In most of Western Europe feudal institutions had been taken apart over a century ago, but this is not so in the East. There, before communism, 17th century style latifundia were common in the countryside. Communists nationalized the land and early postcommunist governments gave them to the local farmers. But under European pressure and domestic conservative lobbying, the laws were tightened and the old landlords (most of them artistocrats and churches) sued for restitution.
Romania is probably one of the most grotesque examples of how the enforcement of an unqualified right to private property-often following rulings of the European Court of Human Rights- led to a massive restitution of land and forests to the old feudal elite.
The latest example comes from the village of Nadas in Western Romania, where an entire village (8,700 hectares of land, forests, the church, the cemetery) were given back to the original owner, an aristocratic family who lorded over the area for centuries. The entire village community was left without its livelihood and faces a modern version of 19th century enclosures.
Of course, the aristocrats in question may not exercise their right to rent out the land to farmers as better opportunities beckon. Not only because they lack the resources, but because they stand to gain quite a lot from the impending removal of the right of non-residents to acquire land in Romania and 8,700 hectares is quite a lot. Unlike the peasants, they have huge incentives to throw the property in the commodity chain. They have a great shot at doing so as the land is located in the part of the country where Italian agrobusiness has become a dominant buyer in the recent years.
It’s a state of affairs that forces 20th century Eastern liberals who are serious about private property embrace the neo-feudal restoration that even a 19th century liberal would have abhorred.