AHF Calling for Church and Property Restitution in Rumania
The full text of the AHF Memorandum is below:
This memorandum is to further follow up on our meeting on April 25, 2013 during which we expressed our deep concern about threats to democracy* and human rights arising from discriminatory actions and policies directed at or affecting members of the Hungarian minority in some of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Specifically, this memorandum touches on several recent developments relating to Romania and asks the Helsinki Commission to urgently address them.
Congressional Letter to Secretary Kerry Concerning Romania’s Failure to Restitute Church and Communal Properties. The Communist government of Romania confiscated schools, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable and civic institutions from the Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Hungarian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, and Unitarian churches, as well as Hungarian and Romanian Jewish communal properties. After the fall of Communism, there was a justifiable and wide-spread expectation that Romania would restitute the illegally confiscated properties to their rightful owners. Nothing of the sort happened, prompting the United States Congress in 2005 to adopt H.Res 191. That resolution called upon Romania “to provide fair, prompt, and equitable restitution to all religious communities.” Not only has Romania ignored this reasonable expression of fundamental human and religious rights, it has backtracked as the renationalization and prosecution in the Székely Mikó Evangelical Reformed College (MEC) case demonstrates.
On June 13 Representatives Andy Harris (R-MD), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Chris Smith (R)(Co-Chairman, U.S. Helsinki Commission), David Royce (R-OH) and 17 other Representatives submitted a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that the “State Department vigorously engage the Romanian government to end the travesty of justice which it has perpetuated by failing to fully restitute properties illegally confiscated from religious denominations after 1945.”
The letter also asks Secretary Kerry to focus the State Department’s attention on the upcoming legal proceeding against Attila Markó, Tamás Marosán and Silviu Clim—criminally punished because as members of the official Romanian Property Restitution Committee they restored the Székely Mikó Reformed High School in Sepsiszentgyörgy/Sfantu Gheorghe to the Hungarian Reformed Church.
We would like to reiterate and urge the Helsinki Commission to publicly and privately raise this case** before June 27 as well as the need for the equitable, prompt and fair restitution of religious and communal properties, including archival material.
Redistricting Administrative Units Would Further Reduce the Ability of Hungarians to Effectively Participate in Public Affairs. Hungarians constitute a majority of the population in a number of counties in Romania, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state where an estimated twenty percent of the population is ethnically non-Romanian.
Under the guise of regionalization, the Ponta regime is preparing to deprive the Hungarian regions of self-administration by incorporating the Hungarian majority regions into newly created subdivisions with Romanian majorities. This would deprive the Hungarians of local administration and cultural autonomy. Significantly, a recent poll across all of Romania showed that Romanians are opposed to the new regionalization.
During the Communist dictatorship, Ceausescu did the same thing, when by a stroke of a pen, he abolished the Hungarian Autonomous Region. His stated objective was “homogenization”. The current administration is emulating the past by depriving minorities of regional and cultural autonomy. While in the European Union there are several autonomous regions, Romania refuses to even consider according any kind of autonomy to the Hungarian minority despite continuous requests. Regionalization is nothing but cover for forced assimilation, an official anti-minority and anti-Hungarian phenomenon that should also be raised by the Helsinki Commission.
* As Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, aptly noted, "one of the basic tenets of liberal democracy is that minority rights are protected.”
** The college was built by contributions and owned and operated since 1859 by the Reformed Church until its seizure. Thereafter it was used by the Romanian state for its own purpose. In addition, the Communist regime 'sold' the flats that are part of the college and formerly used by the teaching faculty. In May 2002, the property was duly restituted to the Reformed Church. Romania thereafter sued for the nullification of the restitution (thereby seeking to re-nationalize it), monetary damages from the Reformed Church and the imposition of severe criminal penalties for the officials who had ruled in favor of the restitution. The evidence appeared to be unassailable that MEC belonged to the Reformed Church in 1948 when it was illegally nationalized. Moreover, the officials of Sfantu-Gheorghe, e.g., members of the city council and mayor, testified in the pending proceeding in support of the legality of the restitution of MEC to the Reformed Church.
Nevertheless at the conclusion of the first stage of the proceeding on June 29, 2012, the three individual defendants received three year prison sentences (Vlim’s sentence being suspended), the Reformed Church was ordered to pay 1M lei, and the property was re-nationalized. The Hungarian community justifiably views this case not only as a property restitution case but also as a proceeding directed against the community and a manifestation of intolerance and discrimination. At a minimum it violates the rule of law and Western values and norms.
Church Property Restitution Summary
While the majority of ethnic Romanians belong to the Orthodox Church, a significant minority belong to the Greek Catholic Church, which was forcibly dissolved by the Communist government in 1948. Members of 1.5-million strong Hungarian minority are mostly affiliated with the Roman Catholic, Hungarian Reformed, Lutheran, and Unitarian denominations. Confiscations of Jewish property by the wartime Fascist governments were also upheld by the Communist government. Hundreds of thousands of claims have been made, but the Romanian government continues to drag its feet at resolving property disputes involving the Hungarian minority. In fact, Romania is reversing lawful church property restitution, through criminal prosecution.
In its statement from July, 2012, AHF expressed its deep concern regarding the prosecution of former state secretary Attila Marko, Silviu Vlim and Tamas Marosan in connection with the restitution to the Reformed Diocese of Transylvania of the Szekely Miko Evangelical Reformed College (“MEC”), a baseless and blatant attempt by Romanian authorities to further stall and reverse the lawful restitution of church properties seized by the communists.
Restitution of property confiscated by the Communist regime in Romania is a process meant to compensate for crimes committed against national communities and their property rights, against individuals and against a value system in which the right of property is sacred. The restitution of confiscated land, forests, church-buildings and of other real-estate owned by the community is a primary goal for every religious and ethnic community in Romania. The establishment of a legal framework for this restitution has proved to be a very challenging process. The restitution process in Romania is far from complete, it is characterized by contradictions and efforts at advancing this process are fraught with obstacles on a daily basis.
The restitution of confiscated community property, including those owned by the historical Hungarian churches is indispensable for this community, in its struggle to keep its national identity. Restitution is also indispensable for this community to have its independent establishments and for its present and future viability as a community.
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Why So Many Hungarians Across the Border?
One thousand years of nation building successfully delineated groups based on culture, religion, geography, and other attributes to create the countries with which we are so familiar. While some Western European nations would continue power struggles and princely battles and civil wars, Hungary, founded in 896, was a peaceful multi-ethnic state for a 1000 years and her borders were virtually unchanged. Until 1920...
The Treaty of Trianon in 1920... in the aftermath of WWI, was extremely harsh on Hungary and unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting "treaty" lost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her Hungarian-speaking population. Add to this the loss of up to 90% of vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure. The clear winner of the land grab, was Rumania, who, established only 60 years earlier, more than doubled in size overnight.
Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)
Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.
[read more on the Treaty of Trianon]