'Sacred Right' to private property

Macedonia is the last among countries in transition that got its legislature which will enable implementation of the process of denationalisation. Nevertheless, there remains the uncertainty whether the government will be capable of fulfilling the wishes of all the damaged parties.


SAT, 06 MAY 2000

Skopje, 22 April, 2000 - On 14 April, the assembly of Macedonia passed amendments and supplements of the law on denationalisation which created the preconditions for the current authorities to finally get involved in the adventure of denationalisation. This 14 April might be remembered as one of the bright days in the history of the current assembly because the mentioned legal regulation, which is very rare, won the votes of both the parties in power and the opposition. Moreover, not a single deputy voted against it, and all seem to have been sincerely keen on putting right a historical mistake made 56 years ago. The previous assembly passed two years ago the law on denationalisation, but the constitutional court questioned some of its provisions, so its implementation has not started to this day.

Critics of the former administration headed by the Social Democratic League claimed that “reformed communists” had for ideological reasons offered a draft act which did not correspond to true needs of the present Macedonian society. In order to fulfil the pre-election promise on the one hand, and meet the suggestions of the European Union on the other, the current team in power had to make the right step in the right direction no matter how risky it might be. “This is the first step towards assertion of the ‘sacred right’ to private property”, declared pathetically the chairman of the assembly Savo Klimovski and noted that it was the duty of the state institutions to carry it out in practice.

Lawyers estimate that the passed law has theoretically speaking offered a maximum framework for just indemnification of the former owners. However, it is noted that such a positive evaluation refers only to Macedonian citizens, while foreigners will have to “give up” on indemnification or, perhaps, wait for better times to come. Although the passed regulation is titled “Law on Denationalisation” it also regulates the questions of expropriated and confiscated property. When confiscation is concerned, things are additionally complicated by the fact that the legal measure it refers to was the result of criminal legislature dating back to 1951. Many of the citizens whose property was confiscated pursuant provisions of this law were tried for political reasons. If the reason for which they were taken to court (ideology) in the meantime ceased to be punishable, it would mean that the state would first have to initiate political rehabilitations, in other words to officially declare that innocent people were tried. And political rehabilitations are still not mentioned by anyone, least of all sanctioned by law.

The law prescribes meeting of the demands of two categories of damaged citizens and institutions: the Jews whose property was taken away when they were deported during the Second World War, and religious communities, primarily the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Religious Community. In case of the Jews certain problems might arise, lawyers warn, because the new law gives the right to indemnification of damage only to inheritors who are Macedonian citizens. It is assumed that some of the inheritors of Jewish families killed in the Holocaust live in Israel and might claim their property. However, the law did not make an exception when they are concerned. The property of the Jews who have no inheritors will be claimed by the Holocaust Fund of the Jews from Macedonia.

There was a time when the demand of Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic to have the property of his family on the territory of Macedonia returned to him was exploited by the media. In some political circles this demand of the successor of the former Yugoslav monarch was ridiculed although some lawyers warned that because of this and similar cases this country could get into trouble since the decision on confiscation of the property of the royal family belonged in the category of revolutionary measures of the communist regime.

In a recent interview prime minister Ljubco Georgijevski commented that his administration does not intend to compensate the damage to those who got hold of their property on the territory of Macedonia by colonisation and this refers to the successors of Karadjordjevic dynasty. However, cases of some of the former communist countries shows that the new authorities cannot take lightly their former compatriots of royal blood. Reception of some of them in the European Union was directly conditioned by return of property to the former Royalty and nobility.

Ethnic Albanian political parties reminded of the problems with some of the members of their ethnic group who are deprived of the right to inheritance of denationalised property by the new law. They are former citizens of Macedonia, i.e. of SFRY, who renounced their citizenship in the fifties and the sixties for “ideological reasons” having found themselves outside the borders of Macedonia. It is unknown how many such cases might there be, nor how large their property is.

If the new law were implemented literally some of the leading Macedonian enterprises could change owners; they could but they will not because inheritors of former owners live either in one of the other former Yugoslav republics or in one of the European countries or overseas. The law has bashfully prescribed that former owners, Macedonian citizens, of course, might become owners of a certain number of shares of enterprises confiscated from their families, but that is far from corresponding to the value they were deprived of. Macedonia has on several occasions been criticised by international organisations because it has first carried out privatisation and only now, after considerable delay, it is initiating denationalisation. In this way the state has made things very complicated for itself because it has enabled individuals or groups of people get hold of other people’s property which was nationalised after the Second World War.

What the current administration is especially keen on is return of property to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Islamic Religious Community is in the same package with it. In the mentioned interview prime minister Georgijevski proudly stressed that their property would be returned. Certain estimates say that by nationalisation the Church was deprived of 90 per cent of the property it had until 1945. Media have not been able to find out anything about the quality and the proportions of this property, but Church dignitaries claim that the Church owned forests, pastures, buildings, shops, residential houses. But experts assume that the Macedonian Orthodox Church, if the state returns the property, might have legal problems with the Serb Orthodox Church from which the property was formally confiscated. The Macedonian Orthodox Church still has not resolved the conflict with the Serb Orthodox Church because of the autonomy of the former, and the problem of property could additionally complicate matters. It is also possible that the Serb Orthodox Church will make an international issue of the case of property by taking it to an international court.

The case of the Islamic Religious Community is legally clear. The community used to possess large property in Skopje and other cities of Macedonia. An opposition magazine stated the assumption that other kind of differences might arise within the Islamic Religious Community. Disagreements which already exist among political parties of ethnic Albanians might intensify. Newspapers in Macedonian have lately claimed that the Democratic Party of the Albanians as a coalition partner in the government is trying to cause the change of leadership of the Islamic Religious Community proclaiming the current reis ul-ulema Sulejman efendi Rexhepi a man loyal to the opposition rivalry Party for Democratic Prosperity. Newspapers in Macedonian stress that property is in the background of the conflict. Some media claim that by returning property to religious communities Macedonia would set the clock back for a hundred years. In other words, religious communities could become the owners of large property and this could cause strengthening of clericalism. It is not easy to judge whether this fear is justified.

And finally, the main thing: money. The law is very good as a proclamation but how can it be implemented in practice, many people wonder. In polls carried out by media the citizens do not conceal doubts that the government will financially be capable to carry out what it has promised to do. Calculations about the value of the property which should be returned vary: from 700 million to more than a billion dollars. Should it be said, the state does not have this kind of money. Nor does it have hope that it will have it in the foreseeable future. It is assumed that financial know-it-all – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – will have to be the ones to suggest a solution.

Original article