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Lack of Religious Property Restitution Weakens Democracy in Romania

(Washington, DC--July 2, 2004) -- Since the fall of communism, Romania's government has failed to restore confiscated religious properties to their rightful owners or to equitably compensate the affected communities for demolished church properties, said Frank Koszorus, Jr., an attorney who also serves as Vice President of the American Hungarian Federation.

Koszorus asserted that the fair and prompt restitution of religious property seized by Romania's communist governments is an essential component of democracy, and impacts a host of other generally accepted rights in democratic societies such as religious liberty, freedom of association, the sanctity of private property, rule of law, minority rights, and principles of non-discrimination.

Even though the Romanian constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and protection of private property, Koszorus said that the government of Romania continues to grapple at all levels with the enforcement of property rights and religious restitution decrees. He said that Romania's practices related to property restitution have "caused concern among people who care about fundamental freedoms and democracy and a strong NATO built on common values," especially as Romania is now a full member of the alliance.

Since the end of communist rule, Romanian governments, local authorities and courts have, according to Koszorus, adopted "contradictory and confusing" decisions and laws on religious property restitution. Even when religious property has been legally returned to its rightful owners on paper, Koszorus said, "Actual occupancy by the owners has been stymied and obstructed by courts, local councils or the national government itself." For example, Romania's Jewish community has been able to take possession of only 3 of the 1,809 properties claimed by it under a law passed in 2002 (501/2002), while Roman Catholic, Hungarian Reformed and Lutheran congregations have been allowed to fully occupy and gain legal ownership of less than one percent of the 2,048 properties they have claimed under existing laws. Similarly, Romania has only restituted a fraction of confiscated properties to the Unitarian Church.

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