Via a court ruling on Monday, the descendants of an old Transylvanian aristocratic family were dispossessed of more than 10,000 hectares of forest lands and meadows that had been the property of the family until they were nationalized under the Romanian communist regime. As court of first instance, the Hátszeg (Haţeg) Court pronounced its decision in a voluminous lawsuit initiated against the successors of the Kendeffy family, ruling that their right of ownership of the lands was illegally restored fourteen years ago.
In 2005, the legal descendant of the Kendeffy family line, the late Mária Kendeffy and her daughter, Erzsébet Pongrácz, submitted their claim for the restitution of their lands located in the Retyezát (Retezat)-mountains, part of the Southern Carpathians mountain range. Their application was accepted, and within a year, the prefect’s office of Hunyad (Hunedoara) County issued the new property documents.
The Kendeffy family is one of the oldest Transylvanian Hungarian families. The rank of count was given to Elek Kendeffy in the 18th century by Maria Theresia of the House of Habsburg, sovereign of Austria, Hungary and several other dominions. The Kendeffys owned widespread lands in the area of the Retyezát and Hátszeg mountains.
A couple of years after the restitution, the Romanian Academy of Science sued the Kendeffy successors, and in 2009, a lawsuit was initiated at the Hátszeg Court. The Academy started the litigation as plaintiff, since, after communist nationalization, it had received the property taken from its rightful owners, the brothers Lajos and Gábor Kendeffy. The Romanian Academy of Science also sued the prefect’s office of Hunyad County and the restitution commission; later, other parties entered the legal proceedings, among them the Romanian state and two local administrations.
According to the Hátszeg Court’s ruling, it was not legal for Mária Kendeffy, who died in 2016, and her daughter to receive back property rights, as they were not Romanian citizens when they asked for them. Furthermore, the court decided that the defendants have to pay the litigation cost, about EUR 1,700.
It surely seems that state authorities are not keen on letting go of such large areas of forests and meadows, as this is not the first case where property rights that have already been restored to noble families have been questioned. The successors of baron János Kemény, a renowned writer, dramatist, theater director and cultural leader during the period between the two World Wars, had to counter-sue the state to regain property rights over their forest lands.
In the Kemény case, the forested area in question was restituted to the family’s descendants by a legally binding court decision; nevertheless, the state commission for land division of Maros (Mureş) managed to get the case reopened.
The commission supposedly got hold of documents proving that the forest did not become state property during nationalization, as it had already been taken by the Authority for the Management and Supervision of Enemy Goods (CASBI). The court of first instance ruled against the Kemény successors, but they appealed the decision. After five postponements, this July, the Prahova County Court of Appeal pronounced its decision, partially in favor of the successors. They were given back 57 hectares of forest of what had been a much larger area. But their request to receive at least part of the profits the state has gained these past years from the use of their forest was denied.
As a gloomy reminder: On the dawn of March 3, 1949, Transylvanian aristocrats were forced out of their homes and taken away by the Romanian secret police, the Securitate. Around 7,804 people were deported that night and placed in restricted residences, and all their properties were nationalized. Some aristocrats, mostly those having higher status and function, were declared enemies of the state, with authorities claiming they had committed various crimes against the state.
Title image: It still does not look good in the eyes of the authorities if a family owns larger lands or forests. The image is an illustration.