AHF Calling for Church and Property Restitution in Rumania
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. AHF thanks its members for their efforts in calling their Congressional representatives to raise awareness of these issues.
“The American Hungarian Federation and supporters of democracy and human, minority and religious rights congratulate and thank Representatives Harris and Kaptur as well as the other co-signers for their initiative and leadership in promoting these Western norms and standards,” said the Federation’s president, Frank Koszorus, Jr. “We trust the State Department will address this long-languishing violation of human rights and the injustices related to the Miko case,” he added.
The Federation, whose members expressed their strong support for the congressional letter, has followed and expressed its deep concern about human rights violations by Romania relative to its Hungarian minority.
The letter appears below:
Congress of the United States
The Honorable John Kerry
June 13, 2013
We write today to request 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. A.s you are aware, the establishment of communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe following World War II proved disastrous for religious liberty and religious institutions. Specifically, the communist government of Romania confiscated 2,140 schools, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable and civic institutions from the Roman Catholic, Hungarian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, and Unitarian churches, as well as 1,980 Jewish communal properties, as well as all properties, including church buildings themselves, from the Greek Catholic Church that it summarily banned.
In 2005, the United States Congress adopted H.Res 191, expressing its strong view that the Romanian government "provide fair, prompt, and equitable restitution to all religious communities," by overcoming legislative shortcomings and creating an effective implementation process. Nearly eight years have passed since that resolution, and the fall of communism was over two decades ago. Unfortunately, the Romanian response has been a pattern of disregard, delay, obfuscation and hindrance. More recently, it began persecuting the very individuals, who, in their official capacities, are trying to serve justice and restore properties to their rightful owners. On April 17, the Romanian Parliament adopted yet another law, drafted by the government without consulting effected churches and over their express objection, that yet again merely delays and complicates restitution. Invoking a special procedure, the government rushed the bill through the legislature without debate.
Since the early 1990's, the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe has monitored the process of returning property to these religious institutions. The World Jewish Congress has also recently called on Romania to expedite the restitution process. Unfortunately, Romania has lagged behind most other countries in the region in this regard. As the most recent State Department Human Rights Country Report for Romania points out, the process of property restitution remained extremely slow over the course of 2012. In fact, of the 7,568 religious property claims submitted after the seriously flawed Romanian Law 501 of 2002 cited in Congress' resolution, only 2,400 - less than one-third - have even been decided. From 2008-2012, the Special Restitution Committee responsible for processing these claims met only twice.
Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith has cited the thousands of claims received by the European Court of Human Rights in Romanian property matters. Numerous times, the Romanian Supreme Court has reversed decisions that favored claimants after already ruling in their favor - effectively renationalizing those properties. On June 28, 2012, the Buzau Court of Appeal reversed the original decision to return the Szekely Miko Reformed High School in Sepsiszentgyorgy / Sfantu Gheorghe to the Hungarian Reformed Church, retroactively fined the church and sentenced three members of the Romanian Property Restitution Committee to three years imprisonment solely for performing their duty while trying to serve justice.
On June 27, the Romanian Supreme Court will decide the fate of the two ethnic Hungarians -- Attila Marko and Tamas Marosan -- and a third defendant, Silviu Clim, an ethnic Romanian. In another blow to religious liberty, on April 23 the Romanian Parliament adopted a discriminatory law which deliberately omitted return of archival materials to religious denominations confiscated from them in 1974. In your discussions with the Romanian government, we respectfully urge you to request that equitable, prompt and fair restitution be provided to all religious institutions whose properties were taken by the former Communist Romanian Government. We also urge you to protest the latest church property restitution law, which doubles the time period (from 5 to 10 years) that religious denominations are prevented from reoccupying their buildings after--and if at all--being restituted on paper. Archival materials should also be returned to the churches without further delay.
We further request that the United States advise the Romanian government that the U.S. intends to carefully follow developments in the case regarding ownership of the Szekely Miko Reformed High School and the legal proceedings against Attila Marko, Tamas Marosan and Silviu Clim. Finally, we would hope that, on behalf of the United States, you would continue to urge the full and timely restitution of religious properties and respect for minority religious rights. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to hearing of your progress on this issue.
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]