MOLDOVA: Deadline Expires, But No Compensation for Bessarabian Church.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 27 June 2002

Despite the expiry today of the deadline for the Moldovan government to pay compensation ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg to the Orthodox Church of the Bessarabian jurisdiction for repeated refusal to grant it registration, there is little sign that compensation will be paid soon. "The government is not abiding by the Strasbourg ruling - we haven't had the compensation and we haven't been registered. They're not in any hurry," Father Andrei (Caramaleu), the assistant to Bessarabian Church leader Metropolitan Petru (Paduraru), told Keston News Service from the Moldovan capital Chisinau on 27 June. "The government is listening more to Moscow than to Europe." Vitalie Parlog, a justice ministry official who represented the government in the case at the ECHR, admitted that the compensation should have been paid by 27 June. "I know it is the last day," he told Keston. He claimed that it was enough that the government had taken the decision a week earlier that compensation would be paid, although he did not know when the money would be handed over. "The procedure has already been established."

Under the December 2001 ruling, the government was instructed to pay the Bessarabian Church compensation of 27,025 Euros (24,400 US dollars or 16,800 British pounds) "for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage and for legal costs and expenses". When the government's appeal against the ruling was rejected on 27 March (see KNS 10 April 2002), the three month deadline for paying the compensation began. Interest is chargeable on the compensation from 28 June - calculated at French interest rates - because it has not been paid within the deadline.

An official of the ECHR confirmed to Keston on 27 June from Strasbourg that the deadline expired today and that interest now becomes payable. "It's not uncommon for governments not to pay compensation by the deadline, whether deliberately or not," the official noted. "That's why the court introduced the possibility of awarding interest as it became clear that governments were failing to pay promptly and applicants were losing out." The official noted that the court itself does not supervise the execution of judgments, which is the responsibility of the Council of Europe's Directorate General of Human Rights. "They put questions to the government concerned over what measures they have taken to implement a judgment. They follow up on the nuts and bolts of fulfilling a judgment."

The official stressed that a government which has lost a case at the court has the obligation to eliminate the causes of the violation, whether by amending the law or otherwise. "That's the purpose of the whole system. There have been very few cases over the past forty years where governments have not in the end taken steps to comply with judgments, however half-heartedly."

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a resolution on 24 April which included a requirement that the Moldovan authorities register the Bessarabian Church by 31 July. A delegation of the European Commission and the Council of Europe which ended a visit to Chisinau on 19 June urged that fulfilment of this and other recommendations be speeded up.

Justice Minister Ion Morei announced on 12 June that the government would pay the compensation from its reserve fund. "We are talking about those 27,025 euros in a leu equivalent, 7,025 euros for legal costs and 20,000 euros for damages," he said in remarks broadcast by the private station ProTV. "The government members unanimously passed this decision today." The prime minister Vasile Tarlev endorsed the payment of compensation publicly. "This is a court decision and, as we have already confirmed, the government has abided by an international decision," he said in the same ProTV broadcast. "We have a clear mission to integrate, to join European structures."

The British-based lawyer who represented the Bessarabian Church in Strasbourg, John Warwick Montgomery, said the delay appeared to be the result of incompetence or intransigence, but was optimistic the government would comply with the December ruling. "It is just a matter of time before they pay AND register the Bessarabian Church," he told Keston on 27 June. "The government has too much to lose otherwise."

But Bessarabian Church officials - who have been seeking registration in vain for the past decade - remain suspicious of the government's intentions. "The prime minister told a gathering of priests and others in the town of Hincesti yesterday that the government would not register the Church as doing so would lead to civil war," Father Andrei reported. "It is difficult to understand. The justice minister says one thing and the prime minister says another."

Representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate's branch in Moldova, which is led by Metropolitan Vladimir (Cantarean), have repeatedly urged the government not to register the rival Bessarabian Church, which is under the jurisdiction of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The official newspaper Moldova Suverana published another petition on 15 June from Metropolitan Vladimir, asking President Vladimir Voronin to "resist the pressure of the West" and to oppose the recognition of the Bessarabian Church. The metropolitan, backed by the synod whose members also put their signatures under the petition, called for "Orthodox unity" and "defence of the Church's interests in Moldova." Another article in the same issue, signed by a group of priests from Orhei Region, complained that any recognition of the Bessarabian Church "undermines the Orthodox faith."

There have also been demonstrations in the streets of several towns against any registration of the Bessarabian Church. On 14 June a demonstration in the northern town of Balti was attended by some 800 people.

The Bessarabian Church - with some 150 parishes and 85 priests - is by far the largest faith in Moldova to be denied registration. Other faiths that have had registration applications refused include the Muslims, the True Orthodox Church and the Mormons (see KNS 24 June 2002). (END)