Presentation of the official delegation of Macedonia at the Vilnius Forum
Ganka Samuilovska-Cvetanova, Minister of Culture
3-5 October 2000
Macedonia sent an official delegation led by Ganka Samuilovska-Cvetanova to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
Honorable Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Please allow me, on behalf of the President of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, Mr. Ljubco Georgievski and the Macedonian delegation as well as in my own behalf, to thank the host country, Lithuania, and His Excellency the Prime Minister Mr. Andrius Kubilius, for the hospitality extended and great contribution given for the successful and efficient work of this International Forum on the Holocaust Era Looted Assets.
The Holocaust represents the most difficult moral cataclysm and darkest page in the history of humanity. The Jewish people, undoubtedly, were the most tragic victim of the fascist senselessness.
A friend of mine, a Jew says: "Even in peacefulness I awake with the thoughts about the Holocaust, and it is even worse when I fall asleep with the question - who is going to be next?"
The memories of the Holocaust I would like to represent a permanent remembrance of what it may happen on race, national, religious or ideological base if hatred prevails over reason and the moral debt towards ones own neighbor. The international community has to have in mind what has happened to the Jewish people more than a half century ago and to find moral and political forces to prevent from similar events in the future.
The National Commission established by the Government of the Republic of Macedonia in October 1998 has reviewed the assets nationalized from the quitrents of Jewish origin living in Skopje during the fascist occupation in the period from 1941 to 1944. The National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia has assessed that the total sum of the assets amounts to US$ 16.408.383,95 and US$ 6.310.909,43 for the property other than real estates.
The restitution of the cultural assets, which have been extracted from Macedonia, represents a serious problem which is permanently present not only among professional organizations in the field of culture, but also in the larger scale in the society. The fact itself that the cultural heritage is the basic and integral part of the national and cultural identity of a nation and irreplaceable proof of its existence makes the Republic of Macedonia interested in particular, for faster resolution of this problem. The historic facts confirm that foreign rulers have created great catastrophes to the Macedonian cultural heritage.
Priceless manuscripts and books executed with extraordinary ornaments and illuminations in the Macedonian medieval literary centers, valuable works by the icon painters created in the time of Michelangelo, Da Vinci were during the wars taken by the looters to their countries or sold to others and are to day jealously kept even from the eyes of the Macedonian science.
The National Museum in Belgrade possess so many archeological objects, hundreds of icons from Macedonian churches and monasteries and old jewelry that a separate museum of the cultural heritage from Macedonia may be created from these artifacts.
An interesting data may be extracted referring to the valuable objects taken away from numerous churches and monasteries of Macedonia (for example, the Bishops Crown of the Ohrid Archbishops is now found in the National Museum of Sofia and the experts in Sofia estimate that only the value of the jewels in the Crown at about 15 million USD.)
The process of identification of the cultural heritage stolen during the Holocaust has not been completed yet, works are being discovered daily in the museums for which there is the assumption that they have belonged to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Jewish property has been illegally confiscated after the war and resold to private persons. Thus an unseen confusion has been created in the legal and ownership relations, which is not only the case with the Jewish property. In this context I would like to mention the great step forward made by the Government of the Republic of Macedonia by adopting a Denationalization Law, which restitutes the property taken away after the Second World War to their owners. In the same time this law provides for equal treatment for all Jews namely their descendents. In respect of the issue of restitution of the Jewish property to their legal owners, I believe it to be one of the most important aspects of the democratic society in Lithuania, too. The Laws adopted in Lithuania regulating the process of property restitution are among the most liberal among the countries of Central and Eastern Europe providing property restitution to the lawful owners or their descendents irrespective of their present residence or citizenship.
The Ministry of culture of the Republic of Macedonia at the proposal of the President of the Government Mr. Ljubco Georgievski has established a Steering Committee for the construction of the Macedonian Memorial Holocaust Center. The Macedonian Memorial Holocaust Center in Skopje shall be the place of sacred pilgrimage in front of the Suffering of Innocence and Truth. A place of remembrance and a place of not forgotten justice. A place to symbolize the temple of truth. Respect towards the millennia long togetherness, understanding, trust, solidarity and cohabitation of the Jewish and Macedonian peoples.
I hope that this Center shall be completed soon and the cultural and spiritual heritage of the Jews in Macedonia shall be presented in it.
The looting of the cultural heritage is an anti-civilisational act, and the issue of restitution is an issue of the civilization. The international community should devote particular attention to this issue. In this respect international conventions should be respected and implemented.
The Republic of Macedonia is prepared through bilateral negotiations and agreements, to request the restitution or exchange for at least part of its heritage. With a wide international activity, for which I would kindly ask for support from this Forum, the international initiative for the restitution of the looted cultural assets from the Jews, as well as from all other nations that had similar destiny, should become more efficient.
I would like to thank you once again for giving me the possibility to present the position of the Republic of Macedonia regarding this issue at this prominent gathering.
Thank you for your attention.