218429 7/28/2009 12:24 09BUCHAREST527 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED 07BUCHAREST861 VZCZCXRO8172 PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSL RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHBM #0527 2091224 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 281224Z JUL 09 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9775 RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 0004 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE UNCLAS BUCHAREST 000527
DEPT FOR EUR/CE ASCHIEBE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM, SCUL, PGOV, PREL, RO
SUBJECT: ROMANIA: CATHOLIC CHURCHES CLOSE TO PROTEST CONSTRUCTION NEXT TO CATHEDRAL
REFTEL: 07 BUCHAREST 861
1. Summary. The Archbishop of Bucharest, with the purported support of the Vatican, ordered all Roman Catholic Churches in Bucharest closed on Sunday July 12th, except for Saint Joseph's Cathedral. There, a rally following Sunday mass attracted over 6,000 people to march on Victoria Palace, the Prime Minister's headquarters, in a protest against the destruction of Romania's national cultural heritage by real estate investors. The protest stemmed from a recent court ruling restoring the construction permit for the Cathedral Plaza, a 19-story, 248 foot-high office building being built eight meters from the walls of the Cathedral. The Roman Catholic Church has been fighting for years to stop construction, alleging that the entire process of acquiring the land and the construction permit violated a series of laws (reftel). End Summary
2. On July 12, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bucharest closed its churches and held a special service at Saint Joseph's to protest a June 25 court ruling allowing the resumption of construction works on a 19-story business center being built in close proximity to the Cathedral. During his sermon, Archbishop Robu announced that this extraordinary action was being taken to "protest the manner in which the Catholic Church is treated by state authorities," mentioning also the Armenian Church and other historical monuments "damaged in Bucharest and in the country." According to public reports, the Archbishop sought and received the Vatican's assent prior to announcing the protest.
3. The service attracted about 2,000 Catholic believers from Bucharest and several surrounding counties and was followed by a march of approximately 6,000 on Victoria Palace, the seat of the cabinet, where organizers presented a petition. In addition to the Roman Catholic Archbishop, clergy and believers, representatives of civic NGOs and Bucharest residents of various faiths also joined in to voice their concern that modern construction had grown out of control in the city, threatening and even destroying many historical landmarks. Organizers said this was the first of a series of protests that the Church will continue to sponsor.
4. Since the construction of Cathedral Plaza began in 2006, the Roman Catholic Church has tried hard to stop it, filing complaints with local, state and international authorities (reftel). The Church alleged that both the land for the office building and its construction permit were illegally obtained, accusing two former mayors of Bucharest, Traian Basescu (the incumbent President) and Adriean Videanu (presently Minister of the Economy) of abetting the inappropriate allocation of land and issuance of a construction permit for the tower.
5. The Church argued that the cathedral was a historical monument and the area surrounding it is protected under the law, which requires the developer to seek the formal approval of the Church prior to construction. Initially, the Church agreed in principle with the construction of the building in its neighborhood, but subsequently withdrew its approval following the developer's inability to produce technical data guaranteeing that the office building would not endanger the cathedral's structure. This opposition strengthened following a survey by an Italian seismic institute which found that the new building would cause damage to the Cathedral in the event of an earthquake.
6. Construction on the new building had been stopped since 2007, with a county court annulling the construction permit in February 2009. The Church, however, lost when the developer appealed this ruling to the Court of Appeal in Ploiesti, which overturned the decision of the lower court.
7. Comment: Dozens of buildings throughout Bucharest are meeting with the same fate as the Catholic Cathedral in a process that reminds many residents of Ceausescu's march toward modernization, when many of Bucharest's historic buildings were knocked down to fit his dream of an orderly Communist capitol. More than anything else, the case highlights the low esteem that most Romanians hold toward the judiciary and public authorities. The absence of proper zoning and persistent allegations of corruption make even the most basic land-use questions political, with neither side accepting decisions of either authorities or courts as final. The tendency of Romanian appellate courts to re-adjudicate the decisions of lower courts means there is no disincentive (other than financial) to appeal every ruling. Continued competition between the old and new is inevitable as Romania continues to struggle with rule-of-law issues and the disengagement that many Romanians feel from the political process. End Comment.