RIGA (AFP/EJP)---Latvian justice minister Gaidis Berzins was forced to resign his position on Thursday, following his controversial claims that Holocaust restitution policy is biased as it places the interests of one minority over others.
His resignation came after the politician, who heads the right-wing All For Latvia-For Fatherland and Freedom party, voiced his opposition to Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis’ plans to create a commission to investigate the issue of property restitution for the families of Latvian Jews displaced during the Holocaust.
In an official statement posted to the justice ministry’s website, Berzins announced: “Given the prime minister’s and justice minister’s differing understandings of the transfer of real estate to Jewish religious and social organisation...(there is) a situation in which there is no further scope for the minister to work productively”.
Despite having stepped down from his ministerial position, Berzins confirmed to the media that his party will still continue to contribute to the three-party governing coalition, headed by Dombrovskis. The centre-right Premier’s Press Secretary had previously stated he had “ignored” his minister’s objection to his restitution plans, which have also received the backing of the country’s President Andris Berzins.
The issue has long played a contentious role in Latvian politics, with a prior bill introduced in 2006, proposing $55 million in restitution for property once belonging the country’s Jewish community, being blocked by the national parliament.
Ilja Lenskis, director of the Jews in Latvia Museum, confirmed the community had begun lobbying the government anew in 2011 over the “painful and harsh issue” in Latvia’s recent past.
Some 70,000 of Latvia’s pre-war population were murdered during the Second World War, in part due to local collaborators in Nazi extermination policies, as the former independent republic was then under Nazi occupation.
As a result, many Latvians now argue the state cannot be held responsible for war crimes and property seizures committed under successive Nazi and Soviet domination.
Latvia remained under Soviet control until the communist bloc crumbled in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.