eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà


  • May 2019 : Desecration of graves in Romania

In the past two months, the Romanian media have reported several cases of desecration of cemeteries.
The one that attracted the most attention was the desecration of 73 graves at the Jewish cemetery in the town of Huși, Vaslui County, in north-eastern Romania. Considered anti-Semitic actions, the acts were condemned at the highest level, both nationally and internationally. There were reactions from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania (FCER), the Romanian presidential administration, the Romanian government, other religious denominations and several NGOs. After the incident in Huşi, the Romanian government reasserted, through a press release, its determination to fight anti-Semitism and instigation to anti-Semitism, encouraging solidarity as the foundation of a democratic and modern society. The US ambassador to Romania, accompanied by a deputy prime minister of the Romanian government, was also present in Huşi. However, the strongest stance came from the President of Israel and six former US ambassadors to Romania who, in a joint letter, drew attention to the rise of anti-Semitism in Romania.

Investigations run by the Romanian authorities revealed that the vandalism of the Jewish cemetery in Huși was the result of acts of defiance. They were committed by three minors, aged between 15 and 16, who admitted to the crime, explaining that they were performing martial arts demonstrations and in so doing broke the funerary monuments, which had become brittle with age. The investigators also found that most of the funerary stones mentioned had already been damaged when some trees in the cemetery were felled.

According to the latest census in 2011, the Jewish community of the city of Huşi is composed of 12 people.

Another case of desecration of graves, which made the headlines, took place in Valea Uzului at the International Heroes’ Cemetery, Bacău, in eastern Romania, where 52 crosses were covered in black plastic bags. The remains of 1,143 soldiers of different nationalities who fought during the First World War are buried in this cemetery. Two neighbouring communities are fighting over the administration of the cemetery, one belonging to the Hungarian minority. The desecrated crosses were recently put up by the Romanian community in the city of Dărmănești and belong to Romanian heroes. They were covered in plastic bags by three people from a civic initiative group who deem that the crosses were illegally placed.

The leader of the Hungarian minority party in Romania (UDMR) has asked the Romanian prime minister to stop desecrating the memory of Hungarian soldiers and intervene to challenge the decision of the Dărmăneşti authorities to place graves for Romanian soldiers in a cemetery where Hungarian soldiers are buried. According to the UDMR, the military cemetery belongs to the Hungarian community and has been renovated using the town hall’s own resources as well as donations from the Hungarian Ministry of Defence. An appeal to the same effect was even addressed to the Romanian Prime Minister by the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The ceremony inaugurating the Valea Uzului International Cemetery, initially scheduled for 17 May 2019, has been postponed.

There are suspicions that the Hungarian activists’ action at the Valea Uzului military cemetery took place when the UDMR was in danger of failing to reach the required 5% vote threshold in the European Parliament elections, to bring about a massive mobilisation of its own electorate, sensitive to nationalist and identity questions.
In both cases, the motives for the desecration do not seem to be religious : owing to the recklessness of young people in the first case, and of a more political nature, linked to nationalist motives in the second. The first case, however, reveals a sensitive religious context : that of anti-Semitism in Romania, which is weakening its already declining Jewish community (see a BBC article).

  • 24 January 2019 : New procedures for enrolling in religious courses

A new method of enrolment in religion courses has been introduced by the order of the Ministry of Education no. 3.218/16 February 2018, see the article in the “Law and Religion” section.

  • 16 January 2019 : Animal stunning/Religious slaughter – electoral issues and reasons for anti-EU attitudes

Western Europeans have been debating on the religious slaughter for several centuries already. Currently, the question is reconciling the religious rights of humans and the right of animals to be treated humanely. Animal rights advocates militate for stunning animals before they are sacrificed, a practice which is contrary to the principles of several religions whose dietary laws provide exactly the opposite. Over time, this debate was instrumentalized in religious, economic or political confrontations, but the original dilemma persists even today : to ban or not to ban what is commonly called the “religious slaughter” (the sacrifice of animals without prior stunning). With EU integration, Romania had to comply with the EU Directive that allows the slaughtering of animals only if they is previous stunning. It turned out that this directive was almost impossible to respect fully. In 2007, in Romania, there were about 4.5 million farms and households in which the veterinary authorities predicted that 1.5 million pigs for Christmas and a similar number of lambs for Easter would be sacrificed. Theoretically, the stunning procedure was mandatory, but it was practically absent. Finally, the solution, which persists until today, was that the European institutions closed their eyes on slaughters realised at these occasions.
During the negotiations in Brussels, the Romanians asked for the sacrifice of animals on Christmas and Easter to be exception to the rule, as for the sacrifice practiced by Muslims and Jews. The Commission has rejected this proposal because the directive provides an exception only for religious rituals, while the Romanians practices are considered traditional, not ritual.

This unfortunate event was used in Romania in two directions : electoral and anti-European.
In January 2009, two Romanian euro-parliamentarians declared in the Romanian press that they succeeded to amend the Directive 93/119/EC. They stated that they had introduced a new exception to the stunning rule besides those proposed by rapporteur Janusz Wojciechowski (written question by Janusz Wojciechowski to the Commission, Labelling of meat obtained from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, 8 September 2008). The two brought their case before the Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, arguing that the amendments were necessary to preserve Romanian Easter and Christmas traditions. Several TV channels presented them visiting farmers’ households to announce to the owners that they would no longer have to stun their animals. A Romanian NGO started an action against this case, and proved that their statements were inaccurate : the parliamentarians had tried, but with no success to bring changes to the above-mentioned directive ; the request of rapporteur Janusz Wojciechowski to amend this same directive was referring to the possibility of labelling the meat obtained from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, and not at all to a possible derogation from the rules imposed by the directive. Considering that the two rapporteurs were members of the same party, along with one of the candidates in the presidential election in 2009, their lobbying action alongside the EU institutions was interpreted as an electoral action.
This kind of approach regarding animal rights provided also an opportunity for anti-European opinions. Several public figures, alleged defenders of Orthodox Christian values, were critical towards the regulations concerning stunning, in the name of Orthodox fidelity. Their main criticism was that the European Union, through such directives, aimed at destroying the religious traditions of the Romanians, which would in turn cause the destruction of the Romanian traditional village, that they considered the main pillars of the Romanian people.
A brief clarification must be made on this matter : the custom of sacrificing a pig for Christmas has no root in Christianity, much less in Orthodoxy ; the origin of this tradition is pagan, pre-Christian, and has a more practical, alimentary explanation than a religious one.

For more information see Iordan BĂRBULESCU, Gabriel ANDREESCU, "Animal stunning, the EU, and the Romanian lobby", Romanian Journal of Bioethics, Vol. 8, No. 1, January – March 2010, p. 190-199.

  • 14 January 2019 : Pope Francis’s visit to Romania confirmed for 2019

The presidential administration officially announced that Pope Francis would visit Romania this year (see also the May 2017 debate).

Following the invitation of the President of Romania, the Romanian Government and the Romanian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis will make an apostolic visit to Romania, from 31 May to 2 June 2019.

The visit was confirmed by the Holy See, but also by the Romanian Patriarchate, who announced that His Holiness would be received by His Beatitude Daniel, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The programme of the pope’s visit to Romania will include events in the cities of Bucharest, Iasi, Blaj and the sanctuary of the Virgin of Şumuleu Ciuc (the centre of the largest Catholic pilgrimage in Central and Eastern Europe). In addition, a meeting will be held with the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church during a religious ceremony at the newly sanctified National Cathedral.

  • 14 January 2019 : Worship in the context of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

On 1 January 2019, Romania took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time.
On 10 January, in Bucharest, the opening ceremony of this presidency took place in the presence of European officials, the Romanian authorities, as well as representatives of certain religious denominations in Romania.
The same day, an interview was published with the management of the Secretariat of State for Religious Affairs. On this occasion, it was announced that the State Secretariat for Religious Affairs would organise, in partnership with the Romanian Patriarchate (Romanian Orthodox Church), an event in the context of the Romanian presidency of the EU Council, to promote at the European level the Romanian model of the relationship between religious denominations and the State. The event will consist of an international conference entitled “The positive dimension of religious freedom : how can governments support religious organisations”, set to take place on 6 and 7 June 2019 at the Romanian patriarchate palace in Bucharest (the event is also listed on the official website of the Romanian EU presidency).

Source : Qmagazine.

  • 8 January 2019 : Religions classified as low-risk taxpayers

The representatives of the National Agency for Tax Administration (ANAF) recently stated that, in accordance with Government Emergency Ordinance no. 25/2018 (in Romanian) amending the Tax Code, religions have been classified as entailing low tax risk.
Under the new regulation, effective from 2019, taxpayers will be divided into three risk categories : a) low-risk taxpayers ; b) medium-risk taxpayers ; and c) high-risk taxpayers. The criteria for determining the risk class are effective tax registration, tax returns, the level of declaration and performance of payment obligations vis-à-vis the consolidated general budget.
Depending on this classification, periodic inspections will be carried out.
Following the risk analysis, representatives of the ANAF stated that no significant tax risk was assessed with respect to the specific activities of religious organisations. Consequently, no inspection action is required. In this context, representatives of the ANAF indicated that no inspection action had been carried out in religious organisations in 2017 and 2018. This decision is motivated by the fact that religions benefit, under certain conditions, from tax exemption and are concurrently exempt from the use of electronic cash registers. These tax facilities granted to religious faiths are owed to their status as legal entities of public utility recognised by the Law 489/2006 on freedom of religion and the general regime of religious faiths, according to which religious faiths carry out economic activities that are not aimed at making a profit for private purposes, but are aimed at a general public interest or that of certain communities.

D 28 mai 2019    AGabriel Birsan

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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