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Czech Jews Hope To Get Back Property

Czech Jewish leaders said they hoped their Senate would approve restitution of confiscated religious property.

The Czech Parliament on July 14 voted in favor of distributing $3.7 billion among 17 religious denominations, including the Jewish community. The money is compensation for property nationalized during the communist regime. The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal in the next two months.

“This legislation is a good compromise,” Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, told JTA.

The Jewish community’s share of the lump sum “will not be very high,” he added. The Czech Republic already offered restitution for Jewish property in 1994 and 2000.

The Czech Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party – both in the opposition – object to the compromise. The opposition enjoys a majority in the Senate.

Kraus said he believed the Czech upper house would veto the compromise. Parliament then would vote again on the issue, probably in September.

The compromise offers to end state subsidies for clergymen by 2029. The Czech government spends approximately $70 million on their salaries.

“The compromise allows all parties to win,” Kraus said. “For religious bodies it’s a moral victory, while the state can end funding clergymen. If the compromise is torpedoed, state funding for clergy could increase. The opposition is overlooking this.”

The number of priests in the Czech Republic grew from 3,500 a decade ago ago to 4,755 in 2009.

The current compensation of $3.7 billion is slightly lower than the sum offered in negotiations in 2008 between religious bodies and the government, according to Petr Papousek, vice chairman of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities.

“Ending state subsidies for religious leaders could mean financial uncertainty for the Jewish community, so there is also ambivalence regarding the compromise. Yet a different government could offer even less,” Papousek said.

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