In Serbia, the only country in Europe that did not return to its citizens' property confiscated by the communists and the Nazis, there are around 500,000 people waiting to get their property back.
By Georgi Mitev-Shantek for Southeast European Times -- 06/09/06
Former owners have filed claims for nearly all of downtown Belgrade, putting a damper on investments in that section of the capital. [AFP]
Serbian citizens whose property was confiscated by the Nazis during WWII -- and by the communists after that -- had until the end of June to apply for the return of their holdings. According to the Property Directorate, between 100,000 and 150,000 claims were filed. The Restitution Network, which brings former owners together, estimates that every contact has at least three applications, which means that the directorate will be dealing with about 500,000 demands.
According to earlier statistics, applicants who are now living in the United States are requiring the return of property valued at $500m through the embassy in Belgrade.
Statistics show that the state took away 726 million square metres -- or 20,000 pieces of property. In addition, securities, promissory notes, intellectual and industrial properties were also taken. According to the Denationalisation Law -- which is expected to be passed and implemented by the year's end -- property needs to be returned to the previous owners. If this is impossible, monetary compensation must be offered. The Restitution network reports that the property will be able to be physically returned in 90 per cent of the cases.
Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary started restitution 15 years ago. Bulgaria (1992), Germany (1994), Romania, Croatia and Poland (1996), Macedonia (1998), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2000), Montenegro (2002) and Albania (2004) have also started the restitution procedures. Serbia, however, is still compiling inventories of confiscated property.
According to a law passed in May, churches and religious groups will receive their property back. According to state data, of all of the nationalised property, about 3 per cent belongs to churches and religious communities.
Restitution of property to the rightful owners is not just the righting of a historical wrong. When foreign investors inquire about buying land in Serbian cities, they encounter serious problems with land ownership rights.
Serious investors are not willing to buy land that, under current law, can be bought for 99 years, with the risk of a rightful owner showing up to claim it. In downtown Belgrade, former owners have filed claims for nearly all of downtown, putting a damper on investments there.
In socially owned or state enterprise purchases now, 5 per cent of the purchase price is put into a Restitution Fund. The fund stands at 50m euros. Treasury head Vesna Džinić believes that to complete the restitution process, Serbia will have to spend between 35 billion and 200 billion euros.