Conflict between President and PM over reconciliation plan for Sudeten German antifascists escalates

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek with the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, photo: CTK

The war of words between President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek over the latter's proposal to compensate Sudeten German antifascists has reached a new high. On Thursday President Klaus said that Mr Paroubek "must have taken leave of his senses". The president was reacting to PM Paroubek's statement that he had probably misunderstood the essence of the reconciliation gesture and that by having rejected it President Klaus has got into one group together with the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft in Austria.

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek with the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, photo: CTK
The Czech prime minister has not specified what form any such conciliatory gesture should take, but the move was high on the agenda of Mr Paroubek's meeting in Vienna on Thursday with the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. Radio Prague's Gerald Schubert was in Vienna and he joins me now in the studio.

Gerald, what were the reactions in Austria to Prime Minister Paroubek's planned gesture towards Sudeten Germans who did not support the Nazi regime?

"First of all, I have to say that Austria seemed to be quite interested in the meeting. On Thursday, two big Austrian newspapers published interviews with PM Paroubek and the common main topic was actually the planned reconciliation gesture Mr Paroubek was talking about. The reactions from the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft were negative because they said this was a diplomatic trick and an attempt to divide the Sudeten Germans.

"The reactions of the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel were very positive. He said that the principle of collective guilt was not applied anymore - that's the way he interpreted the attempt of Jiri Paroubek to make a reconciliation gesture. He appreciated the attempt of Jiri Paroubek to accept the historical fact that there had been some Sudeten German antifascists who fought against - or were at least active against the German occupation and they should be honoured in some way."

Prime Minister Paroubek is the fourth Czech Prime Minister who's met the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel during his term...

"Yes, that's true. Mr Schuessel has been chancellor now for almost five years and Jiri Paroubek even said that Chancellor Schuessel is now an "expert on Czech prime ministers". So he's definitely not the first one. But they already know each other - we must not forget that European prime ministers have regular meetings in Brussels. They call each other by their first names."

And what was the atmosphere during the meeting?

"Actually the atmosphere was very good, I think. Mr Schuessel and Mr Paroubek discussed European questions. They discussed this reconciliation gesture we've been talking about - this was of course good for the whole atmosphere.

"But on the other hand, there are some unsolved problems as well. For instance, we know that when the Czech Republic and nine other states joined the European Union a year ago, they had to accept some transition periods - meaning that their citizens won't be allowed to work in the old EU member states for a maximum of seven years and Chancellor Schuessel showed no sign of any plans to shorten that transition period. So it looks as if Austria wants to close its labour market to the citizens of the new member states, and also to the citizens of the Czech Republic."