Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Czech offer of compensation to churches

The Czech government has agreed to pay £2.83 billion to the country’s churches in compensation for properties nationalized by the Communist government in 1948.

On Jan 25 Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced his government had reached an agreement with 17 churches to pay out the funds over the next 60 years, with 4.9 per cent interest.

An additional £1 billion in land and property would be returned to the churches.

The churches will agree to drop their claims against the state, and in return the state will phase out subsidies paid to the churches for clergy salaries and other support.

"This will compensate for some property misdeeds, [giving back] property that was basically stolen by the Communists under the previous regime," Topolanek said.

Ministers of the center-right coalition governing the Czech Republic agreed to the deal, however, with only 100 of 200 seats, the government’s plans may not survive a political fight with leftists who have protested the deal, saying it is too generous.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Prague told the Prague Post that while the settlement favored the state, it supported the deal. Between 1948 and 1952 the Roman Catholic Church lost 1500 buildings, including 100 hospitals, 160,000 hectares of forest and 47,000 hectares of agricultural land to the Communist government.

Following the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the Czechoslovakian Federal Parliament began moves towards returning Church property and passed two bills in 1992 to return some confiscated assets. Over the past 19 years, individual properties have been returned to the Church after protracted negotiations with the state; notably St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague was returned to the Roman Catholic Church in 2006.

Church negotiators have agreed to give 83 percent of the funds to the Roman Catholic Church and distribute the remainder among the country’s smaller Protestant and Orthodox churches. "It is a generous gesture from the Catholic Church because its share in the church property seized by the Communists was higher," the Culture Ministry said.

The agreement does not end the dispute over properties seized during the Communist era, however, as the agreement applies only to the national government, not to the municipalities, regions or private individuals who hold the bulk of the former church lands and properties.

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