Summary paragraph: The government approved recognition of several religious groups as religious associations but rejected the applications of others. Minority religious groups, in particular, continued to object to the legal classification system for religious organizations. There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially reports from the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community, and the number of agency and court decisions returning properties remained low. Minority religious groups continued to state that the national and local governments gave preference to the ROC, to report incidents of discrimination against them, and to object to government implementation of laws regarding religious instruction in schools. The naming of some streets, organizations, schools, and libraries after persons convicted of Nazi-era war crimes or crimes against humanity continued. Prosecutions for anti-Semitic speech and Holocaust denial remained rare, while Holocaust education remained optional in schools. Government leaders continued to speak out against anti-Semitism, and the government transferred property to the Wiesel Institute to establish a museum on the history of Romanian Jewry.
As of December, the government approved six applications for religious association status during the year, all of which were Christian associations. In one case, the National Secretariat for Religious Denominations did not issue an advisory opinion because the submitted documentation did not meet the criteria established by law. The establishing act and the statute of the association that did not receive the advisory opinion expressed the will of only seven members and not 300, as required by law, and the official name of the association was not used consistently in all the documents submitted. Groups whose applications were rejected could reapply once they had prepared the necessary documents to complete their applications.
Bahai leaders continued to seek amendment of the law to include provisions for the burial of deceased persons who did not belong to one of the 18 recognized denominations; Bahais were registered as a religious association and not as a denomination.
Religious groups continued to state they viewed the 300-person membership requirement and the need to submit their members’ personal data for registration as a religious association as discriminatory because other types of associations only required three members and did not have to submit the personal data of their members. They also continued to criticize the three-tier classification system for religious organizations.
In May the media reported two persons found dead in their home in Dobresti, a village in Dolj County, were swiftly buried without any religious ceremony following a decision by the mayor. The vice mayor reportedly transported the bodies in plastic bags via bulldozer and dumped them into an unmarked grave on the outskirts of the cemetery. The mayor stated he was concerned about health risks associated with decaying bodies and there was not enough time to call a priest or buy a coffin and a cross.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in several areas of the country, some members encountered opposition to their activities and threats from ROC priests, police, and public authorities. In July the mayor of Balilesti village in Arges County and a local ROC priest threatened representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and forced them out of the village. Following a complaint, police instructed the mayor and the priest to respect the law on religious freedom. In July an ROC priest from the village of Tonea, Calarasi County, accused two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses of distributing religious “propaganda” and threatened to use physical violence against them.
The same month two ROC priests from the village of Radacineni, Valcea County, said to members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses the priests would “protect their parish with their own blood” and threatened to use a sword against them if they came again to the village. Following complaints submitted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, police fined the priests. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also said a local police agent from Margineni, Prahova County, had asked two members of the religious group to identify themselves and said in front of a crowd gathered by an ROC priest the two could be terrorists. After escorting the members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to police headquarters, the Jehovah’s Witnesses said a police agent disapproved of their “activity” and took no measures when the ROC priest threatened to force them out of the village with the help of locals. The prosecutor’s office attached to the Prahova Tribunal dismissed the criminal complaint submitted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the case. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that in the village of Raucesti, Neamt County, agents of the National Police urged two of the religious group’s representatives to leave the village and told them they needed a permit from local authorities to carry out religious activities. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a criminal complaint regarding this case. At the end of the year, the case remained pending before the prosecutor’s office attached to the Neamt Tribunal.
A Roman Catholic official said the National Audio-Visual Council, a government-appointed entity that monitors broadcast content and issues broadcasting licenses, repeatedly rejected requests for local radio licenses to allow the Catholic “Radio Maria” network to expand the number of stations on which it broadcast.
In 2016, a former city hall candidate, Catalin Berenghi, filed a court case to annul the 2015 government decision transferring land in Bucharest to the Muslim community in order for it to build a mosque. Beginning in May, an online campaign generated approximately 8,000 motions from individuals desiring to become additional plaintiffs in the court case, thereby delaying the court’s consideration of the original motion. As of December, the case was pending before the Bucharest Court of Appeal.
In May the Roman Catholic Archbishopric of Bucharest criticized the mayor’s office for not enforcing court rulings to demolish a 19-story building constructed within the protected zone around the Roman Catholic Saint Joseph Cathedral, a designated historical monument. According to media reports, Mayor Gabriela Firea stated on a television show she would ask the residents of Bucharest, via an opinion poll, if they agreed to spend millions of euros to demolish the building.
In September the Bucharest City Council allocated one million euros ($1.2 million) for the continued construction of the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral, the patriarchal cathedral of the ROC. The president of Save Romania Union in Bucharest criticized the decision, stating the cathedral did not represent a priority for Bucharest due to more pressing needs, such as addressing the city’s traffic congestion; several journalists agreed with her opinion.
As of December, the National Authority for Property Restitution (NAPR), the government agency responsible for overseeing the restitution process, reported the SRC had approved the restitution of three “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 26 cases, and rejected 980 other claims during the year. In 231 cases, the filers withdrew, redirected, or attached their claims to other files. According to data provided by NAPR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of cases NAPR reviewed decreased 37 percent from 1,955 in 2016 to 1,227.
According to the NAPR, as of December religious groups appealed 85 decisions by the SRC to the courts during the year. The Roman Catholic Church made 31 appeals; the ROC made 16; the Greek Catholics made eight appeals; the Reformed Church made four appeals; and the Jewish community made 12 appeals. Information concerning court decisions on these cases was unavailable.
The NAPR reviewed 744 claims submitted by the Greek Catholic Church during the year but did not restore any property to the church or grant it compensation in any cases. The NAPR continued to report the reason for the SRC’s rejection of some claims for restitution of Greek Catholic properties was that the previous transfer of those properties to the ROC occurred under the communist regime. According to the NAPR, these properties did not belong to the state and therefore the state could not return them.
The Greek Catholic Church reported continued court delays on restitution lawsuits. Two court decisions on Greek Catholic restitution cases were reported during the year. In both cases, the courts rejected restitution claims, but a final decision was pending at year’s end.
Restitution of a property in Bixad, previously restored to the Greek Catholic Church by the government and confirmed by earlier court decisions, continued to be delayed while courts considered the case anew, following a 2016 decision by the Alba Tribunal, a county-level court, allowing the Satu Mare County Council to revive its claim for ownership of the property. At year’s end, the case was still pending.
Two cases filed in 2016 by the Greek Catholic Church with the European Court of Human Rights for restitution of churches in Bistrita and Breb remained pending. In each case, the Church’s complaint concerned court decisions awarding Greek Catholic property to the ROC based on census data showing Greek Catholics as a minority.
Although the government did not issue regulations for implementing new property restitution legislation passed in 2016, which granted priority to cases involving Holocaust survivors, the NAPR approved priority status for the 50 such applications it had received by August. The NAPR awarded compensation to Holocaust survivors in two cases and requested additional documents for the remaining 48 cases.
The Caritatea Foundation, the NGO established by the Federation of Jewish Communities and the WJRO to oversee Jewish communal property claims, reported the SRC had approved nine pending claims as of August – all via compensation – and rejected 107 others. In 62 other cases, claimants withdrew their requests. No new claims were submitted during the year. The foundation stated the SRC continued to fear assuming responsibility for restitution and preferred to pass decisions on to the courts. The foundation also continued to state the claims procedure was overly bureaucratic and unreasonable, in particular because the SRC often requested the submission of numerous additional documents, giving Jewish claimants little time to meet the 120-day deadline for document submission.
The Caritatea Foundation also said the NCREC continued to invalidate previous positive decisions for compensation by the SRC, citing the case of a Jewish community property in Galati, which remained pending following the NCREC’s denial of previously awarded compensation due to a name change of the street where the property had been located.
The Reformed, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Evangelical Lutheran churches said the government continued to reject their restitution claims on the grounds the entities registered as the former property owners were not the contemporary churches. Church leaders said the communist regime had dismantled the former church entities while confiscating their property, meaning the former property owners no longer existed as such but the contemporary churches, as the successors to the dismantled churches, were in effect the same entities whose property had been seized. Fifty claims submitted by the Roman Catholic Church were resolved as of year’s end. The government decided to grant compensation in three cases, 38 claims were denied, and in nine cases the claimants renounced, redirected their claims, or annexed them to other files. Twenty-five claims submitted by the Reformed Church were reviewed and 17 were denied; in seven cases, the plaintiffs either renounced, redirected their claims, or annexed them to other files; in one case, the government granted compensation. During the year, the government reviewed and denied the four pending claims of the Unitarian Church. One claim for restitution filed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church was resolved as of December, and the government granted compensation.
The Roman Catholic Church’s appeal of the SRC’s 2015 rejection of its claim for restitution of the Batthyaneum Library and an astronomical institute in Alba Iulia remained pending with the court. Greek Catholic priests continued to state that local authorities did not grant construction permits for places of worship, even though there were no apparent legal grounds for denying them. Greek Catholics attributed the delayed issuance of permits to pressure from the ROC.
The percentage of schoolchildren opting to take religion classes remained at almost 90 percent and, according to the media, NGOs, and parents’ associations, continued to be the result of manipulation and pressure by the ROC as well as the failure of school directors to offer parents alternatives to the religion classes. Observers reported school inspectorates did not enforce a ministerial order mandating annual submission of requests to take religion classes and instead considered children’s initial requests to be valid for an entire four-year study cycle.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church reported schools continued to schedule exams on Saturdays without providing the option for Seventh-day Adventist students, for whom Saturday is the Sabbath, to take the exams on another day.
In September, 20 NGOs sent a public letter to the Ministry of Education requesting a ban on religious services during the opening of the school year. The NGO letter stated children were “forced” to take part in religious services organized in schools, which represented a “serious violation of religious freedom.”
Minority religious groups, including the Christian Evangelical Church, reported authorities continued to allow only the ROC to play an active role in the annual opening ceremonies at schools and other community events and usually did not invite other religious groups to attend such ceremonies.
In public speeches, some politicians and the media continued to equate Romanian Orthodoxy with national identity. A National Liberal Party deputy, Daniel Gheorghe, said in October that the Orthodox Church was the “spinal column of the Romanian nation.”
Religious groups reported military chaplains continued to be ROC priests with the exception of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.
The government-established Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania reported prosecution of anti-Semitic speech and Holocaust denial remained a rare occurrence. According to statistics released by the government, during the year, the national-level Prosecutor General’s Office compiled a list of 42 cases to be resolved. Of those cases, the office reportedly resolved one case through a waiver of criminal prosecution (defined as there being no public interest in prosecution) and dropped 12 other cases.
According to the Wiesel Institute, the delay in the prosecution of cases continued due to lengthy investigations. As of October, Gorj police, under the supervision of the Targu Jiu prosecutor’s office, continued to investigate a case from 2014 based on a complaint from the Center for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism (MCA), an independent NGO, concerning a lampshade posted for sale online and advertised as being made of “Jewish skin.”
The Wiesel Institute reported local authorities continued to name some streets, organizations, schools, and libraries after persons convicted of Nazi-era war crimes or crimes against humanity and to allow the erection of statues and busts depicting persons convicted of war crimes. The Wiesel Institute asked city authorities in Cluj-Napoca to rename a street named after Radu Gyr, a commander of the Legionnaire movement and apologist for anti-Semitism who was convicted of war crimes. As of December the local government had not changed the name of the street.
According to the Wiesel Institute, the committee for renaming streets within the Bucharest prefect’s office recommended against the renaming of a street honoring Mircea Vulcanescu, a cabinet member in the government of WWII leader Ion Antonescu who supported anti-Semitic policies and was convicted as a war criminal. In May the Bucharest Tribunal ruled Vulcanescu’s conviction for war crimes in 1948 was politically motivated because he had opposed the communist regime. Several academics criticized the tribunal’s decision, stating Vulcanescu’s original conviction was based on his activity as a member of the Antonescu cabinet and not on his opposition to the communist regime. In October the Ministry of Finance appealed the decision; the case remained pending in the Court of Appeal at the end of the year.
The government continued to implement the recommendations of the 2004 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report and to cooperate with the USHMM in promoting Holocaust education. The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training sessions for history teachers, carry out educational activities for students, and inform the public about the Holocaust.
Despite the government’s commitment to cooperate with the USHMM to promote Holocaust education, observers reported the general history curricula continued not to provide a mandatory class on the country’s Holocaust history. The high school course “History of the Jews – The Holocaust” remained optional. During the 2016-17 school year, 2,894 students in 75 schools enrolled in this course, a number that observers considered extremely low when compared with the total student population.
In May the Wiesel Institute took possession of a building in central Bucharest transferred to it by the Bucharest General Council for establishment of a new museum on the history of the country’s Jewish community. The Ministry of Defense promised to facilitate the transfer of historical artifacts to the Wiesel Institute for use in the museum.
Pursuant to its pledge to implement the recommendations of the 2004 International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) Report, the government again commemorated the annual National Holocaust Remembrance Day in October, marking the day when the Romanian authorities began deporting the country’s Jews to Transnistria, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest. The president and other government officials made public statements against anti-Semitism during the year.
Following vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in Bucharest in April, then-Prime Minister Grindeanu said, “I firmly condemn the serious act of vandalism that occurred at the beginning of this week in the greatest Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. Anti-Semitic acts and vandalism are unacceptable.” In June President Iohannis participated in an awards ceremony in the United States hosted by the Global Forum of the American Jewish Committee. After receiving the “Light Unto the Nations” distinction, he said, “We cannot allow Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism to affect the health of democracies.”
The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training courses on the history of the Holocaust for teachers, police officers, and other professionals. In April the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a conference on the recently adopted working definition of anti-Semitism by the IHRA. During the conference, NGO representatives, leaders of the Jewish community, and academics discussed the implications of the working definition and the way law enforcement, academics, and educators can use it. On May 25, the government approved a memorandum stipulating measures to be taken by the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, law enforcement authorities, and Ministry of Education to include the working definition in their professional training programs and in the civics studies curricula.
In an article published by the privately owned Adevarul newspaper, Radu Preda, who is the executive president of the government-sponsored Institute for Investigating Communist Crimes, which studies the former communist regime, said the dismantling of the Greek Catholic Church by Stalin was “God’s pedagogy.”