ANO leader stirs up controversy by backing idea to tax church restitutions

Efforts to win support for a minority government headed by ANO leader Andrej Babiš have cast doubt on the future of a hard-won settlement between the country’s 16 churches and the State. The ANO leader caused a stir this week when he expressed readiness to support the Communist Party’s demand for church restitutions to be taxed.

Andrej Babiš, photo: Filip JandourekAndrej Babiš, photo: Filip Jandourek The agreement on compensating churches for property seized by the Communists was 20 years in the making. In 2012 then prime minister Petr Nečas and representatives of 16 churches signed bilateral agreements under which they would receive 75 billion crowns worth of land and property confiscated by the communist regime and get 59 billion crowns worth of compensation money for the rest, to be paid by the state over a period of 30 years. The idea was that this should enable them to gain full independence from the state by 2030.

The deal reached by a right-wing government met with severe opposition from the Communists and Social Democrats who made an unsuccessful attempt to challenge it in court. Now, it appears that they may have gained a new ally in the leader of the ANO party.

Andrej Babiš said this week that the set compensation for property that could not be returned to churches was overinflated and that, in any case, since the money allotted to churches was a form of income it should be taxed. Although taxation of church restitutions was one of the conditions set by the Communist Party in return for its support for an ANO minority government Babiš said this had not influenced his own views on the matter which were highly critical from the start. He told the daily Pravo that, in his view, the estimate of the compensation sum based on the prices of land amounted to fraud and argued that some of the churches which were allotted restitution money were not eligible to receive any compensation since seven of them did not even exist before the fall of communism in 1989.

The suggestion that church restitutions should be taxed has sparked a heated debate on the legality of such a move and the possible implications of revising the restitution law. The Czech Bishops’ Conference issued a public statement on Tuesday saying it considers church restitutions a closed chapter and sees no reason to enter the ongoing legal, political and economic debate on the possibility of levelling a tax on the money to be paid out.