The constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of conscience and belief, as well as forcing an individual to espouse a religious belief contrary to the individual’s convictions. It stipulates all religions are independent from the state, and religious groups have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes.” According to the law on religious freedom and religious denominations, the state recognizes the “important role” of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the history of the country, but it also recognizes the role of “other churches and denominations.” The law specifies a three-tiered classification of religious organizations. In addition, civil associations wishing to perform religious functions may organize under a separate provision of the law. The government approved an application for one Christian association – The “Neemia” Christian Association in Brateius. There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community. During the year, the government rejected 474 restitution claims for confiscated religious properties and approved 48, compared with 609 claims rejected and 52 approved in 2018; it approved no claims for the Greek Catholic Church. Minority religious groups continued to state that national and local governments gave preference to the ROC, and they reported incidents of government discrimination against them, including exclusive ROC representation at many government-sponsored events. In May a town with an ethnic Romanian majority erected a monument and Orthodox-style crosses in the Valea Uzului war cemetery, sparking protests by a neighboring, majority-Catholic town with an ethnic Hungarian majority. Security forces deployed at a counterprotest in June to keep the two sides apart. In October President Klaus Iohannis promulgated a law establishing a National Jewish History and Holocaust Museum.
Minority religious groups continued to report harassment of their congregations by ROC priests and adherents, including verbal harassment, along with the blocking of their access to cemeteries. In April media reported vandalism at a Jewish cemetery in the town of Husi, where individuals destroyed dozens of headstones. The president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania stated the vandalism was the culmination of a series of anti-Semitic acts in the town; no suspects were detained. Some media outlets continued to depict largely Muslim migrants as a threat because of their religion. In March the news site evz.ro published an article stating that Muslim immigrants posed a lethal threat to European civilization. On February 26, the National Anti-Discrimination Council released the results of a survey showing a majority of Romanians expressed high levels of distrust towards Muslims (68 percent), Jews (46 percent), and other religious minorities (58 percent). A European Commission (EC) Eurobarometer survey published in January reported 6 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 67 percent did not. According to the findings of a separate EC study on perceptions of discrimination published in September, 43 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Romania, while 51 percent said it was rare.
The U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom met with government officials to discuss anti-Semitism, Holocaust remembrance issues, and the general position of the Orthodox Church in the country. In meetings with the general secretary of the government, U.S. embassy officials continued to raise concerns about the slow pace of the restitution process and the low number of properties restored to minority religious groups. Embassy officials facilitated meetings between the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and government officials to help speed the processes of property restitution and pensions for Holocaust survivors. In meetings with President Iohannis, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, and other government officials, embassy officials continued to support efforts by the Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Institute), assisted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), to establish a National Jewish History and Holocaust Museum. The Ambassador participated in Holocaust commemorations and spoke out against religious intolerance in the country. Using its Facebook page, the embassy emphasized respect for religious freedom and condemned anti-Semitic incidents.
By year’s end, the government approved one application for religious association status during the year – the “Neemia” Christian Association in Brateius – compared with two religious associations approved in 2018. As of December, 36 entities with diverse religious affiliations were registered as religious associations, up one from 35 in 2018.
Because religion and ethnicity are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the following incidents as based solely on religious identity. In May the town of Darmanesti, located in the eastern part of the country, erected a monument and Orthodox-style crosses honoring the country’s WWI soldiers believed to be buried in Valea Uzului war cemetery. The ethnic Hungarian community and officials of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) from the neighboring town of Sanmartin, which has a large population of ethnic Hungarians, stated the Darmanesti mayor had “appropriated” the cemetery which, according to UDMR, was under the jurisdiction of Sanmartin. They also said the recently built Orthodox-style monuments honoring Romanian soldiers were placed on top of the graves of predominantly Catholic Hungarian soldiers.
On May 16, media outlets posted a video showing a group of Hungarian-speaking persons covering the crosses and monument to Romanian soldiers in black plastic bags. UDMR condemned the covering of crosses and called it a provocation meant to discredit the Hungarian community in Romania. On May 29, the mayor of Sanmartin closed the Valea Uzului military cemetery for 30 days. On June 6, hundreds of persons equipped with loudspeakers, including several ROC priests, arrived at the cemetery to commemorate the Romanian soldiers believed to be buried there. They were met by approximately 200 members of the Gendarmerie, an agency of the Ministry of the Interior in charge of ensuring public order, who positioned themselves between the ethnic Romanians and hundreds of ethnic Hungarians who would not allow the ethnic Romanians to enter the cemetery. Eventually, some ethnic Romanians forced their way into the cemetery, where they held a ceremony commemorating ethnic Romanian soldiers. Several observers reported that the commemoration resembled the ritual performed by members of the outlawed Legionnaire Movement to commemorate their deceased.
Baha’i leaders continued to seek options for the burial of deceased followers in accordance with their religious practices. They requested assistance from the State Secretariat for Religious Denominations to establish a cemetery, and from the local governments of Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest to acquire an appropriate lot. According to the Baha’i community, local governments told them their deceased followers could be buried in other cemeteries and a dedicated Baha’i cemetery was not needed. According to the Baha’i, some burial practices of existing cemeteries were contrary to the Baha’i tradition, so they preferred to have their own. Baha’is continued to be registered as a religious association and not as a denomination because they did not meet the minimum requirements for membership and activity.
Some minority 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 required only 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.
The National Authority for Property Restitution (NAPR), the government agency responsible for overseeing the restitution process, reported the SRC had approved 14 requests for the restitution of “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 34 cases, and rejected 474 other claims during the year, compared with 17 requests for restitution, 35 approved compensations cases, and 609 rejected claims in 2018. All of the claims were submitted before the 2006 deadline. In 14 cases, the filers withdrew their claims. According to data provided by NAPR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of cases NAPR reviewed decreased from 1,212 in 2018 to 777.
According to NAPR, religious denominations appealed 63 decisions the SRC submitted to the courts during the year, compared with 53 in 2018. The Roman Catholic Church made four appeals (12 in 2018); the ROC made 24 (nine in 2018); the Greek Catholics made 18 (13 in 2018); the Evangelical Augustinian Church made four (two in 2018); and the Jewish community made 10 (12 in 2018). Information concerning court decisions on these cases was unavailable.
During the year, NAPR reviewed 335 claims submitted by the Greek Catholic Church, compared with 490 claims in 2018, but it did not restore any property to the Church or grant it compensation in any cases. Greek Catholic Church officials reported that NAPR rejected most of their claims because the properties now belonged to the ROC and were subject to a different law, making restitution possible only through a joint commission representing the two Churches and based on “the will of the believers from the communities that possess these properties.” During the communist regime, all places of worship and parish houses were transferred to the ROC and most other properties (land and buildings) to the state. According to Greek Catholic officials, there was no progress on forming a joint commission by year’s end.
The Greek Catholic Church continued to report delays on restitution lawsuits. Representatives of the Greek Catholic Church stated there were no court decisions on Greek Catholic restitution cases again this year.
In November the civic group ACUM (the word “now” in Romanian) published an open letter to the president and prime minister calling for the establishment of a body to combat religious discrimination. The signatories stated that 30 years after the fall of Communism, the Greek-Catholic Church continued to be the victim of religious persecution that began in the 1940s. According to ACUM, 90 percent of its churches and assets confiscated during the communist regime had not been returned; the ROC, via its media and communication channels, continued to campaign against Greek Catholics; Greek Catholic students were pressured to take ROC religion classes; history textbooks and academic publications distorted or minimized the history of the Greek Catholic Church; commemorations honoring important leaders from the country’s history who were Greek Catholic deliberately overlooked those leaders’ religious affiliation; and the ROC had not asked for forgiveness for Securitate collaborators who jailed, tortured, and killed Greek Catholic priests who refused to convert to the Romanian Orthodox faith. The government had not responded to the letter by 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 in light of a revived claim for the property by the Satu Mare County Council filed in 2016. 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 implementation regulations to officially prioritize property restitution cases for Holocaust survivors remained pending, NAPR approved priority status for 160 such applications. Since the passage of the legislation, NAPR has awarded compensation to Holocaust survivors in 76 cases, rejected the claims in nine cases, and had not issued a decision in 75 cases by year’s end.
The SRC approved 10 pending claims from previous years by the Jewish community as of October – eight through compensation and two through restitution in kind – and rejected 61 others, compared with 16 during the same period in 2018. In 10 other cases, compared with 54 in 2018, claimants withdrew their requests. Religious groups said it was difficult to obtain required documentation from the National Archives demonstrating proof of ownership in time to meet the 120-day deadline to submit an appeal. The Caritatea Foundation stated the SRC continued to avoid assuming responsibility for restitution, preferring to pass decisions on to the courts and reportedly to avoid being potentially charged with making decisions on illegal claims. 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, which sometimes were found only in government-managed archives, giving Jewish claimants insufficient time to meet the deadline for document submission. Caritatea stated access to government-managed archives holding the required documents for the restitution process remained difficult.
According to Caritatea Foundation, the NCREC did not issue any final approval on decisions during the year, and 61 decisions issued before 2013 were pending final approval. According to NAPR, a high workload and insufficient staff and resources were the reasons for the delays.
A working group consisting of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, Caritatea, and the WJRO had difficulty maintaining a dialogue with the government during the year, according to the WJRO. The working group said its standing proposals could help unblock or expedite the processing of remaining private and communal property claims. The government did not act on any of these proposals by year’s end.
The Reformed Church also indicated continuing delays on restitution lawsuits. According to the Reformed Church, over the past 10 years, the SRC had reviewed only half of its claims, with 52 cases pending at year’s end. The Reformed Church reported that since 2018, the SRC had rejected restitution claims on buildings previously owned by schools under the authority of the Reformed Church. According to the Reformed Church, the SRC said land records, some dating from the 19th century, listed the schools as rightful owners and not the Reformed Church.
The Reformed, Roman Catholic, 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 the communist regime had seized. Fourteen claims submitted by the Roman Catholic Church were resolved as of year’s end, compared with 12 in 2018. The government granted compensation or restitution in kind in eight cases and denied six claims, compared with five and seven claims, respectively, in 2018. The government reviewed six claims submitted by the Reformed Church and denied four others, compared with five and two claims, respectively, in 2018.
In January the Roman Catholic Church appealed to the High Court of Cassation and Justice to overturn an earlier rejection of the Church’s claim for restitution of the Batthyaneum Library and an astronomical institute in Alba Iulia, important cultural and historical touchstones for the country dating back to the 19th century. The first hearing is scheduled for November 2021.
Nearly 90 percent of schoolchildren took religion classes offered by the ROC. According to NGOs and parents’ associations, this enrollment continued to be the result of pressure by the ROC, as well as the failure of school directors to offer parents alternatives to religion classes.
Minority religious groups, including the Christian Evangelical Church, continued to report authorities allowed only the ROC to play an active role in the annual opening ceremonies at schools and other community events throughout the country and usually did not invite other religious groups to attend such ceremonies. According to the Christian Evangelical Church, this happened also in cities where their followers had a significant presence, such as Sibiu, Suceava, Iasi, and Piatra-Neamt.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church reported the Faculty of Medical Science and Pharmacy in Iasi and the Body of Expert and Licensed Accountants of Romania continued to schedule exams on Saturdays without providing the option for Seventh-day Adventist students to take the exams on another day. The Seventh-day Adventist Church also reported that despite their requests, public hospitals in Bucharest and Ploiesti did not change their work schedules to allow several employees to observe Saturday as the Sabbath.
Religious groups reported military chaplains continued to be ROC priests, with the exceptions of one Roman Catholic priest and one pastor from the Evangelical Alliance.
According to the government-established Wiesel Institute, prosecution of anti-Semitic speech and Holocaust denial continued to be infrequent. Statistics released by the government for the first half of the year showed that the national-level Prosecutor General’s Office had 42 unresolved cases. According to the Wiesel Institute, many of the cases included anti-Semitic elements. Of those cases, the office sent one case to trial; no information was available on the nature of the case. The 2014 case against the self-declared leader of the Legionnaire Movement for the public use of fascist, racist, and xenophobic symbols was still pending at year’s end, according to the Wiesel Institute. In October the Bucharest Military Tribunal accepted the proposal of the Bucharest Military Prosecutor’s Office to drop the 2016 charges against a military officer who had posted on social media anti-Semitic language and a public appeal for someone to place a bomb at the Wiesel Institute “to kill the Jews there.” The officer was ordered to perform 60 days of community service. According to media reports, the officer worked for the Romanian Intelligence Service. According to journalists and observers, the delay in the prosecution of these cases continued due to lengthy investigations and the lower priority law enforcement gave such investigations.
A law that went into effect in March allowed the declassification of some documents related to the Jewish community between 1938-1989 that are in the custody of the National Archives of Romania and the Archives of the General Secretariat of the Government. In March Member of Parliament (MP) Silviu Vexler, who represented the Jewish community and who sponsored the bill, stated many of these documents would shed light on unknown aspects of Jewish history during the Antonescu and communist dictatorships. According to several researchers, some of these documents may include significant details about Holocaust and communist-era confiscation of Jewish private and communal property.
The Wiesel Institute reported local authorities continued to name 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. According to the institute, several cities and towns continued to name streets after Ion Antonescu, Romania’s dictator during WWII who was responsible for the Holocaust in Romania, and local governments refused to change the name despite requests from the institute. Similarly, the local government in Cluj-Napoca did not change the name of a street named in 2017 for Radu Gyr, a commander of the Legionnaire movement and apologist for anti-Semitism, who was convicted of war crimes for “contributing to the political aims of Hitlerism and Fascism.” At year’s end, the Ministry of Interior and local governments did not act on the institute’s 2017 request to stop these practices in accordance with the law banning the “public worship of persons convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Several government officials continued to make comments widely viewed by Jewish organizations as “trivializing” the Holocaust. On August 2, during a ceremony commemorating the Roma Holocaust, then culture minister Veler-Daniel Breaz described the Holocaust as one of the “delicate moments, not to call them difficult or unpleasant, during which some minorities suffered.” The leaders of the Jewish community, academics, Roma, and human rights activists, as well as several politicians, criticized Breaz for his statements. On August 5, Dana Varga, an advisor to former prime minister Viorica Dancila, posted on her Facebook page photographs comparing President Iohannis, who is of ethnic-German heritage, to Adolf Hitler. Federation of Jewish Communities President Aurel Vainer, Jewish MP Vexler, the Wiesel Institute, Roma rights activists, and several members of the opposition condemned Varga’s actions, with some asking for her resignation. In September media reported the director of the Constantin Brancusi National Museum in Targu Jiu had posted on social media materials promoting the Legionnaire Movement and Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, who was the organization’s founder and leader.
The government continued to implement the recommendations of the 2004 report by the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania (Wiesel Commission) and to cooperate with the USHMM in promoting Holocaust education. On March 15, Minister of Education Ecaterina Andronescu, a USHMM official, and Director of the Wiesel Institute Alexandru Florian signed a joint protocol of cooperation laying the groundwork for introducing historically accurate lessons on the history of the Holocaust and the Jewish people in Romania into the public school curriculum. The government also facilitated USHMM access to the country’s national archives. Archival institutions such as the Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives continued to implement cooperation agreements with the USHMM and provided the museum copies of historical records.
In June former prime minister Dancila, in coordination with the World Jewish Congress, hosted an international meeting of special envoys and coordinators combating anti-Semitism in Bucharest. The main conference took place in the Parliamentary Palace and featured representatives from more than 25 countries and international organizations. The government released a statement after the conference describing its main themes as providing for the safety and security of Jewish communities; applying the working definition of anti-Semitism endorsed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA); financing Holocaust research, education, and remembrance; and recording and collecting hate crime data.
The Wiesel Institute continued to organize training sessions for history teachers, carry out educational activities for students, and inform the public about the Holocaust.
Historians and Holocaust experts said the general history curricula provided few mandatory classes on the country’s Holocaust history. A high school course, “History of the Jews – The Holocaust,” remained optional.
In April Andrei Caramitru, a prominent member of the Save Romania Union party, posted a message on his Facebook page stating that the Social Democrat Party was responsible for “a Holocaust against Romania” that was more serious that what happened in the country during WWII. Caramitru subsequently apologized for his Facebook post.
On July 5, then prime minister Dancila established an interministerial committee tasked with drafting a national strategy on combating anti-Semitism, xenophobia, radicalization, and hate speech. The committee was coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included representatives of the Justice, Interior, Education and Culture Ministries, as well as the Wiesel Institute. The committee did not take any action by year’s end.
Pursuant to its pledge to implement the recommendations of the Wiesel Commission report, the government commemorated the annual National Holocaust Remembrance Day on October 9, marking the day when Romanian authorities began deporting the country’s Jews to Transnistria.
On October 8, President Iohannis hosted a public ceremony to sign into law a bill establishing the National Jewish History and Holocaust Museum. The law transferred a state-owned building in downtown Bucharest, intended to host the museum, to the Wiesel Institute, the governmental agency in charge of developing the museum. During the ceremony, President Iohannis underscored the contribution of Jews to the development of modern Romania. On the same day, then prime minister Dancila released a statement paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. The Wiesel Institute held a wreath-laying ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest on October 10; former minister of foreign affairs Ramona Manescu delivered remarks. The ceremony was not held on October 9 to avoid conflicting with Yom Kippur. On May 2, former prime minister Dancila commemorated Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) by taking part in the March of the Living at Auschwitz. On January 27, President Iohannis and then prime minister Dancila posted on social media messages honoring Holocaust victims and survivors.
The country is a member of the IHRA.
On November 18, Turkish diplomats interrupted a religious event organized by the local Muslim community, disrupting an invited speaker and blocking her from delivering prepared remarks. Muslim community leaders said government officials present at the event did nothing to defend their right to hold events as the community saw appropriate, but they took no action following the incident. According to members of the Muslim community and other observers, the government’s inadequate financial support, primarily in the form of salaries for imams, made the Muslim community vulnerable to radicalization and outside influence from countries such as Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.