News from Rumania: The Szekely Miko Matter (Székely Mikó ügy)
The August 20th letter appears in full below and is available for [download] A similar letter was submitted to the United States Congress' Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and co-Chairman, Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). Both letters appear below.
This letter is a follow up to its July statement, "Romania: Reversing Lawful Church Property Restitution, Through Criminal Prosecution" where AHF expressed its deep concern that 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”) is a baseless and blatant attempt by the authorities to further stall and reverse the lawful restitution of church properties seized by the communists. [see the previous statement]
His Excellency Adrian Cosmin Vierita
Dear Mr. Ambassador:
The American Hungarian Federation (the “Federation”) is deeply concerned that 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”) in Sfantu-Gheorghe, Romania was not justified. It only serves to further stall, and in this instance reverse, the lawful restitution of church properties and discriminate against Romania’s Hungarian minority. The Federation hopes that this matter will be fairly and thoroughly reviewed, the sentences and punishments reversed and the property restored to MEC, thereby ensuring that Romania complies with applicable restitution laws, due process requirements and Western standards and norms.
We are concerned that twenty-two years after the collapse of Communism, restitution of Hungarian communal properties, including churches, has been proceeding at a slow pace so that a significant number of the affected properties have yet to be returned to their rightful owners. We understand from our Jewish friends that their community faces similar difficulties. The slow restitution process prompted Tom Lantos, the late Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to sponsor H. Res. 191 (2005), which was adopted by the Congress and urged Romania to “provide equitable, prompt, fair restitution to all religious communities for property confiscated by the former Communist government.”
Despite this unequivocal expression of congressional opinion and Romania’s pledges to its Hungarian minority to respect minority rights and abide by the rule of law when it was accepted into the European Union and NATO, Romania’s restitution process has not improved. Romania should re-dedicate itself to these promises and solemn undertakings.
What a better time to start than with the MEC case. The college was built by contributions and owned and operated since 1859 by the Reformed Church until it was illegally nationalized in 1948. In May 2002, the property was duly restituted to the Reformed Church. Thereafter and inexplicably the authorities sued for the nullification of the restitution (thereby seeking to re-nationalize the church property).
Despite the unassailable evidence that MEC belonged to the Reformed Church, on June 29, 2012, the three individual defendants received three year prison sentences (Vlim’s sentence was 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. Bigotry and intolerance is an affront to all democratic-minded individuals and violate Western values and norms.
In conclusion, we urge fair and expeditious restitution in this and other cases as well as justice for the defendants. We would be most grateful for your attention to this matter.
* The Federation, founded in 1906 as an umbrella organization representing a broad cross-section of the Hungarian American community, supports democracy, human and minority rights and the rule of law in Central and Eastern Europe. It also strongly supports continued United States engagement aimed at advancing comprehensive security by promoting Western values in the region
Background: Prompt and Fair Restitution Denied
Despite this unequivocal expression of congressional opinion, Romania’s pledges to its Hungarian minority to respect minority rights, and its promises to abide by the rule of law when it was accepted into the European Union and NATO, Romania’s restitution process has not improved. On the contrary it is in danger of being reversed if not halted altogether. For example, in thirty-seven percent of the requests for restitution, a decision is still outstanding. Of the agricultural and forestry cases, twenty-three percent, and of the religious property restitution requests sixty-two percent have been adjudicated.
An even more egregious development occurred in the spring of 2012 when the Romanian government proposed that it would not return properties, but rather pay compensation of a mere fifteen percent of the values over ten to twelve years. U.S. Ambassador Mark H. Gitenstein rightfully criticized this proposal as not being the “right solution.” He further observed that Romania should comply with the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled in favor of just and expeditious property restitution.
The MEC Case:
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.
6/19/2013 - AHF submits memorandum to US Helsinki Commission in follow up to both the Congressional letter to Secretary 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" and AHF's April 25th meeting with the Commission during which AHF expressed its deep concern about threats to democracy and human rights arising from discriminatory actions and policies affecting members of the Hungarian minority in some of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. [read more]
- AHF Applauds US Congress and urges the community to thanks the
co-sponsors of House Resolution 191...The United States House of
Representatives recently passed H. Res. 191 on May 23, urging the "Government
of Romania to recognize its responsibilities to provide equitable, prompt
and fair restitution to all religious communities for property confiscated
by the former Communist government."
22.08.2012 - Indokolatlannak tartja a sepsiszentgyörgyi Székely Mikó Kollégium restitúciója ügyében érintett személyek elleni bűnvádi eljárást az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség (AMSZ), amely Washingtonban az ottani román nagykövethez címzett levelében adott hangot aggodalmának a történtek miatt.
Tízezres nagyságrendben várnak tüntetőket Sepsiszentgyörgyre a Székely Mikó Kollégium visszaállamosítása elleni tüntetésre szeptember elsején – jelentette ki egy kolozsvári sajtóbeszélgetésen Antal Árpád, Sepsiszentgyörgy polgármestere. [tovább]
17.07.2012 - Aggódik az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség a Székely Mikó Kollégium ügye miatt. Mély aggodalmának adott hangot a sepsiszentgyörgyi Székely Mikó Kollégium restitúciója ügyében folytatott romániai eljárás miatt az MTI-hez kedden eljuttatott állásfoglalásában az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség (AMSZ). [tovább]
18.07.2012 - Mikó ügy: tisztességes és gyors restitúciót akar az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség [tovább]
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]