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Churches in Czech Republic close to compensation deal

A long-awaited restitution deal will see land seized under communist rule returned or paid for

  • The Economist
  • Czech Republic
  • July 20, 2012
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More than two decades after the end of Communism, Czechs are close to compensating churches for properties seized during the four decades of Communist rule. A long-awaited restitution bill cleared the parliament's lower house after a lengthy debate in the wee hours of July 14th, but it still faces an uphill battle.

Under the terms of the deal between religious groups and parties of the centre-right ruling coalition, churches would receive property, mostly land, worth 75 billion Czech koruna (€2.9 billion), or about half the property nationalized by the Communists. The churches would be required to prove that they owned the property on February 25, 1948, the day of the Communist putsch.

In addition, churches would receive financial compensation for the property that could not be returned, including the land or forests owned by third parties, worth 59 billion koruna (€ 2.3 billion), which will be paid over 30 years.

The country's strongest faith, the Catholic Church, would receive 80 percent, the largest chunk. The state would also phase out by 2030 the financing of religious groups, including paying the clergy's salaries.

The restitution plan is the third such bill to reach parliament since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. It comes long after the newly democratic state returned private property and, in most instances, years after other ex-Communist countries settled the matter.

According to Jakub Kriz, a law lecturer at the Prague-based CEVRO academy who took part in drafting a failed church restitution bill under Mirek Topolanek's cabinet, previous attempts at settling the matter were either half-hearted or lacked parliamentary support. "This is the first government that is serious about it and has a majority," said Kriz.

Perhaps incidentally, the restitution deal comes after a recent thaw in church-and-state relations, marked by Dominik Duka's arrival to the office of Archbishop of Prague in 2010. Mr Duka is now also a cardinal. He maintains friendly relations with Vaclav Klaus, the president, and the duo ended a lengthy church-and-state legal dispute over the ownership of the country's most revered church, the Prague St. Vitus Cathedral, which lies in the heart of the Prague Castle, the president's seat.

Full story: Czechs close to compensating churches

Source: The Economist
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