Belka praises call for reconciliation with anti-fascist Sudeten Germans

Marek Belka (right) and  Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK

The Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka paid a one-day visit to Prague on Thursday - and praised Czech counterpart Jiri Paroubek's efforts at reconciliation with anti-fascist Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war. Both Poland and the Czech Republic have made strides towards reconciliation with Germany in recent years, though the efforts are not to everyone's liking. Rob Cameron has more.

Marek Belka (right) and  Jiri Paroubek, photo: CTK
Poland's Marek Belka had warm words of praise for Jiri Paroubek, describing the Czech Prime Minister's call for a gesture of reconciliation as a brave and valued step. Mr Paroubek wants the Czech state to officially declare its regret at the postwar deportation of those Germans who had opposed Adolf Hitler.

Jaroslav Sonka is a Czech journalist based in Berlin. He says the gesture would be of particular significance for the descendants of anti-fascist Germans deported from Czechoslovakia.

"There has to be a historical sign or something similar, like a beginning of reconciliation with people. Because you now have mostly a generation which was not involved in the historical problems, people who simply had parents of one sort or the other, or somewhere in between. With those people we have to have a dialogue."

Marek Belka (left) and  Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
Millions of Germans were expelled from both Czechoslovakia and Poland after the Second World War, and the expulsions have been the source of tension for decades. The Polish and Czech prime ministers agreed in Prague to co-ordinate the resolution of any future bilateral problems with their German neighbours. I asked Jaroslav Sonka whether this marked the beginning of a new era in relations between the three countries.

"It could be the beginning of a new era but one should take into account that there is a big difference between Poland and the Czech Republic. Because the Germans expelled from the Czech Republic were former citizens of the same state. On the other hand, most of the Germans expelled from the post-war Poland were inhabitants and citizens of the old Germany, and the Poles had no historical contact with them. So there is a significant difference between the two groups of expellees."

But even attempting to right historical wrongs is entering a political minefield. Mr Paroubek's suggestion has received the cold shoulder from neighbouring Slovakia, and has been condemned by the Czech president Vaclav Klaus. Mr Klaus said the prime minister had "apparently taken leave of his senses" - the latest shot in a war of words between the two men over the country's foreign policy. It might be sixty years since the end of the war, but the expulsions still have to power to raise temperatures - both at home and abroad.