Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Romanian lawmakers vote against restitution

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

BUCHAREST, Romania: Romanian lawmakers voted Wednesday against returning property confiscated by the communist regime to its former owners.

The vote effectively overturned Romania's laws allowing for property restitution.

The bill's supporters — mainly left-wing and nationalist parties — said 1 million people living in property nationalized by the communists could be made homeless if restitution were to be allowed.

They said about 35,000 people were seeking to regain seized property.

Instead, the lawmakers voted to provide cash compensation at market prices.

Property restitution has been a thorny issue since communism ended in 1989. Much of Romania's real estate — including houses, private factories, churches and lands — were nationalized under the communists, who came to power in 1947.

Critics of the bill passed Wednesday accused lawmakers of pushing through populist measures to win support before Nov. 30 elections. Parliament voted 117-79, with 28 abstentions, to pass the new bill.

The head of an association of former property owners, Florica Pungulescu, called the new bill "a great injustice."

"We will continue to fight to get our property back," said another former property owner, Maria Teodoriu, adding that if needed she and others would take their claims to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

In 2005, the Liberal-led government passed a decree to speed the return of real estate, schools, hospitals and other property taken from Romania's Jewish community, ethnic Hungarians and other minorities from the 1940s until 1989.

A year later the government set up a Property Fund to pay compensation to 120,000-180,000 people whose former properties could not be returned.

The new bill must now be signed by President Traian Basescu, who had sent a previous version back to Parliament. The legislation can be contested in the Constitutional Court.

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