BUCHAREST, Romania: Romania's prime minister said Tuesday that he was bringing "a bit of justice" to owners whose property was confiscated by the communists, as his government began to pay cash compensation to more than 5,100 former property owners.
"I am glad to see this moment", said Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu in a ceremony where he handed payment slips to the first 20 people to receive cash compensation for their confiscated properties under a law passed by his government in 2005.
"We managed to bring a little bit of justice to those who suffered so much," said Tariceanu. "It was a long and difficult process for owners to regain their properties. I think it's a normal gesture in a country that functions under the rule of law."
The government has established a Property Fund to pay damages for assets that cannot be returned. Romanians who were stripped of their properties and cannot claim them back because they do not exist anymore can receive cash as well as shares in the fund, which will be listed on the Bucharest Stock Exchange.
The total cost of the damages for all private, community and religious property is estimated at up to €8 billion (US$11.6 billion).
A total of 5,107 Romanians are entitled to compensation. The maximum amount that can be given in cash is 500,000 lei (€147,000; US$215,000).
Property restitution has been a thorny issue in Romania since communism ended in 1989. A restitution law passed by the former leftist government in 2001 exempted embassies, public buildings and political parties. In recent years, some public property has been handed back to private owners.
The communists, who took over in 1945, seized houses, factories, castles, farms, forests and other real estate that was privately owned. Under communism, people were allowed to own small plots of land and one piece of property such as an apartment or a small house.