The Jewish community was the first to demand restitution of property that belonged to the Jews before the war and is currently owned by the state. The Russian community followed suit by making similar claims. More than one dozen public buildings in Latvia historically belonged to Russians. The exact number will be clear after an inventory check, President of the Russian Society of Latvia Yevgeny Altukhov says.
"The Society is currently busy taking stock of these buildings. Russia used to own the Russian Theatre and many other sites. The Latvian authorities have been reacting in the negative because the period of limitation for the restitution of buildings has expired. The Latvian government says that the buildings in question are used for social needs and that it has invested a lot in their renovation and maintenance."
To obtain documentary evidence that the buildings were handed to Latvia illegally is next to impossible. There’s a chance, even if small, of receiving financial compensation. From a legal standpoint, the case is too complicated to build, says Michael Joffe, the head of a center that provides legal assistance to Russian compatriots.
"The issue of returning property to the Russian people who owned it before 1940 has been brought up for the first time since Latvia acquired independence. The Nuremberg War Crime Trials recognized instances of crimes against Jews on the territory of Latvia. These crimes are against humanity and have no terms of limitation. As for the Russian community, there have been no decisions to this effect, so restitution of former Russian property is hardly possible as the statute of limitation on civil cases is 10 years."
Despite the acknowledgement of the genocide, Jews are unlikely to successfully claim back their pre-war property. The Latvian authorities are pursuing the policy of glorifying the Nazis, Michael Joffe says.
"Latvian collaborators took part in the extermination of Jews and some groups of Russians under the Nazis. After executing Jews, they often appropriated their property. By denying the Jews the rights to claim back their property, the Latvian authorities continue the Nazi policies of 1941. Unwilling to bear responsibility for the crimes committed by their fathers and grandfathers who fought on the side of Waffen SS, Latvian leaders are turning them into heroes. Rehabilitation of Nazi criminals is part of Latvia’s state policy."
In addition to Russians and Jews, there are other nationalities that lost their property after 1940 and can make restitution claims now. These include Belorusians, Ukrainians, and even Baltic Germans.