(Image source) Today, June 11th, marks the anniversary of an appallingly tragic stain on the page of Romania's history. In short, it was the decapitation of Romanian industry in order to ultimately liquidate the bourgeoisie. It was the day of nationalisation, 1948 - a page that brought with it 65 years of suffrance, loss, pain and grief for hundreds of thousands of Romanians.
Wikipedia explains: "The early years of Communist rule in Romania were marked by repeated changes of course and by numerous arrests and imprisonments as factions contended for dominance. The country's resources were also drained by the Soviet's SovRom agreements, which facilitated shipping of Romanian goods to the Soviet Union at nominal prices. In all ministries there were Soviet "advisers" who reported directly to Moscow and held the real decision-making powers. All walks of life were infiltrated by agents and informers of the secret police. In 1948, the earlier agrarian reform was reversed, replaced by a move toward collective farming. This resulted in forced collectivisation, since wealthier peasants generally did not want to give up their land voluntarily and had to be "convinced" by beatings, intimidation, arrests and deportations."
The 1950s, under Ceausescu's predecessor Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, was the harshest period for land, building and industrial plant owners. Ceausescu exacerbated the problem yet further still with his plan for "village systematisation", in which he wiped out entire rural communities and moved people into towns - a scheme that was stopped only when he was overthrown.
(Photo source: Petru Groza and Gheorghe Gheorghiu Dej, 1948. Arhiva CISAC)
"The nationalisation of the means of production was a measure taken by Romania's new Communist authorities to lay the foundation of socialism. Law 119, Article 1," says Wikipedia, "decreed subject to nationalisation "all the wealth of the soil not in the property of the state at the time of entry into force of the Constitution of the Romanian People’s Republic, as well as individual businesses, societies of any type and private industrial, bank, insurance, mining, transport and telecommunications associations". Nationalised (generally without any form of compensation) were 8,894 industrial, mining, transport, banking and insurance companies, followed in November 1948 by 383 cinemas and medical-sanitary facilities. By 1950, the measure was applied to chemical businesses, pharmacies and remaining economic entities.
The nationalisation also included a significant number of homes. The figure of around 400,000 buildings is regularly mentioned. According to Societatea Academică din România (SAR) between 241,000 and 600,000 properties were affected by the measure.
The nationalisation of 1948, together with the collectivisation of agriculture (1949-62), were decisive in undoing the capitalist economy and establishing a socialist economy based on state-owned or cooperative property."
Later on, under Ceausescu, the country's resources were abusively used to construct ridiculously grandiose projects devised by sheer megalomania, which contributed to a dramatic decline of the population's living standards.
(Photo source: Arhivele Naţionale Iaşi, fond Comitetul Judeţean de Partid Iaşi, dosar 95 /1948, f. 21)
Anybody reading this is doing so because of some connection with Romania. Either you are Romanian yourself, of Romanian origin, or you are a friend to Romania. And in each of these cases, anybody reading this post will either have been affected by this terrible 'law' - or will know someone else who was. No one can remain untouched by it. No one can remain unmoved nor immune to what such a decree wrought.
This subject is simply too vast for just one blogpost, but there will be more to follow. In this particular post, despite today being about the nationalisation of industry of which I know very little (for now at least), I would like to talk about the loss of properties which went hand in hand with Dej's attack on the country's riches. As you read, please bear in mind the desperation and misery that nationalisition of industry and agriculture had unleashed.
Gradually from 1946 and then with the Decree 92 of April 19, 1950, a huge number of private houses and lands were confiscated by the state. People were thrown out of their homes with very little notice and 'allocated' lots - a room or two, shared bathrooms and kitchens - elsewhere. The villas were targeted first (Kiseleff, for example, was choice real estate). Others were made to share their own homes with numerous families. Classes and backgrounds were thrown together higgledy-piggledy (favouring the working class, said to be the ideal under communism), often with catastrophic results, see HERE for an example. Beautiful villas belonging to the 'enemies of the state' class were often wrecked by ignorant high-ranking communists who wouldn't have known architectural value if they fell over it, whilst the home-owners themselves were renegated to tiny rooms, store rooms, cellars or even bathrooms (if they weren't in prison) or they were simply shoved into communist blocks if they were lucky. The stories one hears of nationalisation are horrifying. Rarely do people have any happy memories of it - and if they do, I'd be deeply suspicious. See another story here.
The Romanian state has been extremely backward (putting it politely) in the restitution of property to those who lost their homes to nationalisation during the communist era. Since many were evicted without even the time to grab their property deeds, this has been repeatedly used as an excuse to refuse any kind of compensation to the victims. Many others have since died of old age waiting for either their homes to be returned or financial compensation.
Some senior officials from the communist era remain in high office, while hardly any crimes have been prosecuted.
(Photo source: Propunere: cine si-a cumparat casa nationalizata sa cumpere si terenul!)
Please read THIS superbly informative article by Lavinia Stan (Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University) for the Journal of Property Rights in Transition and one must not overlook, either, the scandal of the Fondul Proprietatea in 2005 - see HERE, where people were literally robbed of their constitutional right to own property...
The restitution of properties confiscated by the Communist regime, in addition, became a very lucrative real estate business for some and turned certain people into millionaires having bought litigious rights over restitution files, but that's another story for another post soon to follow....
In 2007, Romania was ordered by the European Court of Human Rights to return apartments and buildings it had nationalised in Bucharest in the 1950s or compensate their owners.
In an initial case, Romania was ordered to return two Bucharest apartments to descendants of owners within the next three months, or pay the two Romanian nationals, currently living in Canada, a joint 140,423 euros (182,500 dollars) for material damages and 6,000 euros for pain and suffering. The state was also ordered to hand back a Bucharest building with a garden to its owner, also within three months, or pay a total of 143,000 euros in damages.
In both cases, the court ruled that Romania had violated the plaintiffs' property rights when, in 1996, it resold the building and apartments seized illegally by the communist regime a half century before. In both cases, the plaintiffs had demanded that the state pay reparations for the nationalised dwellings, but had received no response and had not been notified when the properties were sold.
By May 2010, the National Agency for Property Restitution had received more than 63,000 property return claims, but only about 4,000 had been resolved. Experts at the time estimated that the government would have to come up with around 21 billion euros to compensate the owners of confiscated properties.
On 12th October 2010, the ECHR gave Romania an ultimatum to amend its law on the restitution of, or compensation for, communist-era confiscated property within 18 months, following a ruling it issued in the first pilot-decision on the matter in two (aforementioned) separate cases. It stated that, after repeated encroachment upon 'fundamental rights', there would be a suspension of all similar lawsuits before the court until the problem had been resolved. The absence of a coherent restitution - or compensation - mechanism had been a problem for 20 years, reflecting excessive bureaucracy, confusing (probably on purpose) laws and stalled lawsuits.
Strasbourg had lost patience.
When time was up on 12 January 2011, nothing much had happened. On 25 April 2012 the Romanian government requested that the time-limit be extended once again by nine months. The request was granted and the deadline was deferred to 12 April 2013.
You can guess what happened next, I'm sure. In March of this year, one month before the deadline was due, PM Victor Ponta announced that Romania wanted yet ANOTHER delay in following up the ECHR ruling on property restitution. What was the state hoping for? That all those demanding restitution (with the exception of certain churches perhaps and a small handful of families) would die of old age before they would see a penny or a brick? Perhaps. In any case, the demand was ONCE AGAIN accepted and extention was given until 12 May 2013.
Ponta has been busy when it comes to the restitution of property to rightful owners.
"We have drafted aims to find a solution at last to the long-delayed problem of property restitution in Romania," he said. New Europe and Balkan Insight reported: "Approximately 10,000 buildings have been returned already to former owners, but it would be very costly for the current government to settle all the outstanding claims, dating back to 1940. Former owners that cannot be compensated in kind will receive points with a nominal value of 1 lei each (€1 is 4.4 lei). The points can then be used to buy property or exchanged for money. According to the Balkan insight, the total amount will be paid within seven years of 2017. The government had estimated that it will have to pay around €9 billion to cover the obligation deriving from the property restitution bill."
The law has been extremely controversial.
"The Draft Law," writes Mark A. Meyer, Chairman of The Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce for Hotnews, "proposes to take 85% of the value of all pending claims by owners of properties that were seized by Romania's Communist government between 1945 and 1989 without compensation. It is proffered in total disregard of Romania's constitutional provisions prohibiting such acts and in violation of Protocol One of the European Convention of Human Rights to which Romania is a signatory and which recognizes property rights as human rights."
In short, the government now proposes to confiscate virtually the entire value of the rights that were given to the victims of communism by law in February 2001.
Meyer's article in Hotnews continues: "Make no mistake about it - what is proposed in the Draft Law is as loathsome and shameful as the brutal takings, cruelties and exploitations of the communist era. Having provided the victims of communism with a right to full and fair compensation for the abusive acts of past governments, Romania's Constitution and its obligations under Protocol One of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibit it from expropriating such right in the manner proposed by the Draft Law."
It goes on: "The government justifies the expropriations in the Draft Law as warranted by its financial difficulties. News reports have government officials admitting that the Draft Law creates an injustice but stating that this is the only way to deal with the matter because of a purported cost in excess of Euro 16 billion. Their basis is false on three grounds - the Government's cost estimates are grounded on bogus numbers; there are several fair and legal ways to deal with actual financial issues, which we offer below; and Romania cannot legally confiscate 85% of the value of any form of property without fair compensation."
HERE is more.
To date, Romania has lost 435 property restitution cases at the ECHR for breaching Article 1 Protocol 1 of the Convention on Human Rights protecting property rights.
It is simply shameful. It is despicable. And it is just one more humiliating slur for Romania's international reputation which will impoverish the country yet further still. How in the world can a state punish those who have lived such brutality, such loss once already and for so long...?
In the meantime, on this day - the anniversary of the nationalisation of Romania's industry - let us appeal to the principles of justice and decency that Romania should seek to embrace. And let those of us who never lived such horrors count our blessings and be grateful to the ends of our days...