Presentation of the official delegation of Croatia at the Vilnius Forum
Snjezana Bagic, Head of Governmental Office for Legislature and Chairman of Governmental Commission on Holocaust Issues
3-5 October 2000
Croatia sent an official delegation led by Snjezana Bagic to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets (3-5 October 2000) who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
During the recent war in its territory Croatia was a scene of massive human plight and material destruction, including devastation of its historic and cultural heritage, while the consequences of World War II had no yet been wholly remedied. In the war waged against Croatia since 1991 the cultural heritage sustained virtually immeasurable losses along with a huge property damage, including destruction and devastation of museums and galleries. Thus nearly the entire holdings of the Jasenovac Memorial Center and Museum were looted and taken away outside Croatia and are now exposed to deterioration due to inadequate storage. Based on a not yet completed assessment, it has been found that out of 204 museums, galleries and collections in Croatia a total of 66 museum buildings have been destroyed, and that the holdings of 45 museums and galleries have been affected to a varying degree (specifically, 6,551 museum items missing, 1,430 destroyed, 827 damaged).
As reported by independent foreign experts, alone during the first seven months of war in Croatia more cultural treasures were destroyed than during the whole period of World War II in the former Yugoslavia. Negotiations between Croatia and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on the restitution of the seized cultural heritage, based on the estimates of war damage and the reports by the Council of Europe, UNESCO and other international organizations in Croatia and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, have remained fruitless which in turn adversely affects the efforts to determine, identify and specify the cultural treasures belonging to the Holocaust victims.
Besides, after World War II many regulations were passed and various commissions up, designed to protect the cultural property seized during World War II. However, these commissions never fully completed their tasks, nor were they able during the communist regime to prevent its continued misappropriation, devastation or disappearance without a trail.
Therefore, the holdings of the museums and galleries in Croatia are incomplete and experts are faced with a demanding task to identify the alienated items for their restitution to the respective museums and galleries. This would give a whole picture of the holdings and enable the qualified experts to determine the ownership of the works of art seized during and after the Holocaust, based on relevant international documents, including recommendations from the Holocaust conferences held so far. This will help to more clearly define the criteria applicable to the alienated works of art and other cultural treasures for their restitution to those from whom they were seized.
As some participants may recall, Croatian delegation already informed at the Washington Conference that its Parliament adopted in 1 997 the Law on Restitution and Compensation for the Property Seized During and After World War II. In the meantime, this particular Law, which also includes the restitution of cultural assets, has been improved, according to the Constitutional Court decision, giving the right to foreign physical persons to obtain compensation. However, the identification of the objects of art and their rightful owners is difficult, partly due to illegal trade.
In this very moment, while we are discussing the restitution of looted cultural assets during the Holocaust Era, the experts from the Danube Region countries gathered in Croatian town Vukovar to find the way, how to implement the European Union Guidelines on restitution of illegally acquired cultural objects.
The new Croatian Government has shown, not only in words but also in deeds, its determination to wholly protect human rights and ensure the rule of law, including property restitution to the victims of Holocaust and communism. For that reason a special attention is paid to the property seized during World War II. Archives from that period are being sorted out and made available to the interested parties at home and abroad. Cooperation has been arranged with major museums and archives related to the Holocaust. The Croatian President and the Prime Minister, during their recent visit to USA and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, paid homage to the victims and said that in the dawn of the third millennium all countries, including Croatia, should put every effort to unveil the remaining mysteries of the worst evil of the millennium behind us and make amends for the injustices done to its victims. Croatia gives credit to the Lithuanian Government and the Council of Europe for organizing this Forum, which will surely raise the awareness of all the countries of the need to define their position regarding the restitution of cultural property belonging to the Holocaust victims and to take efficient steps to compensate for the injustice done to these victims.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).