Czech-Austrian discussion forum

Earlier this week over 100 leading academics, journalists and people from the arts world in both the Czech Republic and Austria have criticized the present level of political debate between the two neighbor states, and in an effort to diffuse tension and improve relations they established a so-called Forum for Czech Austrian Dialogue. Prof Heinrich Neisser who is a political scientist at Innsbruck University explains why he feels it is time to develop a broader discussion between Prague and Vienna.

"There is a lack of prudence on the part of the governments and parliaments. And therefore I think it is absolutely necessary to add activity coming from the civil society. The Austrian People's Party is more or less moderate but what I cannot understand is the attitude of the second partner the FPO. They try to emotionalize the situation and the atmosphere and in my opinion politicians should be moderate."

Among the issues currently souring bilateral relations are the Benes decrees - a 60 year old controversy pertaining to the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from post-war Czechoslovakia. Prof. Miroslav Kunstat from the Institute for International Studies in Prague thinks that the new generation - not weighed down by the past - has a better chance of resolving this painful issue.

"This topic was misused by the political parties. But I now see a critical young generation on the scene. I observe among my students a lot of self criticism - very clear self-criticism /with respect to the Benes decrees/. This discussion is underway in academic circles and I think that on this new level of reflection we will also be able to speak about some reasonable kind of compensation."

Another hotly debated issue between the Czech Republic and Austria is the Temelin nuclear power plant, which nuclear free Austria would like to see shut down. Among those who have volunteered to join the debate are leading Austrian anti-nuclear activists and the head of the Czech State Agency for Nuclear Safety Dana Drabova, who sees this as an opportunity to address the Austrian public and allay its fears regarding the safety of the Czech Republic's nuclear power facilities.

"This forum can really create a platform for dialogue but getting it to the broad public , to "normal people", this will be really difficult and I would say a long distance run."