News 13 Mar 17

WWII Compensation Lawsuit Against Croatia ‘Likely to Fail’

A 3.2 billion euro lawsuit filed against Croatia by American descendants of Serbs, Jews and Roma seeking compensation for property seized by the Nazi-allied WWII regime will probably fail, experts said.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
An Ustasa 'Black Legion' unit marches in Sarajevo in 1942. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The private suit was filed against the Croatian state by the WWII victims’ descendants at the Illinois Northern District Court in the US, Croatian newspaper Vecernji list reported on Monday.

The plaintiffs are demanding 3.2 billion euros in compensation from Croatia for seized property, as well as for the suffering of their relatives during the World War II, inflicted by the Nazi-aligned puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, NDH, which was led by the fascist Ustasa movement.

But Mato Palic, a university professor in constitutional law, told BIRN that the lawsuit is likely to fail because “Croatia is not a legal successor to the NDH”.

Palic said that Croatia takes its sovereignty from a declaration passed by the Communist-led anti-fascist authorities during World War II, and from its constitutions when it was part of the socialist federal state of Yugoslavia.

Vecernji list also reported that it had received unconfirmed information that the lawsuit is likely to fail because the Croatian state is not the legal successor to the NDH, as stated in the preamble to the country’s constitution.

The newspaper reported that the Foreign Ministry in Zagreb has received the suit, which was filed last May by descendants of Croatian Serbs, Jews and Roma - Lizabeth Lalich, Mladen Djuricich, Robert Predrag Gakovich, Veljko Miljus, Bogdan Kljaic, David Levy and Daniel Pyevich.

The Ustasa movement targeted Serbs, Jews and Roma, by killing them, sending them to Croatia-based and Nazi German camps and by confiscating their property and belongings.

The confiscations under NDH rule were part of a process known as the ‘Aryanisation of property’, in which the property of Serbs, Jews and Roma was given to ethnic Croats according to racial laws passed in 1941 and modelled upon Nazi legislation.

It is currently impossible to get restitution for property confiscated under NDH rule.

However Croatia passed a law in 1996 which enables the return of property seized for the state during Yugoslav times.

Socialist Yugoslavia confiscated large amounts of private property from large and mid-range capitalists, big farmers, religious communities and regular citizens.

Sanja Tabakovic Zoricic from Zagreb’s Jewish community said that the issue of seized property “is a complex and unresolved one”.

“We had situations in which property was returned to the people who took it from Jews. This is a really disputed law and we have been advocating its amendment since it was passed, but without success,” Tabakovic Zoricic told BIRN.

She said that the additional problem that the law says that only close relatives can apply for restitution, unlike Croatia’s regular inheritance, which is a problem because entire Jewish families were sometimes killed during WWII.

The legal procedures involved also take a long time, she added.

She further noted that the bulk of Jewish property seized during WWII has not been returned, despite the efforts of the US embassy in Croatia and envoys from the State Department.

Nicholas Dean, special envoy for the Holocaust-related issue at the US State Department, visited Croatia in April and met President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and government officials.

It was suggested in unconfirmed reports about the visit that Croatia will start work on changing the law, and that the State Department supports the Jewish community in advocating legislation that would provide for the restitution of property seized under NDH rule.

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