Romania gives back confiscated values

The Romanian government officially returned a medieval palace and museum to the country's German Evangelical Church Thursday, more than 50 years after the property was confiscated by the former communist regime. "It is an act of justice," said Culture Minister Adrian Iorgulescu, after a ceremony in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu in which he signed an agreement with the church.

The agreement makes the Evangelical Church co-owner of the Brukenthal National Museum, along with the culture ministry. The church will regain control over all confiscated art collections in the museum when an inventory is completed at the end of April 2006, state news agency Rompres reported. The museum, which has a large collection of medieval paintings, will continue to display art that is owned by the Romanian government.

The Brukenthal Palace, designed by an Austrian architect, was completed in 1788 and belonged to Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, who was then governor of Transylvania. It was confiscated in 1948 by the communist regime, alongside thousands of other properties. Its restitution complies with the will of the baron, in which he left the palace as a museum, Iorgulescu said, adding that it would remain open to the public. The government would also continue to finance the museum's expenses.

The museum displays rich collections of paintings, antiques and rare books as well as occasional modern art exhibits, and also hosts various cultural events. Restitution of church property remains a disputed issue in Romania, where the former communist regime took over lands, schools and hospitals owned by religious groups.

Romania passed legislation earlier this year to return property to its former owners and establish a "property fund" to pay damages for assets that cannot be returned. The fund includes stock in state-owned companies that are being privatized, such as utility companies, the Romanian postal service, and the Savings Bank. On Wednesday, the government decided to transfer 20 percent of the national lottery's stock to this fund.

The Brukenthal museum is the first important cultural monument to be returned to its former owners. Two other confiscated properties, the Bran Castle and the Peles Castle, have also been claimed, by members of Romania's former royal family, reports the AP. N.U.

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