims process for the restitution of confiscated private property, seized beginning in 1940, provided for the return of property to former owners or certain heirs, regardless of current citizenship or residence. Municipal authorities, typically the final claims arbiters, were to provide substitute property or government vouchers, if the property in issue were not available. Among various problems with the process, claimants were often reluctant to accept the alternative property offered since it rarely possessed a comparable value to their original property.
In addition, there was minimal world-wide notification about the program, which prevented many former property owners from submitting claims.
Latvia has no law for the restitution of confiscated, heirless property.