Several thousands of Romanian citizens, amongst whom many public personalities, have protested the handing over of Carol Park in Bucharest to the Orthodox Church by the Romanian government. The Romanian Parliament even passed a law, in October 2004, which enjoined the central and local administration authorities to give to the Patriarchy of the Romanian Orthodox Church all support as well as public funds to build the Cathedral of National Redemption, “a symbol of 2000 years of Christian faith on Romanian soil”.
Remus Cernea, Executive Director of the newly admitted IHEU Member Organisation Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience, Romania, writes about the successful campaign he organised in this ex-communist republic which, having joined NATO is now aspiring to EU membership.
The project of building a gigantic Orthodox “Cathedral of National Redemption” somewhere in the middle of Bucharest was announced as early as the mid-1990s by the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC). After several locations were proposed, the Romanian Orthodox Church suggested Bucharest’s Carol Park as an appropriate site. This proposal met with little resistance from the central authorities, who soon after allotted an important sum of public money (aprox. 1.000.000 Euro) in order to dismantle a mausoleum built in the mid-1960s which is currently occupying the location.
It is at this point that the Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience started a campaign against the Carol Park project. Not only did we believe that the notion of building a giant religious edifice ineptly named “The Cathedral of People’s Salvation” was raising serious problems by itself, but we were especially concerned by the manifest ability of the ROC to put pressure on politicians in order to sway them to its side. Most of all, we were appalled by the blatant violations of the rule of law perpetrated in the process.
Our association commenced an awareness raising campaign which turned the matter from a sideline issue into a central topic that occupied the mass media for at least a couple of months. We enlisted the support of the most important professional associations of Romanian architects and urbanists, petitioned the central and the local authorities, and called attention to the violation of the country’s laws. Our association organized three public demonstrations in the Carol Park and picketed the construction site erected overnight in order to destroy the park’s mausoleum and thus compromise all opposition to the cathedral project. We were involved in several pending legal actions between june 2004 – february 2005.
Carol Park and the Mausoleum
Carol Park (1906) is one of the oldest parks in the Romanian capital and one of the few remaining green areas. It is officially recognized as a historical monument and is protected as such under Law. Architect Nicolae Cucu’s mausoleum, formerly known as “The Monument of the Communist Heroes”, was invested with a new significance after 1989 when Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed. Its exceptional value as a monument has been forcefully reaffirmed by virtually the entire community of architects in Romania.
On April 18 2003, the Romanian Government adopted a Decision, transferring 52,700 sq.m of publicly-owned land located in the Carol Park from the administration of the Bucharest General City Council into the administration of the Romanian Orthodox Church for the purpose of building the so-called Cathedral of People’s Redemption. As a reaction to this, the mayor of Bucharest Traian Basescu publicly challenged this decision. He also launched a public consultation on this issue on the City Hall’s website. The vast majority of those who participated were emphatically against the project of building the Cathedral in the Carol Park, on the site currently occupied by a mausoleum.
The Astronomical Institute, situated in the immediate vicinity of the Park, issued a protest against the Cathedral project, noting that the edifice would hamper the Institute’s activities and in addition, the Senate of the Union of Romanian Architects released a communiqué in which it urged that plans to take apart the mausoleum and to change the structure of the Park be immediately halted. The Order of Romanian Architects and the Department of Architecture at the University of Bucharest followed suit with similar statements.
By an Order of the Minister of Culture and Religious Cults on 5 April 2004 about 5 ha area of the Carol Park was removed from the national heritage list so that demolition and construction could go unimpeded.
The government’s Decision as well as the decision of the Bucharest General City Council (which was dominated by Social Democrat Party, as the government, but the Mayor was the President of Democrat Party, in opposition) are unconstitutional and null and void since they are in breach of Art. 136 of the Romanian Constitution, which provides that publicly-owned assets “may be taken over for administration by self-managed public companies or public institutions”, and that “public property is guaranteed and protected by the law” and “is inalienable”. This prohibits handing over of public property to a private legal person, which is what the Romanian Orthodox Church is.
Also, all government decisions on the matter at hand and the Order of the Minister of Culture were adopted in breach of legislation on the protection of historical monuments and Art. 5 of the Granada Convention ratified by Romania in 1997 – the Committee for Historical Monuments is the only official body entitled to decide on matters of national heritage.
Lacking in Transparency
The decisions made by central and local authorities were adopted without prior consultation with the stakeholders. After Bucharest mayor Basescu’s website voting initiative, the Fourth District Mayor’s Office initiated a parallel phone-voting operation. However, in this last instance the identity of the company in charge with the voting operation was kept secret, the company was not chosen but volunteered and the voting system was not independently checked and there was no control on the number of votes that could be registered from any one telephone number. And they never publish the results.
The October bill was submitted to the Parliament in complete disregard of transparency laws. Not only was the bill not advertised on the website of the initiating party (the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs), but responses to requests issued under the freedom of information act were deliberately delayed until the bill passed the examination of the Senate’s legal commission.
Mobilising the Citizens
The citizens of Bucharest have on several occasions expressed their disapproval of plans to build the Cathedral in the Carol Park and many private individuals have submitted complaints to the central and local authorities.
On March 21, 2004, the Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience organized a demonstration to save the Carol Park. The organizers gathered over 2,000 signatures on an open letter addressed to the Romanian President. We picketed the construction site for several weeks, keeping the issue hot for the press and thus obstructing any attempts to dismantle the mausoleum.
On April 18, 2004, the Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience organized a second demonstration to stop the demolition works. Over 1,000 men and women were present and signed a petition addressed to the Minister of Culture, requesting him to immediately withdraw his order whereby a section of the Carl Park was erased from the list of protected historical monuments. The Carol Park pickets culminated with an “Arts Marathon” – day after day, for several weeks, artists gave representations on the mausoleum esplanade as a sign of protest against the Minister of Culture’s order.
A third demonstration was organised on October 17, 2004 when several hundred people demonstrated, and we were able to re-capture the attention of the press and of the public opinion.
Our fears were confirmed when in October the House of Deputies voted “unanimously” in favour of the bill on the Cathedral of National Salvation. Intended to be an organic law, the bill required the vote of at least 173 representatives (50 percent plus one), but only about 50 attended. The bill was adopted in the absence of the mandatory approval of the Committee for European Integration and, within the House of Deputies, without the legally mandated report of the Committee for Public Administration, Territorial Planning, and Ecological Balance.
During the debates in both houses several parliamentarians noted that the bill conflicted with other laws as well as three articles of the Romanian Constitution. We had already had talks with most of these members of the Parliament and had provided them with the necessary background. All of them (almost 40) had promised us to vote
against the bill. Yet fearing the possible consequences on the coming electoral campaign of a vote perceived as “against the Orthodox Church”, all deputies eventually voted in favour.
By Wednesday 27 October the Bill was on the President’s desk and he was to take a decision on its promulgation. Our association, together with the President of the Order of Architects in Romania and the President of the Union of Architects in Romania, met with a counsellor of the President at the Cotroceni Palace to discuss the
bill. Unfortunately, none of this helped as the President decided to promulgate the bill.
Romania’s Political Class fails the Test
This shameful abdication from the basic principles of the rule of law was a new democratic test that the political class in Romania failed to pass. Using democratic procedures to impose unconstitutional laws simply defaces democracy.
We were persuaded that we will be able to prevent this terrible abuse from being brought to completion. The Cathedral law is unenforceable as it plainly conflicts with the constitution and other organic laws such as the environmental protection act, the historical monuments act, or the law on local administration. We wanted to sue over any administrative act issued in order to enforce the Cathedral law (such as construction authorizations).
We also organized a new action of protest in the Carol Park by inviting children to symbolically “adopt” the threatened trees. We have placed on our website (www.humanism.ro) several photos from this event which received a lot of media attention, especially on TV. The public opinion is generally in our favour, so the Romanian Orthodox Church hierarchs have had to defend themselves by lying. In their latest communiqué they stated that no green spaces will be affected, while the annex to the law clearly shows that an area consisting of alleys, trees and partially the mausoleum will be destroyed.
Carol Park Saved, At Last!
Finally, after the elections (which took place in November 2004), The Social Democrat Party (which supported the Church) lost power and the ex-mayor Traian Basescu (who suported our cause) became the President of Romania. Soon after, the new governement (lead by National Liberal Party and Democrat Party) decided that the site for the Cathedral which now be near the giant House of the People (Casa poporului), the second largest building in the world, after Pentagon.
25 October 2004
Republic of Romania
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella organisation for Humanist, Rationalist and secularist groups in 37 countries. …We have received news of the bill on the building of the Cathedral of National Redemption which is now before you for your Presidential assent. May we urge you not to sign it!
The Romanian Solidarity for Freedom of Conscience has pointed out that this Bill on the building of the Cathedral of National Salvation adopted unanimously in the Senate and the House contains provisions that directly conflict with democratic principles.
We are surprised that the proposed destruction of the mausoleum and of the Carol Park, historical monuments protected by your country’s laws, will be realized with public money.
Furthermore, the bill seems to have been adopted in the absence of an approval by the Parliamentary Commission for European Integration and, in the House, without the approval of the Judicial Commission and the legally mandated report of the Commission on Public Administration.
Your Excellency, we would like to point out that erecting the Cathedral of National Salvation on the current site and with public funds would be severely detrimental to the rule of law, and for the progress of Romania as a modern nation. In a modern democracy which respects the principle of the separation of church and state nobody should be granted privileges against constitutional principles.
We urge you to refuse assent to a Bill which will violate basic democratic principles if promulgated into a law.
IHEU fully supported the campaign for saving Carol Park. IHEU’s statement was published in full in the weekly Observator Cultural, one of the most important magazines of cultural and political analysis in Romania. Extracts were also published in the Evenimentul Zilei (The Daily Event), the most widely distributed Romanian Daily.