Czech Government to return Churches seized during Communist regime.

(AP) PRAGUE – Churches were seized, priests jailed or even executed and those allowed to lead religious services did so under the watchful eye of the secret police. More than 22 years after the fall of Communism, the Czech government agreed Wednesday to pay billions of dollars in compensation for property seized by the former totalitarian regime.

The deal at one point, however, threatened to topple the coalition government after a junior partner this week voiced anger at the thought of huge sums being paid to churches given the current economic gloom.

But in a country where indifference to religion is strong — a legacy of the Soviet plan to create one of the most atheist states in their orbit — the compensation plan — to be spread over 30 years — proved a win-win situation: The state no longer wanted to pay the priests’ salaries, and religious organizations — mostly Catholic and Protestant — expressed relief after previous failed attempts.

The Communist regime, which seized power in 1948 in what was then Czechoslovakia, confiscated all the property owned by churches and persecuted many priests. Churches were then allowed to function only under the state’s strict control and supervision and priests’ salaries paid by the state.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution brought democracy to the region, some churches and monasteries were returned, but the churches have since sought to get back other assets such as farms, woodlands and buildings.

Wednesday’s ruling still needs the approval of Parliament, but the governing three-party coalition has a comfortable majority.

Under the plan, the country’s 17 churches, including Catholic and Protestant, would get 56 percent of their former property now held by the state — estimated at 75 billion koruna ($3.7 billion) — and 59 billion koruna ($2.9 billion) in financial compensation paid to them over the next 30 years. The state will also gradually stop covering their expenses over the next 17.

Culture Minister Alena Hanakova, whose ministry drafted the bill, called the decision “historic” and the Catholic Czech Bishops’ Conference welcomed the move, saying it hoped Parliament will follow suit. The Catholic Church will receive the biggest share of the restitution money.

In 2008, a similar bill was approved by the government but Parliament rejected it.

The government’s decision Wednesday came after its junior coalition party withdrew its objection to the plan.

Prime Minister Petr Necas had threatened to dismiss the Public Affairs party’s ministers if they blocked the proposal, which would have ended the three-party coalition that came to power after the 2010 election.

“It’s crucial that we’ve managed to agree on it,” Necas said.

Public Affairs chairman Radek John said his party only agreed after it received guarantees the government would not apply cuts and other austerity measures to raise funds for the compensation.

“Common citizens won’t be affected,” John said.

The party’s opposition reflected the overall atmosphere in the country, considered one of the most atheist in Europe.

According to a December 2011 public poll, 69 percent of Czechs were against the religious restitution and only 40 percent considered churches to be useful.

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14 Responses to Czech Government to return Churches seized during Communist regime.

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy. says:

    “Common citizens won’t be affected”, says Radek John.

    Oh yeah? – so who pays all those billions then?

    Like

  2. teresa says:

    Mr. Whippy: “who pays the bills”, well I assume the State, not the citizens. The Church premises were nationalized under the former Socialist State of Czechoslovakia and now one of its lawful successors the Czech Republic decides to return them to their original owner.

    Btw. please do log in with the same email address, Mr. Whippy, as everytime you change your email address while commenting, the first comment you make by using a different email address will be held in the moderation line. I just approved your comment above, but had you used the same email address you used the day before, it wouldn’t have needed the approval and would have appeared immediately like usual.

    Like

  3. golden chersonnese says:

    teresa, I must admit that I share Mr Squiffy’s concern that the common Czech folk will be gouged for the 50 bil.

    Surely a more straightforward measure would be simply to return all Church properties and other assets to their original owners.

    What say you, Mr Squiffy?

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  4. teresa says:

    Golden, my thought is like this:

    1) the Czech Republic is a democracy, so the decision to compensate the loss of the Church during the era before 1989 was made in a democratic way and thus reflects the will of the citizens. If the majority of the citizens have objection, they are free to express it in the press or in their vote for the next election.

    2) It would not be so easy to return all the nationalized properties. Farms could have been divided and now in the hand of different owners, etc. If you want to return all the original properties to the Church, you must take the properties away from their current owners and the State still has to compensate. Either the State gives the Church compensation in form of payment, or the State must pay compensation to the current owners of former Church properties. The easier way is the former.

    3) The Czech Church is a part of the civil society not a foreign body, so the Czech citizens won’t feel being robbed should the Church get compensated.

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  5. golden chersonnese says:

    Well, teresa, surely that is common practice in Western nations, but of course not only Western nations.

    If a government forcibly acquires other people’s assets, those people are paid compensation equal enough to the market value of those assets. Or will Mr Sniffy shortly be donating his cottage, leather armchair, house coat, night cap, slippers and antique briar wood smoking pipe to the common purse?

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  6. teresa says:

    Golden, exactly, and that is the point: Czech Republic was a socialist State before 1989 and all private assets were nationalized. After 1948 every farmer for example had to hand in his cows, horses etc. to the so called collective enterprise and nobody got any compensation. Shops owners were disowned, factories went to the State. So it became a problem after 1989 how all these former owners will get compensated, the Church inclusive.

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  7. JabbaPapa says:

    Wow, this is great news !!

    The details are unimportant, but the return of these properties to the Church most certainly is !!

    otherwise :

    The party’s opposition reflected the overall atmosphere in the country, considered one of the most atheist in Europe.

    aaah, no wonder my brother loved the place so much !!

    Like

  8. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Teresa, I am travelling at the moment and cannot stay with one IP. Sorry.

    And you say that the State pays the bills, not the people. I’ve read your post a couple of times and I’m certain you actually wrote this!. An unexpected boo-boo from you.

    I’m sorry that Jabba finds that paying out billions of other people’s money in times of economic stress to be an unimportant detail. Such a patrician outlook is unappealing, I’m afraid. It will also cause great resentment against the Church. But he didn’t anticipate this.

    Godlen, you are not the first to see me as a crusty old gent tucked away in a ferny cottage somewhere. Could there be a grain of truth here? Sadly, no. I am a very handsome, wholesome, youthful, goodnatured, modern, liberal, all round good guy. Though I say so myself.

    T.E. Smithers (Col. ret.)
    The Brackens
    Somerset.

    Like

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    I’m sorry that Jabba finds that paying out billions of other people’s money in times of economic stress to be an unimportant detail.

    This is not “money”, it’s property ; and property that is costing money to maintain ; and stolen property for that matter.

    I don’t wish to sound as if concerns regarding any actual financial costs upon the general population that might result from this return of stolen property to its rightful owners are of no consequence at all ; but this is still a detail of the fact that the Government is seeking to simultaneously return these properties, and to patch up a great big hole in its annual budget.

    Like

  10. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    That the property is returned is right and just.

    Like

  11. teresa says:

    I don’t really know too much of the situation in Czech Republic, and don’t have the time to do the recherché which is needed to make a more informed comment. But according to my impression, I think the Czech government is pushing forward with this decision the Separation of State and Church. As I know, under the Communists in Czechoslovakia, the priests were paid and are until now still paid by the State. It was meant to exert a more rigid control over the Church but now after 1989 this purpose fell away. But as the Church was deprived of her earlier properties, she must rely on the government for the maintenance of the church buildings and the salary for the clergy. If the State grants the Church restitutions for her nationalized properties, the Church will be able to rely on herself, and the citizens don’t have to pay the clergy with their tax.

    I think it is rather a further consequent move of a liberal democratic government, and in this situation, as reported above, is a win-win-solution for both State and Church.

    I remember reading a report that the St. Vitus Cathedral is owned by the Czech State, not by the Church. Anyway, I find it interesting to observe how they come to an agreement and a solution.

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  12. golden chersonnese says:

    It’s not very explicit in what form the 2.9 bil in compensation will be given. I shouldn’t think it will be in cash, teresa.

    For instance, if I’m not horribly wrong, when the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan acquired huge amounts of private land as part of its land reform efforts many years ago, it issued the aggrieved owners government bonds or some such thing. In other words it didn’t give any money out of the state coffers at all, but only paid annual dividends on these bonds to the original owners.

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  13. golden chersonnese says:

    teresa, this is interesting.

    The Czech Norbertine Abbey of Strahov (founded 1149 ) was returned to the Norbertine canons as early as 1989 soon after the Velvet Revolution! No waiting around for 20 years needed there to get it back and today it has eighty male religious living there.

    It looks well worth a visit, wotcha think? Superb.

    http://www.strahovskyklaster.cz/webmagazine/home.asp?idk=257

    Like

  14. teresa says:

    golden, indeed very interesting. Czech culture is very similar to the culture in Austria and South Germany. The towns look very much alike. Well these are the core regions of the Holy Roman Empire of course.

    as for the cloister, it depends certainly on the concrete situation of each church, cloister etc. and how easy it is to give it back to the former owner. For example it might be easy to give a church building which had just been closed for decades to the religious congregation it originally belonged than to give back the fields which the congregation owned which were perhaps already divided and now in the hand of different farmers. As I said, I don’t have time to study the situation in Czech Republic thoroughly, but as long as all this is done in a proper way which is in accordance of their law and EU-regulations it is O.K. and the details might be quite interesting but they are not actually so substantially important.

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