SLOVAK citizens with permanent residence in Slovakia will be able to claim the restitution of farm and forestland until the end of 2004, according to the latest legislation, which took effect on January 1, 2004.
This might be the last chance for those who failed to reclaim their property confiscated by the communist regime under the first restitution legislation in 1991, the Agriculture Ministry told The Slovak Spectator.
"Between 1991 and 1993, authorities registered more than 370,000 justified claims for the return of property confiscated by the state between February 1948 and January 1990," the ministry said.
The law applies only to the renewal of original ownership of land, meadows, and forests. If the owner is deceased, the restitution right is transferred to the legal heirs who are not required to have permanent residence in Slovakia. However, they still must hold Slovak citizenship.
Slovakia, as a part of the former Czechoslovakia, was an early leader in the restitution of property confiscated by the communist regime.
Only a year after the Velvet Revolution that brought the collapse of that regime, legislators passed the first restitution laws. Later, a 1993 law covered communal religious property, so that both private and public property became eligible for return.
The state currently registers 578,000 hectares of land of unidentified ownership. According to state officials, this should be enough to satisfy all the justified restitution claims.
A survey conducted by the Agriculture Ministry found that over 5,000 citizens might claim property, the daily Pravda wrote.
However, earlier estimations by the ministry said that the 1,558 claims filed before the December 31, 1993 deadline could well rise to 8,000 in total.
Restitutions might cost the cabinet Sk2.5 billion (€61.17 million), and the land that is available for return to its original owners is mostly in the hands of the state or bodies charged with the administration of state property, the news wire SITA wrote.
Only a negligible part of the land that could be subject to restitution claims is in private hands.
So far, 46,660 decrees on the restitution of land ownership have been issued to 375,611 people. 10 percent of the claims still remain unsolved, SITA wrote.
If the state is unable to return the land to its original owner, it will pay financial compensation.
Of the total volume of returned land, 317,855 hectares were those originally owned and 22,261 new hectares were given in replacement. Apart from this, money paid to those eligible amounted to Sk801 million (€19.6 million) for land, and a total of Sk1.85 billion (€45.26 million) including goods and livestock.
Land for which no original owner is found will be transferred to the municipalities, which cannot sell or use it as collateral for 10 years after the law takes effect.
The major obstacles facing Slovakia's outstanding restitution claims have been the government's lack of money to pay compensation, current tenants living on the property in question, and a lack of legislation.