By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST/PRAGUE (BosNewsLife)– The lower house of the Czech Republic’s parliament narrowly approved a government plan late Friday, July 13, to return property seized from churches during the 1948-1989 Communist era, and to pay billions of dollars in compensation.
Supporters view the move as a major step to end the legacy of Communism, but the opposition has pledged to block the legislation in the Senate.
Under the plan agreed by the ruling parties and 17 religious groups led by the Catholic church, the state will give back most properties confiscated under Communism, mainly land and buildings, worth some $4 billion.
Prague also pledges about $2.8 billion in cash compensation to the churches, split into 30 yearly payments.
“It‘s crucial that we’ve managed to agree on it,” Prime Minister Petr Necas said in separate remarks.
The plan was approved by the Czech lower house of parliament, with 93 votes for and 89 against.
Friday’s vote came after Prime Minister Petr Necas visited Pope Benedict XVI to discus relations between the church and state.
During that May visit he gave the Pope a copy of a 9th century Gospel book, from the oldest monastery in Prague, while the pope handed over a Pontifical medal and a special pen.
While the Czech government and churches view the restitution plan as a step to overcome decades of wrongdoing, opponents want to block it in the upper house, the Senate.
“We will now try to ensure the Senate rejects this law,” said Social Democrats leader Bohuslav Sobotka in a reaction early Saturday, July 14. “The Senate should return it to us here in the lower house,” he added.
Critics say church compensation goes to far at a time of economic crisis in the Czech Republic, one of Europe’s most atheistic nations.
A December 2011 public poll showed 69 percent of Czechs were against the religious restitution and only 40 percent considered churches to be useful.
While the left-wing dominated Senate is expected to veto the plan, the right-wing coalition has enough votes in the lower house to override it, raising hopes for churches.