Church, state sign historic compensation deal for property confiscated after 1948

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, photo: CTK

They’ve been talking about it for almost two decades but finally an agreement seems to have been reached. On Wednesday, the government and representatives of the country’s 17 legally-recognised religious communities signed a treaty on compensation for property seized by the communist regime. The bill must now be approved by parliament, where it faces a lively debate.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, photo: CTK
At long last the Czech government and the country’s religious groups have reached agreement on compensation for hundreds of buildings and thousands of acres of land confiscated by the communists after 1948. Under the deal, a third of church property will be returned to its original owners and compensation will be paid for the rest. Some 83 percent of the money will go to the Catholic Church, the largest religious denomination in the land.

The ink is barely dry on the agreement yet have already there are rumblings of discontent from both religious groups and politicians. However Archbishop Jan Graubner, head of the Czech bishops’ conference, stressed the deal was now sealed.

“It’s a compromise, and we’ve agreed on it. We’ve signed a form of agreement so I don’t foresee any problems from any of the church groups involved.”

Mirek Topolánek, photo: CTK
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told reporters the objective had been to right the wrongs committed by the communist regime, which heavily persecuted organised religion. Opposition Social Democrats and Communists, and even members of Mr Topolánek's own Civic Democrats, have criticised the financial package agreed on Wednesday.

The level of compensation was set at some 83 billion Czech crowns, which is around 4.7 billion dollars. However the sum will be paid out over the next 60 years, at a rate of interest set at 4.8 percent. The overall figure, therefore, will be more like 270 billion crowns, or some 15 billion dollars. Negotiators claimed this is a good deal for all concerned, but some have questioned the terms, and the treaty is likely to receive a rocky ride in parliament, where it must be approved before becoming law.

Under the deal, the state will gradually stop paying the salaries of priests across the country, as churches gradually become financially self-sufficient. However some analysts maintain the treaty is invalid. Legal experts at Charles University point out that churches are technically still bound by the terms of an Austro-Hungarian law of 1781, which says that churches do not own property at all – it is merely lent to them by the state. That law, say the experts, still stands.