PRAGUE (TheBlaze/AP) — The Czech government has signed deals with representatives of 16 churches to pay them billions of dollars in compensation for property that the country’s former totalitarian Communist regime seized from them. TheBlaze first covered this controversial story back in June 2012, as some leaders and citizens have opposed to restitution plan.
After Friday’s signing, Prime Minister Petr Necas called the deals to pay 59 billion koruna ($3.1 billion) in financial compensation over the next 30 years “an act of justice.” The state, meanwhile, will gradually stop covering the churches’ expenses over the next 17 years.
The payment is part of a religious restitution plan approved by Parliament. Under it, the churches, including Roman Catholic and Protestant ones, also will get back 56 percent of their former property now held by the state — valued at 75 billion koruna ($3.9 billion).
As TheBlaze previously reported, the deal at one point, threatened to topple the coalition government after some voiced anger last summer at the thought of huge sums being paid to churches given the current economic gloom.
But in a country where indifference to religion is strong – a legacy of the Soviet plan to create one of the most atheist states in their orbit – the compensation plan – to be spread over 30 years – proved a win-win situation: The state no longer wanted to pay the priests’ salaries, and religious organizations – mostly Catholic and Protestant – expressed relief after previous failed attempts.
The Communist regime, which seized power in 1948 in what was then Czechoslovakia, confiscated all the property owned by churches and persecuted many priests. Churches were then allowed to function only under the state’s strict control and supervision and priests’ salaries paid by the state.
After the 1989 Velvet Revolution brought democracy to the region, some churches and monasteries were returned, but the churches have since sought to get back other assets such as farms, woodlands and buildings.
The people, though, aren’t necessarily supportive of the measure. According to a December 2011 public poll, 69 percent of Czechs were against the religious restitution and only 40 percent considered churches to be useful.
The opposition has challenged the plan at the Constitution Court.