OC Romanians Want Confiscated Properties Back, Once and For All

She sat on the front steps of her house in a Romanian village as government officials began demolishing it. She refused to move from her spot on the entrance stairs as the roar of bulldozers crushed the walls behind her. When communists came to power in Eastern Europe, private property became public, and these officials were replacing her family's property with government buildings. Then she went on a hunger strike in protest.

“My grandmother was very stubborn,” said Ioana Ciupe of Anaheim, one of the more than 10,000 Romanians who live in Orange County (most of them in Anaheim), constituting one of the largest such populations in the United States. “They were destroying the house and she wouldn't move. She refused to eat or drink anything. This is the story of my family,” she sighed. 


Ioana's grandmother is now 82 years old. She carries the hope inside her heart that one day, the government will return the property to her. She is one of around 40,000 Romanians whom are still owed compensation after their land, homes, churches, businesses or factories became state property when the Communists rose to power. But more than two decades after the bloc fell, the government still struggles to find a viable solution to appease its citizens' demands for property restitution. Romania's latest proposal includes compensating 15 percent of the property's current value over a period of 10 to 12 years.

“By the time they return 15% over 12 years…” Ioana's voice trailed off. “My grandmother's soul will not be alive.”

That plan also drew intense public scrutiny; the U.S. ambassador to Romania demanded that it abide by the European Court of Human Rights, which “has ruled against the country several times in property restitution cases,” according to the Associated Press. Shortly after, Romania said it was open to revision, but the sting of its latest offer remains with citizens, both there and abroad.

“The reason why we're so upset is because ultimately they don't want to give anything back,” said Friar Chris Terhes of Saint John the Baptist Romanian Catholic Mission in Tustin. Terhes belongs to the Greek Catholic Church, which was banned in 1948 under Communist Romania.

Europe's recent economic downturn only adds fodder to the restitution fire. The government says it's financially strapped, and can't afford to restore all the property. Father Terhes strongly disagrees with that statement. His family owned 12 acres of land confiscated by the government. 

“We understand the government is struggling,” he said. “But if a [confiscated] house still exists, then give it back to the rightful owner and the government won't lose anything. It's not an expense on the budget.”

Terhes sent a letter a few days ago to Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu expressing deep frustration over the proposal, saying that it offers nothing to Romanians. While many Romanians were given back their property, others were not so lucky.

Ioana says her parents, who still live in Romania, have spent the equivalent of more than a thousand dollars on attorney fees while trying to get their property returned. At this point, she'd be satisfied with an exchange. 

“Even if the government doesn't have money to pay us back for the houses, they can return that building in exchange for the two houses we had,” she said. “But even so, there is no response, no response. Just wait, wait.”

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