Constitutional Court decision rekindles restitution battle for Opocno Castle
The Czech Constitutional Court this week overturned a regional court's decision to return the historic Opocno Castle in eastern Bohemia to the aristocratic family that had owned it for centuries. The ruling could call into question the restitution of historic properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Well, it's a very complex case, which hinges in large part on interpretations of the post-World War II decrees of Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes by which millions of ethnic Germans -- and others deemed disloyal to the state -- were stripped of their property and citizenship, and expelled from the country. The basic question was whether or not the former owner of Opocno Castle was a Nazi collaborator or even a Czechoslovak citizen.
But the Colloredo-Mansfeld restitution case is also is directly related to the seizure, or "nationalization," of property by the Communists, who took control of Czechoslovakia on February 25, 1948 - and that date is the cut-off point for restitution claims set by the Czechoslovak government which took office after the fall of communism in 1989.
This is an oversimplification, but basically, if you or your ancestors were stripped of property before the communist takeover, on the basis of the "Benes Decrees," there's no chance of getting it back from the Czech state now unless you can prove that the decrees were incorrectly applied, or your property seized by the Communists on ideological grounds.
RP: And in the case of the Colloredo-Mansfelds?
The Nazis deemed the family patriarch, Josef Colloredo-Mansfeld, an "enemy of the Third Reich" and seized his properties in 1942. He was a signatory to the pre-war "Declaration of the Czech Nobility," which pledged allegiance to the Czechoslovak nation and demanded that the Sudetenland — the border regions of Czechoslovakia — not be transferred to Germany. On that basis, he briefly regained control of the castle after the war, but it was then retaken on the basis of the Benes Decrees and nationalized in 1949.
Josef Colloredo-Mansfeld was suing the state for the return of his property, but after the Communist takeover, he fled to Canada with his family, later settling in Austria, and had little recourse to continue the legal battle across the Iron Curtain.
The Constitutional Court ruling on Thursday, basically, could undermine claims for the return of properties to aristocratic families and others who can't definitively prove their wartime allegiance to the Czechoslovak state; the court is saying there's no way to breech the Benes Decrees; that the February 25, 1948 cut-off date for restitution claims stands rock solid.