Czech and German Presidents stress strong bilateral relations

Czech President Vaclav Havel and his German counterpart Johannes Rau, photo: CTK

The war of words between Czech and German politicians over the post-war expulsion of Czechoslovakia's large German minority - known as the Sudeten Germans - has not affected Czech-German relations. At least not according to Czech President Vaclav Havel and his German counterpart Johannes Rau, who paid a one-day visit to Prague on Wednesday. Dita Asiedu reports:

Czech President Vaclav Havel and his German counterpart Johannes Rau,  photo: CTK
According to President Havel, Czech-German relations are healthy and may even be better than ever before and he and his German counterpart did everything possible to prove it on Wednesday. At the press conference which followed the meeting at Prague Castle, President Havel criticised politicians and their pre-election campaigns, blaming them for stirring up trouble between Czechs and Germans.

"Lately there have been a number of exaggerated statements from both sides over certain chapters of our past. We shouldn't let ourselves be fooled and should not evaluate bilateral relations according to the often unbalanced wars of words that come with pre-election campaigns. That would not be fair towards the thousands of people who understand the meaning and historic importance of our relations and who are working hard on keeping them healthy."

President Rau also expressed his disappointment with the recent reopening of old wounds:

"Discussions in the past few weeks have made me worry, as sometimes I felt we were in danger of using a tone of discussion that was taking us backwards, going back on what we had already achieved. We all know that views and positions on the past can differ - that too is written in the Czech-German 1997 declaration. But this declaration also says that Czech-German relations should focus on the future and not fall victim to the political and legal questions of the past".

The presidents also visited a Czech-German school and the opening of an exhibition of forbidden literature, art and other objects from the Samizdat underground movement. According to President Rau, the Czech-German school was a fine example of the peaceful coexistence of young Germans and Czechs, who were getting to know each other, learning from each other, and learning to live together. But he also pointed to earlier historic occasions on which Germans and Czechs proved they enjoyed a special relationship:

Czech President Vaclav Havel and his German counterpart Johannes Rau,  photo: CTK
"Many will not forget the support that the Czechs gave to the East Germans who sought refuge in the German embassy in Prague in 1989. That was an important step in coming to terms with the division of Germany. In West Germany, the Prague Spring and its violent end was followed with great interest and many showed admiration for the underground Samizdat culture. I am therefore especially pleased to have been asked along with President Havel to open the Samizdat exhibition at the National Museum."

President Rau also had words of praise for the various projects organised by the Czech-German Fund for the Future set up between the two countries five years ago. These projects have led to the involvement of many Czechs and Germans, including Sudeten Germans who are still in close contact with their former countrymen. Mr Rau said such efforts had served as good examples of bilateral relations in Germany's foreign policy.