The former Christian Democrat leader is concerned, however, that if ever passed by parliament, the church restitution law could still be struck down in the Constitutional Court. “The proposal will likely pass the lower house but will not be accepted wholly by the Senate. It could be returned to the house and every vote will count. If it passes the house again, there’s the Constitutional Court. If it comes to the principle of equality, as relates to compensation, it will be compared with, for example, whether the farmers [who had land taken by the communists] got such support,” Svoboda said. ‘Farmers did not get anything because a bunch of old Bolsheviks got into power in the cooperatives.’
According to the former foreign minister and interior minister, farmers are also entitled to compensation, though through cooperatives. “Farmers did not get anything because a bunch of old Bolsheviks got into power in the cooperatives, which took the sound properties and grouped them into companies [they founded]. The unusable assets – even at book value and in a sufficient quantity – were left in the cooperatives. Remaining, for example, were silage pits and abandoned pig farms. They then told those receiving restitution to sell them, saying ‘You will have the money as compensation.’ In accounting terms, maybe, but in fact they did not get a penny. These farmers justifiably feel cheated,” Svoboda said.
State should care for the churches
The Catholic Church was, according to Svoboda, in the time of communism a kind of moral compass for society; but when it began trying to resolve the issue of restitution, its voice notably waned — and this in a socially turbulent period. “As long as the church is economically dependent upon the state, logically, it will not do things that hinder it. I have not heard the Catholic Church say that the proposals of a minister are contrary to the teachings of the church,” he said.
If the church opposes some government action, Svoboda says, it is morally obligated to speak out. “The church is not playing such a role, which could win it public sympathy. The areas are many — pension reform, the social system, education and so on. Churches today are far too reticent,” he said. ‘I have not heard the Catholic Church say that the proposals of a minister are contrary to the teachings of the church.’
If the church did not have to care about maintaining the churches, it could strengthen its voice in society, and concentrate on spiritual matters, Svoboda said. “I would opt for the French solution – the repair of historical objects would be left to the state. Churches are important for the character of communities and regions. The public authority should be responsible for the churches; they are part of the architectural and historical heritage of the nation. And it’s all the same if four people or a hundred at believers are going to the church. Instead of the state, here the clergymen do it, but they have neither the time nor the strength to fulfill their primary mission, namely to work among the people.
Even now, according to Svoboda, the situation is such that restitution has a chance, but it is necessary to work out a compromise with the Social Democrats. “The ČSSD are heading toward a big victory in the next parliamentary elections. If in addition they help to solve this issue, they could get even greater numbers. It would show they are able to resolve a problem that is decidedly not their flagship issue, but that, unlike the conservatives can advise on it.