Romania hints at restitution rethink as US objects

Romania's government indicated Wednesday that it is open to revising its offer to owners of property confiscated by the Communists decades ago, as it faced criticism from the U.S. Ambassador to Bucharest.

Romania has become the latest country in Eastern Europe struggling to find a solution for the millions of people whose houses, churches, private factories and land became public property under the Communists, who came to power across the region following World War II.

Around 40,000 Romanians and foreigners are still owed compensation 23 years after communism ended. Last week the government proposed paying 15 percent of the property's value over a 10- to 12-year period but has indicated that it may be open to changes. Whatever emerges will have to be voted by Parliament.

U.S. Ambassador Mark H. Gitenstein suggested that Romania should comply with the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled against the country several times in property restitution cases.

"We do have concerns with the current proposal ... this is not the right solution," said Gitenstein.

The Romanian government hinted that it was ready to discuss the offer.

Dan Suciu, a spokesman for the government, said it was appealing "to all political parties to find a a solution."

Former owners were expected to hold talks with Finance Minister Bogdan Dragoi later Wednesday to voice their dissatisfaction with the current proposal.

Property restitution has been a thorny issue in Eastern Europe since communism ended in 1989 — and has become even more fraught in recent years due to the economic downturn.

Romania has been hit hard by the financial crisis of the last few years. In 2009, it took a €20 billion ($26 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank after its economy shrank by 7 percent.

The ramifications of the downturn have been felt far and wide, including in Romania's policy to property seized under the Communists. In 2005, the Romanian government passed a decree to speed the return of real estate, schools, hospitals and other property, but economic problems have made the law difficult to enact.