Our associations represent the interests of over 200,000 Slovenians (ten percent of the total population of Slovenia) and 481 citizens of the United States whose property was seized by Slovenia's communist regime after the end of World War II.
The communist regime carried out expropriations on a massive scale in the years 1945 through 1948. To achieve total economic and political control the government confiscated businesses, manufacturing plants, financial institution, apartment houses, shops, buildings, agricultural land, and forests, altogether 48,000 properties of the class enemies representing 69 percent of all capital invested in industry.
At the end of 1991, when Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia, the Slovenian Parliament enacted the Restitution [Denationalization] Law. This important legislation held forth the promise of reinstatement of fundamental values of a democratic and civilized society: personal freedom, respect for human rights, and market economy based on private ownership without which there can be no real democracy. It was intended to make amends for the political, moral, and material wrongdoing of the communist regime, restore the seized property to its owners or their heirs and to affirm the right to personal property as provided by the Slovenian Constitution and Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The promise was short lived. The communists and their political heirs soon regrouped and turned out the democratic government.[ 3] They continue to hold the majority of the responsible political and economic positions in Slovenia and are blocking in any way possible the implementation of the law. They also continue holding our property or try to transfer it to their supporters.
The Council of Europe called upon all former communist countries, such as Slovenia, to restitute unjustly confiscated properties to its original owners and repudiate the legacy of communist totalitarianism if they truly desire to become democratic countries. Ironically, on December 10, 1997 -- the Human Rights Day -- Slovenia's Parliament made it clear where it stands by voting down a proposed resolution that would repudiate the country's totalitarian past. The regime wants to continue with the policy of controlling all economic resources. With all the economic resources in the hands of one party there can be no democracy. Consider how many of you could be elected if all the resources were in the hands of the other party.
Our demands for restitution of our seized assets are confronted with a systematic obstruction of the law by the authorities, revealing the intent of the Slovenian government to continue the unjust practices of the past. In most cases we have exhausted all locally available legal remedies because the authorities simply do not move on our claims. In numerous instances the authorities refuse to return the confiscated property and continue to trade with it. As an example, consider the case of Adolf Prah, founder of a textile factory. In 1941 the Nazis deported him and family and seized his factory. When he returned in 1945, he was allowed to rebuild his factory. As soon as it was running well, the communists nationalized it. The 1946 law on nationalization provided for compensation and also allowed the owner to retain all net liquid assets. Since 1947, the owner, and later his heirs have been claiming repayment of the liquid assets. No payment has been made to this day. The case is winding through all the possible administrative and judicial obstacles an obstructionist system can devise. The government did agree to issue a substantially devalued shares of company stock but even this has not yet been delivered to the heirs. 
The law required that restitution be the first phase of the ongoing and by now officially completed privatization process. The record of its implementation is dismal. According to the report of the Slovenian Ministry of Justice, 53 percent of claims were granted by May of 1997. Hardly a sincere effort in implementing a six year old law. The total value of restituted property was even smaller: only 22% of the total claimed amount. Six years after the enactment of the Restitution Law, the Government still held over three quarters of claimed property amounting to $2.7 billion. Favorable decisions have been rendered mainly in cases of supporters of the regime. Filed claims or supporting documents often are conveniently lost, records of citizenship status or of confiscations cannot be located by the authorities, moratoria on processing certain classes of claims are enacted which must then be appealed to the Constitutional Court where they may be eventually reversed, processing is delayed because personnel is on an extended leave, persons with the poorest qualifications are assigned to processing the restitution cases, every decision ordering restitution or compensation is automatically appealed, often several times and on the most tenuous or frivolous grounds, either by the Slovenian Indemnity Fund or the local authorities holding the property, cases are thus sent to the appellate authority where action on them is postponed indefinitely.
For seven years the Slovenian government tried all it could to vitiate the Restitution Law. A moratorium applicable to certain classes of claimants was enacted which was eventually voided by the Constitutional Court. In the fall of 1998 the Slovenian Parliament enacted revisions of the Restitution [Denationalization] Act of 1991 proposed by representatives of the communist continuity. Although the real intent of the revisions was to abrogate the Restitution Law, the Slovenian government and its diplomatic representatives represented the revisions to the United States and the Council of Europe as an improvement designed to speed up the completion of the restitution process. The revisions would, among other things, effectively bar American citizens from asserting their claims  and create other obstacles to restitution. In response to our appeal, the Constitutional Court voided the provision barring American citizens from claiming restitution.
As a result of the revisions, the administrative units have been inundated by counterclaims of entities that hold and use nationalized properties. The processing of the unresolved claims has ground to a halt -- precisely the effect desired by the regime. An example is the case of the house of the Avsenek family located between the German Embassy and the new American Embassy in Ljubljana. The court decided that the house, valued at $600,000, was unjustly confiscated and should be returned to the Avseneks but the City of Ljubljana, which had been using the house for a kindergarten, claims that the heirs should compensate it for the alterations it made. Eventually the Avseneks may well wind up owing money to the city instead of recovering their house. .
Property rights are one of the mainstays of all other human rights. People whose property can be taken away at the will of the government can never be politically independent and cannot support political parties of their choice. The ability of a government to seize private property under any pretext provides an incentive for its officials to violate human rights of persons whose property they covet by charging them with offenses against the regime such as the exercise of the freedom of speech, religion, association, press, travel and the like.
Restitution is important because of its meaning to the individual who wants to get back his home, for which he worked all his life, or his ancestral land. Consider the example of the Zupan family in Mojstrana: the communists, considering them unreliable for living close to the border, confiscated their farm and, deported them inland to an isolated place where they did not want to live and where they died in despair. Their granddaughter has been trying to recover the family property for seven years, without success. A bureaucrat in Mojstrana said: "We wonder what would that old woman do with all this property."
The intention of the United States to speak out on behalf of international human rights standards was formalized in the early 1970s. [ 9] Congress has required that United States foreign and trade policy take into account human rights observance of foreign countries and that country reports be submitted to Congress by the Department of State on an annual basis. However, the reports do not address violations of property rights because the Department of State does not consider property rights to be of equal importance as are other human rights.[10 ]
It would be highly desirable that the Congress reaffirm its intent that it wants to be informed about the observance of the human right to own and enjoy property in the annual reports of the Department of State.
Property Restitution a Key Bilateral Concern of United States and Slovenia. Representatives of the United States Government at the highest level have on numerous occasions urged Slovenian government officials to resolve fairly and timely the outstanding restitution claims. It is not realistic, however, to expect that Slovenia will settle an obligation of several billion dollars solely on the recommendation of the United States without tying it to something Slovenia wants, such as foreign aid, membership in NATO, loans, and the like.
It is the policy of the Department of State not to represent formally claims of United States citizens who were naturalized after the title of the property in question was first disturbed. We believe that this is a denial of the equal protection of laws. Our case involves a right conferred by the Slovenian law enacted in 1991 on all claimants who were citizens of Yugoslavia in 1945, regardless of their current citizenship status, some of whom are now United States citizens. These United States citizens are experiencing a de facto denial of their claims because they have exhausted all locally available means of redress. We believe that the American diplomatic representatives in Slovenia should protest vigorously against the discriminatory treatment of the American citizens who have filed claims for the return of their property under the 1991 Restitution Law and that the Department of State should pursue a settlement of United States citizen claims with Slovenia.
The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961,  provides for sanctions to be imposed on a government that violates property rights of American citizens. The law should be used to suspend assistance to Slovenia because it has, after it enacted the Restitution Law of 1991, again de facto expropriated and taken control of property of American citizens and continues to violate, deliberately and systematically, Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The suspension should remain in force until such time as Slovenia fully and fairly settles all the outstanding restitution claims. A strong mandate from the Congress would be needed if words calling for respect of human rights are to be matched by deeds.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to discuss these important
issues. I would be happy to answer your questions.
-- Mary J. Cerer- ebulj, heiress of Ferdinand Novak, Willoughby Hills, Ohio. -- The property of Ferdinand Novak was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941 and assigned to a German national, it was seized again as German property in 1945. The court refused to order restitution on grounds that the communists did not confiscate the property belonging to Ferdinand Novak.
-- Ivo Bricel, Bellevue, Washington. -- Industrial contracting firm Ingrad, assets consisting of construction and earth moving equipment appraised by the authorities at $180,000, substantially under its actual value. The compensation would be in government bonds which can be sold at 70% face value. The claim has been appealed by the Slovenian Indemnity Fund, which contends that the claim value should be $90,000.
-- Bogomil Kranjec, Green Bay, Wisconsin.-- Appartment house in Kobarid confiscated in 1950 when the formerly Italian territory was annexed to Yugoslavia because the family left the territory when it became known that it would be annexed to Yugoslavia. Restitution was refused on grounds that the Kranjec family were not citizens of Yugoslavia in 1945, which of course could not have been as they lived in Italy.
-- John Cerne, Houston, Texas. -- Claims for Hotel Tourist and Restaurant in Ljubljana, prime building property in Ljubljana within a mile of the United States Embassy worth $8.830 million. The authorities want to value it as remote agricultural land at a very nominal value set in 1991 and refuse to make a restitution in kind.
-- Nada Bevc, Danville, California, heiress of Anton Jarošin. -- Drugstore in Celje. The authorities refuse to pay compensation claiming that no decree of confiscation can be found although the store is clearly identified on the list of confiscated businesses in the City's archives and the law provides for compensation in such cases.
[ 6] The drive was led by Igor Bav ar, Slovenia's minister for European Union Affairs, and Darja Lavti ar Bebler, Member of Parliament, and was supported by members of the post-communist continuity in the Parliament: Jo e Leni , Anton Anderli , Branko Janc, Maksimiljan Lavrinc, Janez Kopa , Zmago Jelin i , Polonca Dobrajc, Rafael Ku nik, Milan Potr , Franc Horvat, Zoran Thaler, Peter Petrovi , Jadranka Šturm and Branko Jarc.
-- March 20, 1997. Daniel Fried, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, Central and Eastern European Affairs, National Security Council (now United States Ambassador to Poland), told Janez Podobnik, President of the Slovenian Parliament, who was visiting in Washington, that the question of denationalization [restitution] of confiscated property might be "a new small problem" in connection with Slovenia's aspirations to be included in NATO. Ljubljana paper "Delo" April 8, 1997.
-- May 23, 1997, in Washington, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggested to Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek that the United States position was that Slovenia should resolve and conclude the privatization process, remove limitations on foreigners to own real estate in Slovenia and effectively and fairly accomplish the restitution of property to expropriated persons. She said that a given number of United States citizens still have outstanding claims and that she expects that this question will be resolved in accordance with the law. Report of the Slovenian Embassy in Washington.
-- July 10, 1997. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on a visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia, repeated her recommendations quoted above to the Slovenia's Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Drnovšek .
-- February 23, 1998. Paul Pfeuffer, Country Officer for Slovenia, Department of State, wrote to Slovenian Association of Former Owners of Expropriated Property (ZLRP) in Ljubljana, Slovenia:
"It is firm U.S. policy to promote restitution of and/or compensation for property expropriated by former communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe by encouraging these countries to settle property claims in a just, fair, timely, and non-discriminatory way." "This Administration has taken every opportunity to impress on the Slovene government the importance of addressing expropriated property claims swiftly and equitably. During Secretary Albright's visit to Slovenia last July , she emphasized to the prime minister and foreign minister the importance the United States attaches to developments in this area. She made similar points to the prime minister in Washington in May . In January of this year , a high-level U.S. government delegation visited Slovenia to discuss bilateral cooperation; at that time, the issue of property restitution was also addressed."
-- May 22, 1998, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer, Ranking member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Congressman John Edward Porter, member of the CSCE, wrote a letter to Slovenia's Premier Drnovšek urging that his government effect restitution of property in a fair, equitable and timely manner. The letter was delivered to the Premier by Congressman Porter.
-- June 16, 1998. At the confirmation hearing for the United States Ambassador to Slovenia Nancy Halliday Ely-Raphel, Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon asked the only question of the nominee, viz., her views on the property restitution problems in Slovenia. The Ambassador designee replied she was unaware of any "originally American" claims. At the conclusion of the hearing, Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., stated that the he and members of the Committee on Foreign Relations would be watching with interest how Slovenia goes about the resolution of pending restitution claims. Ambassador Ely-Raphel was previously a high ranking official of the Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
-- October 13, 1998. The House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 562 calling on all countries to return property confiscated by the communists to the rightful owners or pay just compensation for it. The resolution was transmitted to the President.
-- November 17, 1998, James Swigert, Director, North Central European Affairs, Department of State, wrote to Mr. Borut Prah of American Owners of Property in Slovenia, that:
[T]he State Department -- through our Embassy in Ljubljana and high-level contacts with Slovenian officials here in Washington -- repeatedly emphasizes that resolution of U.S. citizen property restitution is a key bilateral concern. We have made it clear that we expect timely, equitable, transparent, and non-discriminatory review of all American citizens' claims. And: "both Secretary of State Albright and Under Secretary of State Eizenstat, in separate meetings, raised United States concerns regarding property restitution directly with Prime Minister Drnovsek during his recent visit to Washington [ in November 1998]. It is our expectation, which we have communicated to the Slovene government on the highest level, that progress will now be made. We will follow up on these discussions through our Embassy in Ljubljana."