A CEREMONY in Košice to read out the names of 4,590 Jewish deportees emphasised that "everyone has a name".
At its May 15 meeting, the cabinet appointed Pál Csáky, Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights, and Ivan Mikloš, Deputy PM for Economy, to submit a plan by July 10 specifying how the reimbursement should be carried out and what funds should be used.
During the second world war, about 70,000 Slovak Jews were deported to Nazi extermination camps, and their property seized under orders from the nominally independent Slovak government.
Most of what was stolen was never returned to either the few Holocaust survivors or their families, mainly because shortly after the war ended, the new communist regime nationalised Nazi-confiscated property as well as the private property of Czechoslovakia's non-Jewish citizens.
The decision finally to make some amends has been welcomed by Slovak Jewish groups.
"We're very happy that things have moved ahead and we hope that it will be completed under this cabinet," said František Alexander, executive chairman of the Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities (ÚZŽNO), for The Slovak Spectator on May 22.
Alexander's group is the recognised representative of the country's estimated 5,000 strong Jewish community.
While the funds are expected to be distributed via an agreement between the cabinet and ÚZŽNO, the current cabinet finishes its term in September 2002.
According to a document presented by Csáky at the May 15 cabinet meeting, the current value of the Jewish property confiscated between 1942 and 1944 is Sk25.14 billion. However, "understanding the current resources of the Slovak Republic and at the same time the need to deal with this burden of the past", Csáky said, the cabinet will pay ÚZŽNO 10 per cent of that sum, or around Sk250 million ($5.3 million).
Alexander refused to comment on whether the community was happy with the proposed payout: "The union is responsible for looking after the Jewish heritage, cemeteries, historical buildings and so on, but because the community is not big we lack the necessary means. Although this is just a preliminary plan, we hope it will work out."
Csáky's proposes to establish a Foundation and Compensation Fund for Jewish Holocaust Victims, through which the money would be distributed to victims and used to finance projects aimed at keeping the Jewish tradition alive in Slovakia, such as the press, education, social and health care sectors, and repairing Jewish cultural and religious memorials.
"I expect that by July 15 we will be able to present a proposal of the agreement [with the ÚZŽNO]," Csáky said.
Csáky added that "based on preliminary estimates, around 1,000 or 1,500" people might request individual compensation. He remarked that "complete compensation for all property confiscated is not possible, as that would amount to billions of crowns.
"Rather, this is about compensating those individual victims that we still are able to compensate, and about the creation of a fund for the ÚZŽNO for their internal needs. I consider that to be a honourable proposal, and it seems there is a chance that we will find an agreement," he said.
One possible source of money is privatisation revenues, according to a document Csáky submitted to the cabinet. However, in the wake of urging by international financial groups such as the World Bank to use privatisation assets to pay down state debt, that proposal may face opposition from right-wing politicians in cabinet.