BUCHAREST/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) — Twenty U.S. congressmen have urged Secretary of State John Kerry to pressure Romania’s government to end “persecution” and “fully restitute” properties that were “illegally confiscated” from churches and other religious groups under Communism after 1945.
In a letter obtained by BosNewsLife Saturday, June 15, the American legislators also express concern about three members of the Romanian Property Restitution Committee who were sentenced to long prison terms after returning the Székely Mikó Reformed High School in the town of Sepsiszentgyörgy, or Sfantu Gheorghe in Romanian, to the Hungarian Reformed Church.
“On June 28, 2012, the Buzău Court of Appeal reversed the original decision to return the [school], retroactively fined the church and sentenced three members” of the Committee “to three years imprisonment solely for performing their duty while trying to serve justice,” the congressmen wrote.
The Romanian Sureme Court was to decide on June 27 the final fate of the three defendants, identified as ethnic Hungarians Attila Markó and Tamás Marosán and Silviu Clim, an ethnic Romanian.
Romania’s government, the congressmen added, “began persecuting the very individuals, who, in their official capacities, are trying to serve justice and restore properties to their rightful owners.”
‘TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE’
The letter, signed by U.S. representatives including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chair of the committee for foreign affairs, and Christopher Smith, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Committee, calls the developments “a travesty of justice” and demands that illegally confiscated religious institutions should be immediately returned in a fair and equitable manner.
“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.”
The congressmen – 13 Republicans and 7 Democrats – asked Kerry to protest against the latest Romanian law on the restitution of church property, which raises from 5 to 10 years the period which churches must wait before coming into ownership of restituted property.
“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,” the legislators added. “Invoking a special procedure, the government rushed the bill through the legislature without debate.”
It comes amid growing tensions between Bucharest and Budapest about the treatment of roughly 1.7 million ethnic Hungarians in Romania, many of whom belong to the Reformed and Catholic churches.
Most of Romania’s ethnic Hungarians live in eastern Transylvania, a rural area with vast potato crops and mineral water springs, that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, when Hungary lost a huge swatch of its territory to Romania, Slovakia and other states.
The minority faced persecution under Romania’s former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, including attempts to use bulldozers to destroy ethnic Hungarian villages with several spectacular churches. Over the past two decades, following the overthrow of Ceausescu, the region’s ethnic Hungarians have been campaigning for more rights.
Romania has expressed concern however about neighboring Hungary’s support for the autonomy of the Transylvanian region of Székely Land, where many ethnic Hungarians live. Romanians say it is an attempt to ensure the secession of that area and reunification with Hungary.
Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi recently called the secession accusations “complete nonsense” and added that forms of autonomy “do not weaken a country but make it stronger.”
There have been demonstrations for more autonomy in Hungary and other countries around March 10, the anniversary of the 1854 execution of three Szeklers who tried to achieve national self-determination.
Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but has come under pressure to improve minority rights and tackle corruption.