News from Rumania: AHF Calls for Church and Property Restitution (HR191)
6/1/2005 - 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. . . ." -- a measure which goes beyond mere symbolism and expresses the unequivocal opinion of the United States House of Representatives.
As noted by the American Hungarian Federation in its prior report, "We applaud Congressmen Lantos' and Tancredo's initiatives and perseverance regarding an unacceptable situation confronting religious minorities in Romania 15 years after the fall of Communism and one year after that country joined NATO, and hope that H. Res. 191 will at long last help move Romania to live up to its obligations and stated commitment to Western values. . . . The many individuals and the several organizations which monitored the lack of progress on restitution and spoke up in favor of both congressional resolutions [H. Res. 632 and 191] will be closely monitoring the situation on the ground, as can be hoped the Congress will also. . . . The Federation expresses its appreciation to all those individuals who participated in this successful effort."
We suggest that letters of appreciation be sent to the sponsors of H. Res. 191 who are listed below and to your Representative.
Again, we thank you for your invaluable help and congratulations on a success our entire community can be proud of.
The Honorable (full name)
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. (Last name):
If your Representative is a Chair of a Committee use,
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman:
I am writing to thank you for your leadership regarding H. Res. 191. We hope that the House's action will spur the Romanian Government, which has expressed its commitment to reforms, to provide prompt and fair restitution to the various religious communities of properties that were confiscated by the former Communist regime. We further hope that Romania will live up to its commitments by deeds as well as by words and respect the rights of minorities, thereby also promoting a stable and democratic Central and Eastern Europe, which is a vital interest of the United States.
Thank you again for supporting this important measure.
Your name and address.
5/24/2005 - SUCCESS! AHF ACTION ALERT UPDATE on our grassroots action on House Resolution 191 urging the "prompt and fair restitution of church properties by Rumania." AHF wishes to thank ALL those who participated in this successful campaign!
The United States House of Representatives passed a resolution 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. . . .”
H. Res, 191, expressing the position of the House, was introduced by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) and cosponsored by Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO), reported Frank Koszorus, Jr. The measure, which addresses the thousands of properties confiscated from the Roman Catholic, Hungarian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, Unitarian, Jewish and Greek Catholic communities, had 20 cosponsors.
Congressional expressions of disappointment with Romania’s exceedingly slow progress in restoring such properties goes back several years. In 2002, Congressman Lantos, Congressman Tancredo and former Congressman Robert T. Matsui (D-CA) issued statements in connection with the Transatlantic Security and NATO Enhancement Resolution of 2002 in which they called on Romania and Slovakia to pursue the prompt restitution of properties to Hungarian and other minority religious groups. Last year, Congressman Tancredo introduced H. Res. 632, which was similar to the resolution passed yesterday.
“We applaud Congressmen Lantos’ and Tancredo’s initiatives and perseverance regarding an unacceptable situation confronting religious minorities in Romania 15 years after the fall of Communism and one year after that country joined NATO, and hope that H. Res. 191 will at long last help move Romania to live up to its obligations and stated commitment to Western values,” noted the American Hungarian Federation, which supported the measure. “The many individuals and the several organizations which monitored the lack of progress on restitution and spoke up in favor of both congressional resolutions will be closely monitoring the situation on the ground, as can be hoped the Congress will also,” the Federation added.
The Federation expresses its appreciation to all those individuals who participated in this successful effort.
4/8/2005 - HOT NEWS ALERT: House Resolution 191 moves forward urging the "prompt and fair restitution of church properties by Rumania." AHF strongly supports this measure and will continue its efforts aimed at swift adoption.
“We applaud Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO) for their leadership on an issue that goes to the very heart of democracy, rule of law and minority rights in Rumania – the return of religious properties illegally confiscated by the former Communist government,” noted Frank Koszorus, Jr. “This has been a long process, beginning with statements in 2002 by Representatives Lantos, Tancredo and Robert Matsui urging the prompt and fair restitution of properties by Romania and Slovakia and continuing in 2004 when Representative Tancredo introduced a similar resolution that was cosponsored by 15 Members,” he added.
Like last year’s resolution 632, (seen below), H.RES 191 calls on Rumania to return properties to religious communities, including the historic Hungarian churches. You and AHF can play an important role. In order for H. Res. 191 to be adopted quickly, it needs cosponsors. ACT NOW!
HOW TO HELP:
1) Use "Find Your Representative" on the right to get your Congressman's email address!
2) Compose and send your own e-mail message (referring to House Resolution 191) or paste the suggested message, shown below in "what to write."
3) In order to increase your effectiveness, contact 5 friends and neighbors and ask them to do the same.
4) Also contact the members of the Committee on International Relations, by clicking here > Committee on International Relations.
5) Follow up, frequently if necessary, with telephone calls to your Representative and/or the Legislative Director. Here's an example of what to say:
"Hello, this is _____, a constituent of Congressman/woman ______. May I speak with his/her Legislative Director please?"
....once connected or in voice mail >>
"Hello, this is _____, a constituent of Congressman/woman ______. I am calling to urge him/her to support and co-sponsor House Resolution 191 calling on Rumania to return confiscated church properties seized under the communist dictatorship to their rightful owners. This is an important issue for me; I hope he/she can co-sponsor the resolution."
The Honorable (full name)
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. (Last name). (If your Representative is a Chair of
I am writing to urge you to support and cosponsor H. Res. 191. That Resolution calls on the Government of Romania to provide prompt and fair restitution to the various religious communities of properties that were confiscated by the former Communist regime. While respect for religious and property rights is indispensable for a democracy, Romania’s progress in restoring properties to their rightful owners has been extremely slow. As a new member of NATO, Romania ought to be expected to live up to its commitments and thereby advance vital U.S. interests in a stable and democratic Central and Eastern Europe.
I would appreciate it if you would cosponsor this important measure.
Your name and address.
6) Please advise us as to the progress you are making, especially when your Representative agrees to cosponsor this important measure.
5/10/2004 - HR 632 - Congressman Tancredo calls on Rumania to Return Church Confiscated Church Properties...Congressman Thomas G. Tancredo (R-CO) introduced a resolution that calls on Rumania to return church properties that had been confiscated by the Communists. The measure is cosponsored by Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Tim Ryan (D-OH). You and AHF can play an important role in assuring that the resolution is adopted. Please join others, e.g., churches, organizations, etc., who are working to see that it does.
At this time, you can participate by:
(1) contacting your Representative (by telephone, fax, email and hand written notes) to urge him or her to cosponsor this important measure, then following up, then following up, then following up . . . . (NOTE: If you don't know your Representative's address or telephone number, you can find it on the right by entering your zip code!)
(2) contacting the members of the Committee on International Relations, by clicking here > Committee on International Relations.
YOUR participation can be critical This is a wonderful opportunity for our community to actually achieve a concrete result on an essential issue. Please BEGIN TODAY! And so that we can monitor the matter, please let everybody know what progress you have made.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact AHF 1st Vice President, Frank Koszorus, Jr.
The Resolution reads as follows:
H. RES. 632 - IH, 108th CONGRESS, 2nd Session
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
May 6, 2004
Mr. TANCREDO (for himself, Mr. SMITH of New Jersey, Mr. RYAN of Ohio, and Ms. KAPTUR) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on International Relations
Urging the Government of Romania to provide equitable, prompt, and fair restitution to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Jewish community, and other affected religious communities for property confiscated by the former Communist government in Romania.
Whereas the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Jewish community, and other affected religious communities have suffered the confiscation of their property in Romania;
Whereas on December 1, 1948, the Communist government in Romania enacted legislation which dissolved the Romanian Greek Catholic Church and transferred most of its property to the Romanian Orthodox Church;
Whereas many Romanian Greek Catholic churches, Roman Catholic churches, Evangelical Lutheran churches, Unitarian churches, Hungarian Reformed churches, and Jewish institutions were closed by the Communist government and many of their secular properties seized;
Whereas a central element of persecution by the Communist government in Romania was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities;
Whereas on January 2, 1990, the 1948 decree which dissolved the Romanian Greek Catholic Church was abrogated, Greek Catholics began to worship openly again and three secretly ordained bishops emerged from hiding;
Whereas the Romanian Government adopted Law-Decree NR. 126/1990 to lay down legal provisions and procedure for the return of confiscated property that originally belonged to the Greek Catholic Church, stipulating that `[t]he property seized by the State pursuant to Decree No. 358/1948 and currently in the possession of the State shall, with the exception of agricultural lands, be returned in their present state to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church United with Rome. For the sole purpose of establishing identification procedures, a commission shall be set up consisting of representatives of the State and the Romanian Greek Catholic Church United with Rome appointed by the Government to draw up the inventories and procedures necessary for restitution';
Whereas to date, religious communities have reportedly received less than five percent of their former properties;
Whereas on June 1, 2002, Pope John Paul II urged Romania to return all assets of the Romanian Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches that were confiscated by the Communist government in Romania, stating `[i]t's my sincere hope that, for example, implementation is given--in terms of ecclesiastic structures--to the agreements reached among those responsible of the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the Holy See';
Whereas while speaking at a conference on June 3, 2002, regarding the role of churches in Romania's drive to join NATO and the European Union, Romanian President Ion Iliescu refused to actively pursue the restitution of Catholic Church property seized by the former Communist government because `[t]he state cannot interfere in restituting churches to the Catholic Church', and added that handing back Catholic property `is a bit more complicated because the state cannot interfere in the church hierarchy';
Whereas the affected religious communities deserve the return of or compensation for property seized by the Communists;
Whereas since 1990, post-Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have grappled with the question of how to redress these wrongful confiscations of property with Romania lagging significantly behind the others; and
Whereas with respect to the role of the Romanian courts in the restitution process, the Chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe observed: `In the mid-1990s . . . hundreds of court decisions in favor of property claimants were reversed by the supreme court after they had become final and irrevocable judgments. The European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled that these actions violated the European Convention on Human Rights.' Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
(1) notes with concern the apparent unwillingness of the Government of Romania to provide equitable, prompt, and fair restitution to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Jewish community, and other affected religious communities for property confiscated by the former Communist government in Romania; and
(2) calls on the Government of Romania--
(A) to provide fair, prompt, and equitable restitution to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Jewish community, and other affected religious communities under Romanian law and in accordance with the Constitution of Romania and all applicable international agreements to which Romania is a party;
(B) to respect the constitutional rights of existence and practice of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Jewish community, and other affected religious communities, and to fully enforce all court decisions regarding the restitution of or access to seized properties;
(C) to stop the demolition and dismemberment of Greek Catholic churches and to immediately ensure the security of all Greek Catholic churches and other buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries;
(D) to provide restitution for the property rights of all agricultural and forestry lands belonging to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, the Jewish community, and other affected religious communities;
(E) to repeal Law-Decree NR. 126/1990, as the transfer of juridical duties of a state to a mixed ecclesiastic committee has proven ineffectual and seriously hampers the ability of the Romanian Greek Catholic Church to seek redress, and to allow the claims submitted under Law-Decree NR. 126/1990 to be heard by an independent, unbiased, nonreligious commission; and
(F) to ensure that the special commission instituted under Law 501/2002 considers the thousands of applications for restitution in an open, transparent, and prompt manner, and expeditiously issues decisions on the return of properties to religious communities."
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 Romania’s wartime Fascist government 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]