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Religious Property Ownership Threatened in Transylvania

   Image by  Rimager    For the last 25 years, the Historic Hungarian-speaking Churches of Transylvania have expected the government of Romania to return their illegally confiscated properties. In a process that has been fraught with complication and delays, victories in favor of progress have been slowly underway. Until now. Religious repression and the practice of nationalizing what was once considered private property was the policy under Communist rule, broadly and especially in Romania from 1947-1989. During those decades of Communist rule in Romania, church real estate was wrested from all denominations, including the four traditional Hungarian-speaking churches in the country: Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, and Unitarian. From these denominations, 2,140 properties were taken and nationalized by force. In 1989, as Communist rule came to an end, democratization and the restoration of forcibly confiscated property began at a glacial pace. As of December 2012, half of those confiscated properties had been restored to their rightful owners; of that half, only a third have been granted usage rights. In other words, over 1,700 properties across the denominations that comprise the Historic Hungarian-speaking Churches of Transylvania have still not been fully restored, despite government ordinances, two laws, international outcry, and countless ignored deadlines by the Romanian government. Those few and far between success stories in all of this could at least be held up as signs of progress and signals to all that there is still hope to exercise their constitutional right to "sanctity of private and community property." However, in November 2014, a profoundly concerning legal precedent was set when one of these restored properties was suddenly re-nationalized. On November 26th, a Romanian appellate court ruled to renationalize the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, a property that was confiscated under Communist rule and restituted to its legal owner, the Reformed Church, over a decade ago. The illegal verdict sent shockwaves throughout the religious community, conveying a troubling message that threatens the future of all of the already restituted properties - not to mention those that still hang in limbo. In a region that is less than 20% Hungarian, this move boldly signifies discrimination against minorities in Romania. The Hungarian Unitarian Church shared the following statement in response to the ruling:
Kolozsvár, 27 November 2014 STATEMENT on the recent developments regarding the Székely Mikó Reformed High School   The Executive Committee of the Consistory of the Hungarian Unitarian Church noted with profound indignation the court decision on the restitution of the Székely Mikó Reformed High School in Sfântu Gheorghe (Hungarian: Sepsiszentgyörgy), Romania.   The legally binding verdict of the Court in Ploiesti de facto re-nationalized the Székely Mikó Reformed High School, which was confiscated (nationalized) by the Communist dictatorship in 1948, and restituted to its legal owner, the Reformed Church, in 2002.   This verdict is illegal, and it sends a humiliating and outrageous message not only towards the members of the Reformed Church, but also to the entire Hungarian minority in Romania, irrespective of religious denomination.   Since the 1989 fall of Communist dictatorship in Romania, the Hungarian-speaking minority churches in Romania have relentlessly struggled to obtain the restitution of their confiscated church properties (or compensation in justified cases).   For these 25 years, the restitution process has been controversial and painfully slow; until this moment however, our churches could have hoped for our constitutional right – i.e., “sanctity of private and community property” – for legal remedy, but this alarming court decision is a direct threat against our already restituted properties, which might be similarly re-nationalized at any moment.   Besides expressing hereby our solidarity with the Reformed Church in Romania, we are devoted to continue protesting in front of lay political forums and commence international lobbying, as well as to join forces with our Transylvanian Hungarian sister churches until justice prevails, and our confiscated properties are returned.   The Executive Committee of the Consistory of the Hungarian Unitarian Church
At the request of the Hungarian Unitarian Church, we are sharing this news.  And, as further opportunities to support the public witness and protest arise, we'll share them here. During the winter holidays, let us keep our Unitarian brothers and sisters in Transylvania in our hearts during a challenging time in their country's history, where democracy is fragile and the future of all Hungarian-speaking churches and other religious minorities of Romania hangs in uncertainty.