By means of “restitutions to churches”, we mean the reassignment of goods the State seized some churches and religious societies to their former owners, to other legal subject of the same church or to other churches and religious societies, basing on a political agreement. In the territory of Czechoslovakia, churches’ goods were seized in several rounds, but actual restitutions refer to those seized after the communist coup d’état (February ’48). It seems that churches, specially the catholic church, were deprived at the time of almost 2500 buildings, 175000 hectares of forests and 25000 hectares of arable fields. The regime committed itself with a law to guarantee the salary, the prevention and the healthcare for the religious of some churches and to take care of the maintenance of their goods. The facts went on differently: the buildings were assigned to different usages, and several of them was brought to ruins.
As the regime fell, bilateral dialogues began in order to conquer both the separation between the State and churches (according to the polls, it is wished by the majority of citizens, regions, districts and all the 16 registered churches which are asking for the restitution) and the restitution of goods, essential to finance churches themselves. Since 1989, year of the velvet revolution, only in 2013 a law about this issue automatically entered into force, after being approved by the Parliament and neither signed nor vetoed by ex-president Klaus. Churches are to be given back a patrimony of about 75 billion crowns (3,3 million Euros) and, in 30 years, 59 billion crowns (2,5 million Euros) would have to be paid them as reimbursement for those goods which cannot be returned. The law states that the original patrimony is to be given back.
This issue has been heating for a long time the Czech society, heavily secularized. Many believe that the right to reparations itself should be in question, others claim that it is exaggerated and that , due to their essence, churches should not be bound to material goods, others assert that it has been chosen the worst economic situation to do restitutions. Moreover, the influence churches would have onto political life is highly feared. Let alone that in other countries, such as the catholic Poland, the restitution reached was much less onerous. Also among some Christians critical voices are being rising.
Nevertheless, Czech society is, at first glance, incapable to deal detachedly with the issue of restitutions, not only to churches but more generally. The ’48 seizure is frequently not seen as an injustice in principle. When Vaclav Havel sold his part of Lucerna Galley, in Prague’s downtown, he was piercingly criticized because he dared selling something which “belonged to everyone” and, furthermore, earned a lot of money. The suspicion toward those who own goods and gold is deeply rooted. Truth be told, they willingly meddle into someone’s affairs.
What is in the higher danger, anyway, is the rule of law, the certainty of law: with the new President of the Republic and the new Parliament, people wish to re-open negotiations, even though a law still exist, and has been waited for 20 years.