Current Affairs Catholics call Social Democrat campaign against church property restitution Third Reich propaganda
A controversial campaign by the opposition Social Democrats directed against the church property restitution bill has turned into a major brawl with Czech Catholics and other churches. After church officials compared it to anti-Semitic and anti-clerical propaganda of the Third Reich, Social Democrats leaders fought back and called into question the Catholics’ own record from WWII.
The Czech government’s plan to give the churches and religious groups back property nationalized by the communist regime in the 1950s is highly unpopular among Czechs. In various surveys, up to 70 percent of those polled said they did not agree with the plan to return some 135 billion crowns, or nearly 6.6 billion US dollars, worth of property – around half of which should come in the form of financial compensation.
The bill, approved last month by the lower house of Parliament, is now awaiting debate in the Senate, controlled by the opposition Social Democrats who say they will turn it down and send it back to the Chamber of Deputies. But the Social Democrats have also decided to highlight the issue in their campaign ahead of October’s Senate and regional elections.
The campaign includes posters, billboards and other materials depicting a hand in a blue sleeve – a reference to the centre-right coalition parties – giving a sack, presumably filled with money, to another hand in a priest’s ornate. The picture is accompanied by a slogan accusing the Civic Democrat and TOP 09 parties of planning to donate 134 billion crowns to the churches.
The Social Democrat move raised the ire of the Czech Catholic Church, which is set to receive the bulk of the property, as well as smaller religious groups including the Jewish community. In a joint statement for the press, church officials said the “electioneering propaganda of the Social Democrats” was similar to the anti-Semitic and anti-clerical posters of the Third Reich “later painted red” by the Czech communist ideologues.
Referring to a ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court which upheld the churches’ right to their former property, the head of Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Dominik Duka, explained what made the churches act.
“We understand there might be objections against the bill. But disrespecting a ruling by the Constitutional Court, disrespecting some fundamental rights and juggling with a referendum on the issue – that is a new form of discrimination against of religious people in this country. That’s the reason why the various Christian churches and the Federation of Jewish communities came up with this statement.”
The Social Democrats showed no regrets about the form of the campaign. They called the churches’ statement ‘scandalous’, and retaliated with an attack on the Catholic Church, questioning its role in the wartime Slovak state, a satellite of Nazi Germany. Social Democrat MP Jan Hamáček is in charge of his party’s campaign.
“I have to say I’m profoundly shocked by the rhetoric of the Catholic Church. The only thing my party is doing is opposing the government’s proposal that is discussed in Parliament. We don’t dispute the fact that remedy must be done, and that the property should be returned. What we do dispute is the amount of money that should be paid out in compensation.”
The campaign will have little effect on the outcome of the lower house’s final vote on the issue, scheduled for September. The passing of the bill will largely depend on whether the coalition parties maintain their ranks. Meanwhile, observers say the Social Democrat campaign is likely to win the party some of the more radical left-wing vote although it might put off moderates. It will also probably diminish support for the Social Democrats in the eastern part of the country which is more religious than the rest.