U.S. Congress Calls On Romania to Accelerate Property Restitution

Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed a resolution “urging the Government of Romania … to provide equitable, prompt, and fair restitution” to all religious communities for property confiscated by the former Communist government in Romania.

The Resolution, H. Res. 191, sends a strong signal to the Romanian government expressing U.S. concern with the lack of progress on property restitution. Successive Romanian Communist governments after World War II, as part of their anti-religious and anti-minority campaigns, illegally confiscated “thousands of schools, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable and civic institutions from the four historic Hungarian churches” and from the Jewish and Greek Catholic communities, the Resolution states. All but a handful of these properties remain in Government hands today.

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 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.

The bipartisan resolution, introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) with Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), was passed by a unanimous vote. The Hungarian American Coalition and its member organizations, especially the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, together with Hungarian-Americans nationwide were instrumental in helping the Congressional offices to draft and popularize the resolution, which had 21 sponsors in the House of Representatives.

According to the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, whose Property Restitution Working Group has been monitoring the issue for several years; only 30 of the 2,140 institutions confiscated from the Hungarian churches have been restored to the communities since the fall of Communism more than 15 years ago. While Romanian Law No. 501/2002 provides for church property restitution, this law “contains numerous legal deficiencies and is delayed in its implementation,” the Resolution states. Even after the courts had approved the return of specified properties to their rightful owners, the Romanian Supreme Court proceeded to reverse these decisions, in effect upholding the injustices perpetrated by the Communist governments, depriving Romania’s religious communities of their human rights, and blocking the development of civil society and social services so desperately needed in Romania’s communities.

“This Resolution sends the right message,” stated Hungarian American Coalition President Maximilian Teleki. “If you want to join the Euro-Atlantic community of nations in spirit as well as in fact, then you must demonstrate that you are capable of carrying out and enforcing the laws which protect and uphold human rights and religious freedoms for all.”

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