Bulgaria: Restitution of the Church Property Continue to be a Problem

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Date: Mon, 6 Aug 2001 08:54:32 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: Bulgaria: Restitution of the Church Property Continue to be a Problem

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Original sender: Emil Cohen <toleranc@geobiz.com>

Bulgaria: Restitution of the Church Property Continue to be a

T O L E R A N C E  F O U N D A T I O N*
an associated member of the "Human Rights without Frontiers

Sofia, August 02, 2001
BULGARIA: Twelve Years after the Fall of the Communism the Process of
Restitution of the Church Property is too far from Finished
A Conference of Religious Leaders Insists on Adopting a Special Bill
Restitution of the Confiscated Church Property
On July 27, 2001 Tolerance Foundation in co-operation with the
Bulgarian Association for Defense and Encouragement of Religious
Liberties organized a conference devoted on the process of restitution
of the confiscated by the communist regime church property. About 40
leaders of different religious organizations took part in the event.
Leaders from almost all religious groups that existed before the
communist coup d’etat participated in the conference. Representatives
of the largest religious group in Bulgaria – the Orthodox Church, the
Islamic faith and the Catholic Church, as well as of many other
minority denominations (Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and others)
were present at the conference. Three members of the National Assembly
and among them two vice chairmen of the Parliamentary Commission on
Human Rights and Religions participated in the event.
The main speaker at the seminar was Mr Atanas Krastev, a juridical
expert, co-author of the draft act known as 'Dogan – Mestan' (a draft
Denominations Act entitled 'Religious Liberty and Religious
Organizations Act', that is strongly supported by almost all religious
minorities in Bulgaria).
It was noted at the seminar that there are several general acts for
restitution of the ownership, forced confiscated by the former
communist regime. There is also special Act on the Restitution of
Property of the Catholic Church. Owing to these bills a part of the
property of the religious organizations has been restituted.
Nevertheless all participants in the seminar found that the process of
restitution of the church property is too far from finished. For
instance, despite the existence of a special bill on the restitution
of the property of the Catholic Church in Bulgaria, the
representatives of this religious organization said that tens of
buildings, shops and many different possessions continue to be owned
by the state.

The situation with almost all other religious denominations is the
same. Even the Orthodox Church has some possessions that are not
restituted by the state. It should be stressed that, as a rule, almost
all temples have been restituted, but the state continues to hold a
lot of buildings such as hospitals, schools (some of most popular
schools in the country are in fact ownership of different churches,
but the state continues to rule over them), shops and even a stadium.
For example, that is the case with the main stadium in Plovdiv, that
is the second by population town in our country. On the other hand,
the representatives of the Muslim denomination complain that during
the first years of the communist regime the state took away a lot of
mosques, transformed them into museums and now do not want to
restitute these temples to the Muslims in order to be used for
worship. Beside this, as it is well known, the state can’t give enough
money for maintaining of the museums and thus some of them (including
a lot of the confiscated mosques) now are semi-ruined.
Furthermore it is obvious, that the topic for the state of the process
of restitution of the Church property is an essential part of the
religious human rights of the citizens. All participants in the
seminar stressed that the current state of the process of the
restitution of the property of the religious organizations
considerably restricts the right of the religious organizations to own
property. Thus they cannot develop activities in the sphere of charity
and become dependent on state financial support. In this way, as the
state continues to rule over the essential part of the former church
property, twelve years after the fall of communism the human rights of
the citizens and their religious organizations are very seriously
The participants in the event agreed that here are a lot of reasons
for this unsatisfactory situation.
The main among them is the situation, that the procedure for
restitution especially of the church property is extremely complex. It
was stressed that in many cases it is impossible for the denominations
to prove that their claims are well grounded before the court. They
cannot do it because as a rule the files for the ownership were
destroyed when the former regime confiscated the church property. But
there have still been witnesses who are able to give proof in support
of the claims of denominations. The problem is that the present
legislation does not accept this kind of proof as reliable in this
type of cases. In other cases the church property was filed as owned
by single persons, not by the appropriate juridical persons. Thus some
religious organizations hoped to save their possessions from the
encroachments of the communist authorities. However, at present
according to the existing procedure they are unable to prove that
their property is their own, but not of the successors of these
private individuals.
In the second place, an important obstacle before the restitution
process is the circumstance that in lot of cases it is impossible for
the present religious organizations to prove that they are genuine
successors of the juridical persons that existed before the communist
takeover. This problem is due to the present procedure of registration
under the acting Denominations Act. A lot of religious organizations
were registered in 1990 under the provisions of Art. 16 of the
Denominations Act (as it is well known, it was adopted in the
beginning of the communist rule in 1949 and continues to be in
effect). When they came out from the state of near illegality it was
not written in their files for registration that they were inheritors
of the religious organizations that existed before the communist coup.
The third reason for the existing state with the restitution is the
lack of political will for adopting both a new Denominations Act and a
special Law on the Restitution of the Property of the Religious
Organizations. The proof for this assertion is the fact that twelve
years after the fall of communism the old communist Denominations Act
continues to be in force and besides there is no special Law on the
Restitution of the Church Property. On the other hand, the religious
organizations have fought for their rights one by one. The initiative
of Tolerance Foundation was the first step for unification of the
efforts of the religious communities in that direction.
The participants in the seminar unite around the opinion that a new
special Law on the Restitution of the Property of the Religious
Organizations is necessary to be adopted by the Parliament. It is
clear that under the regulations of the existing laws for restitution
that problem is impossible to be solved. All participants in the event
agreed that Mr. Atanas Krastev and other presenting lawyers have to
make a team for drafting of the appropriate draft act. Tolerance
Foundation will give them all possible assistance in order to promote
the process of creating of that new law.
Beside this the Tolerance Foundation will continue its efforts and
have an intention until the end of the current year to make a special
report devoted on the state of the restitution process of the property
of the religious organizations. The seminar was the first step in that
direction. The second will be the preparation of the report and
simultaneously with it the work on the preparation of a special act
will have to begin.
On behalf of Tolerance Foundation:
Emil Cohen, President
* The TOLERANCE FOUNDATION is a human rights group monitoring the
freedom of conscience and the religious freedom practices in Bulgaria,
providing legal assistance to victims of discrimination based on
religion, as well as propagating the idea of tolerance towards
religious and other convictions.
The group was founded in 1994. Mr. Emil Cohen is President of the
Tolerance Foundation. Since April 2001 the organization has been an
associate member of Human Rights without Frontiers International.
Address: 1000 Sofia, 163A Rakovski Str
Phone/fax: (+359 2) 981 23 57
Phone: (+359 2) 988 31 36
E-mail: toleranc@geobiz.com

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