PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Czech lawmakers on Wednesday approved a tax on the billions the state will pay churches for assets seized by the Communists during their Cold War rule, aiming to claw back a portion of the compensation payments.
The country’s 17 religious Christian and Jewish denominations are currently entitled to recover assets seized by the atheist Communist regime after World War II and receive financial compensation for those that cannot be returned.
The churches, land and works of art that can be returned were valued at 75 billion koruna (2.9 billion euros, $3.3 billion), according to a 2012 law and deals between the churches and government.
But it is the additional financial compensation — of 59 billion koruna ($2.6 billion) to be paid annually over 30 years — that lawmakers have sought to tax at a rate of 19 percent.
If approved by the senate and signed by the president, the legislation submitted by the Communists should take effect in 2020.
But it is likely to face fierce opposition by religious groups.
“Populism has won over common sense and the rule of law,” tweeted Stanislav Pribyl, general secretary of the Czech Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
Conference spokeswoman Monika Klimentova told AFP that the organization was willing to take the fight to the Constitutional Court if necessary.
“We think this is unfair and we want to put things right,” she said.
The new bill was approved with votes from the populist ANO movement, the leftwing Social Democrats CSSD, the Communists and the far-right SPD party.
ANO and the CSSD have formed a minority cabinet leaning on tacit backing from the Communists for a parliamentary majority — the first cabinet to do so since Communism was toppled in former Czechoslovakia in 1989.
The bill was one of the Communist Party’s conditions to back the cabinet.
The single largest denomination with more than a million believers, the Catholic church is slated to receive about 80 percent of the compensation package.
Believers are a minority in the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member state of 10.6 million people, where 8.6 million people identified as non-believers or left the religion column empty in a 2011 census.
Under the 1948-1989 Communist rule in former Czechoslovakia, the Catholic church and others suffered severe persecution, including the confiscation of property and the imprisonment, torture and killing of priests.
Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.