Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Honorable Steny H. Hoyer
Commissioner - Helsinki Commission


Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing on property restitution.

Since the Commission’s last hearing on this subject, in 1999, considerable progress has been made in a number of countries in an effort to return properties to those from whom it was wrongly stolen by fascist or communist regimes. Those achievements have often not come easily, and countries that have made progress deserve credit for doing so.

At the same time, however, there has not been nearly as much progress as there should have been, which is one of the reasons this hearing is so important. Progress in one area does not mean that we should overlook those areas where no progress has been made at all.

I realize there are those who argue that, as time wears on, there needs to be closure and finality with respect to property rights and that more harm than good is achieved by dragging out the restitution process and revisiting these issues. I disagree. The way for governments to achieve closure is to move more expeditiously on property restitution or compensation, instead of dragging their feet.

There are those who seem to believe that if you wait long enough, these issues will just go away. I disagree. In reality, many of the complaints we receive are cases where property restitution is perfectly possible, but has been blocked by government bodies or courts simply acting in bad faith and ill will. The stain from such actions will never go away.

And there are those who argue that property restitution might be even dangerous, opening the way for border changes or other unintended consequences. Again, I disagree. Such voices must not be allowed to conflate the reasonable claims of people who only wish to have what was stolen from them returned with a host of other unreasonable political agendas.

Finally, there are those who argue that property restitution is so complex, so difficult, it should not be undertaken. I disagree. I believe that returning properties seized by the Nazis and stolen by the communists is so morally compelling that it must be done, and the sooner the better.