Government restrictions and inaction affected minority religious groups across a broad spectrum of activities, including preventing them from obtaining the restitution of previously confiscated properties. The Greek Catholic Church, in particular, was unable to obtain restitution of many of its churches and other properties. Jewish groups were concerned about memorials erected with the support or consent of local officials honoring the country’s pro-Nazi World War II figures. A number of minority religious groups were concerned over government implementation of laws regarding religion instruction in schools.
Since the implementation of the religion law in 2006, the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs has approved the applications of 21 religious groups to register as religious associations, including one during the year: the Religious Association of the International Union of Pentecostal Churches of Roma. No application for registration as a religious association has been denied.
Many religious groups viewed the membership requirement for a religious association as discriminatory because it is higher than for other types of associations. Religious groups without religion status, such as the Bahais, also continued to criticize as discriminatory the minimum membership requirement for acquiring religion status. Bahai representatives said the number of adherents of some recognized religions was much lower than the 0.1 percent of the population required by the law and advocated amending this provision of the religion law so the required number of members would be equal to that of the recognized religion with the lowest number of members.
Bahai leaders stated that, because the Bahai Faith did not have formal religion status, the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs did not notify its leadership about the secretariat’s consultations with recognized religions regarding proposed amendments to legislation affecting religious affairs. The Bahais called the situation highly discriminatory. Bahai leaders emphasized the need to amend the religion law to include provisions for the burial of people who are not Orthodox or do not belong to one of the recognized religions.
In many cases, minority religious groups were unable to gain restitution of confiscated properties in accordance with the law. Claimants said some local authorities opposed restitution or consistently delayed providing information about claimed properties to the Special Restitution Commission (SRC) of the National Authority for Property Restitution (ANRP), thereby obstructing the restitution process despite laws stipulating fines for such delays. The ANRP had received 14,814 applications for property restitution from recognized religious groups during the filing period and had approved or rejected 5,026 of them, as of the end of August. Through the end of the year, the SRC had held only five meetings, approved the restitution of 27 buildings to religious denominations, and rejected 88 other claims.
Courts delayed hearings on many restitution lawsuits filed by the Greek Catholic Church, and asked the Greek Catholic Church, as the plaintiff, to pay judicial fees, a requirement not consistent with the law. The Orthodox Church often filed appeals or change of venue requests that delayed resolution of some lawsuits. In a number of cases, courts ruled against the restitution of Greek Catholic churches, although the Greek Catholic Church had produced ownership deeds, on the grounds that the Greek Catholic Church had a smaller number of adherents than did the Orthodox Church.
In October in Salonta, following eight years of litigation, the High Court of Cassation and Justice rejected the Greek Catholic Church’s request for restitution of its former church on the grounds that the number of Orthodox Church members was larger and their desires should be taken into consideration.
In April the Greek Catholic Church resumed the use of a church in Radesti after winning a 20-year-long lawsuit.
Representatives of the Greek Catholic Church stated that local officials continued to support the Orthodox Church in restitution cases involving the two churches and discriminated against the Greek Catholic Church. On May 7, the Greek Catholic Church again attempted to obtain enforcement of an earlier final court ruling restoring to it buildings and land belonging to a monastery in Bixad, in Satu Mare County. The Orthodox Church obtained an injunction from the court in Negresti Oas suspending enforcement of the ruling. In addition, the Satu Mare County Council continued to claim ownership of one of the buildings in a lawsuit and, according to the Greek Catholic Church, harassed and pressured the Greek Catholic Church’s lawyer in an attempt to remove him from the case.
The government continued to refuse to return to the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church a building housing the Batthyaneum Library and an astronomical institute, despite a 16-year-old government emergency order restituting the building and a 2012 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordering the government to remedy the situation.
On November 26, the Ploiesti Court of Appeal ruled to renationalize a school previously restituted to the Hungarian Reformed Church in 2002, and sentenced three members of the restitution commission to three-year suspended sentences for aggravated abuse of office against the public interest. The ruling stated the school had not belonged to the Reformed Church, despite Communist confiscation documents citing the church as the owner.
The Greek Catholic Church reported local authorities did not grant construction permits for places of worship, although church officials stated they were given no legal grounds for refusing. In Sapanta, the Greek Catholic Church continued unsuccessfully to try to obtain a construction permit for a new church on land purchased in 2003. The Greek Catholics stated they attributed the authorities’ refusal to grant the construction permit to pressure from the Orthodox Church.
Local authorities continued to refuse to enforce final court rulings providing restitution to the Greek Catholic Church of churches in Casva and Lupsa. Local authorities also failed to enforce court rulings restoring land to the Greek Catholic Church in Valcau de Jos, Sapanta, Poieni, Morlaca, Bologa, Salonta, and other localities.
Non-Orthodox religious groups continued to face difficulty in accessing cemeteries and in obtaining land to establish cemeteries. In Pesceana, authorities and local Orthodox priests continued to deny access to the local public cemetery to Greek Catholic priests and community members despite a 2006 court ruling allowing them access and a complaint made to the ECHR in 2007. The Orthodox Church, seeking to become the owner of the cemetery, initiated a local lawsuit in 2012. Similarly, local authorities and the Orthodox Church continued to deny to the Greek Catholic Church access to the cemetery in Sapanta.
A new law on cemeteries was scheduled to go into effect October 9, but in answer to a request by the Orthodox Church, parliament postponed implementation until October 2015. The Orthodox Church publicly stated the law was “faulty and ambiguous” and did not provide an adequate legal framework for the establishment of private cemeteries or the establishment of separate confessional sectors in existing cemeteries.
In August the government earmarked six million lei ($1.6 million) from its special reserve fund for the Orthodox Church, directing funds to two monasteries and the Iasi-based Eparchy Center.
Ministry of Justice regulations provided for unrestricted access by recognized religions and religious associations to any type of detention facilities, even if their assistance was not requested specifically. The regulations also prohibited interference by the management of penitentiaries with religious programs.
According to several religious groups, all military chaplains were Orthodox priests with the exception of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.
According to media reports, in February the inspector for religion of the Gorj County School Inspectorate asked religion teachers to collect information about “neo-Protestant” religious adherents in their schools, including the number of non-Orthodox families, the names of non-Orthodox ministers, the extent of their proselytizing activities, and any efforts by parish priests to discourage those activities. While the law forbids public authorities from asking people to specify their religion, the school inspector stated he had asked for the information in his official capacity and at the request of the Orthodox metropolitanate in order to better cooperate with non-Orthodox denominations. Following criticism from several quarters, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the inspector resigned.
In February the Secular Humanist Association (ASUR) reported that even when parents or students opted out of religion class, in practice students were forced to attend the class because schools provided no alternative, despite the provisions of the law. The ASUR also stated it had received reports of harassment of children who opted out of Orthodox religion classes by religion teachers and local school authorities.
The Greek Catholic Church reported Orthodox religion teachers harassed Greek Catholic children, who had to stay in the classroom during the Orthodox religion class because religious instruction in their faith was not available.
In May eleven nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) addressed an open letter to the Ministry of National Education (MEN) requesting civil society participation in assessing the content of school textbooks, with particular attention to religion textbooks. They said the involvement of only some religious denominations in the assessment process raised questions about its transparency. The NGOs said religious textbooks produced in this manner promoted discriminatory attitudes and incited hatred, such as teaching children they should not play with children who were of a different faith or of no faith. Later in May the MEN adopted a new set of criteria for the assessment of religion textbooks, including a provision forbidding statements discriminating against other denominations or advocating religious hostility. The NGOs praised this provision, but added it was insufficient.
On November 12, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional the requirement for students to opt out of mandatory religion classes by submitting a written application. The court’s decision said students should be required to opt into religion classes, but per the constitution, left further action to change the law up to the parliament. As of the end of the year, awaiting the official publication of the court’s decision, the parliament had taken no action.
Minority religious groups, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Greek Catholic Church, continued to report that authorities generally allowed only the Orthodox Church an active role in annual opening ceremonies at schools and other community events and, in most cases, did not invite other religious groups to attend such ceremonies. Greek Catholic priests from Transylvania continued to report they were never invited to official local events.
Mormon representatives noted an improved attitude toward their Church, particularly in interactions with police.
In March the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Institute) urged the mayor of Bucharest Sector 5 to remove a street sign naming a square after General Gheorghe Cantacuzino, the president of the inter-war, pro-fascist All for the Country Party. In August the mayor of Sector 5 removed the plaque, saying it had not been installed by his office.
In May, pursuant to a complaint from the Wiesel Institute, the Bucharest Tribunal Court issued a ruling disbanding the All for the Country political party, reportedly because of its pro-fascist doctrine and its use of symbols originating from the fascist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic Legionnaire Movement of the 1930s. The ruling could be appealed.
In June a plaque commemorating members of the Legionnaire Movement was installed in a high school in Sighetu Marmatiei, Maramures County. At the request of the Wiesel Institute, the plaque was removed one week later.
The local council in Baia Sprie, Maramures County denied the Wiesel Institute’s request to withdraw the honorary citizenship it had granted to a Holocaust-denier in 2013. The local councils of six other localities granted honorary citizenship to the same Holocaust-denier, the late Orthodox monk Justin Parvu.
Although the law forbids the promotion of the image of individuals who committed crimes against “mankind and peace,” the mayor of Tirgoviste continued to refuse to cancel the title of honorary citizen given to Marshal Ion Antonescu, the country’s pro-Nazi leader during World War II, who was executed as a war criminal responsible for the murder of 280,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews.
The mayor of Bucharest continued to refuse to enforce a 2013 “final” court ruling to demolish an illegally constructed office tower next to the Roman Catholic cathedral. According to the ruling, the tower was deemed a risk to the physical integrity of the cathedral. In June the Roman Catholic Church filed complaints with the ECHR and the National Anticorruption Directorate, accusing the public servants in the mayor’s office of corruption and obstruction of justice. In July the Roman Catholic Church sent its 20th letter to President Basescu, asking for his support for the demolition of the building.
On September 7, Prime Minister Victor Ponta reportedly said on a TV talk show that the impact of President Basescu’s 10 years in office was “similar to that of the Nazi regime on Germany.” Domestic and foreign politicians, civil society representatives, diplomats, the Federation of the Romanian Jewish Communities (FCER), and the Wiesel Institute issued statements critical of Ponta’s remarks. ActiveWatch, a human rights NGO, filed a complaint with the National Antidiscrimination Council (CNCD), saying Ponta had implicitly denied the Holocaust and trivialized Nazi crimes. On September 24, the CNCD decided the statement was within the limits of the freedom of expression.
During the presidential campaign that ran from October to November, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, while speaking as a presidential candidate, said he belonged to the majority Orthodox faith in comparison to Klaus Iohannis, one of his opponents who was an ethnic German and whom he described as “neo-Protestant.” Iohannis belonged to the Evangelical Church of Augustan Faith. Electoral fliers saying “We vote for Ponta for everyone’s good, we vote for a true believer, not for a neo-Protestant” were distributed in some areas.
The government continued to implement the recommendations of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report and to cooperate with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in promoting Holocaust education in school curricula. The MEN provided written materials and maintained a website with a guide for teaching about the Holocaust. The government commemorated National Holocaust Remembrance Day with a series of events October 8, including a wreath-laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest and a commemorative session of the parliament.
The government expanded teaching about the Holocaust, including it in history courses in the seventh, ninth, 11th, and 12th grades. The MEN sponsored national and international seminars on teaching Holocaust history, as well as a national school competition on “the Memory of Holocaust,” and provided additional educational resources to combat anti-Semitism. In March the Bucharest School Inspectorate and the Wiesel Institute sponsored a seminar regarding the teaching of the Holocaust for 150 teachers, with the participation of representatives of the Washington-based Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.