Czechs remember tenth anniversary of German reunification

It is not just the Germans themselves who are remembering the tenth anniversary of the reunification of Germany this week. As a country which bordered on both East and West Germany, Czechoslovakia also felt the impact of an event that changed the map of Europe. Olga Szantova reports:

Maybe not so much the reunification of Germany itself, as the events leading up to it certainly did play a very important role in the process that led to the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. It all started with the mass exodus of East Germans, who sought asylum in the building of the West German embassy in Prague in September 1989.

The drama culminated on the 30th September, 1989, when the West German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, held talks in Prague, and to ecstatic cheers from the crowd, announced from the embassy's balcony, that the refugees could leave for the West.

Some four thousand East Germans were given West German passports and special trains took them from Prague to West Germany. This, of course, was while the communists were still in power in Czechoslovakia and the dramatic events had enormous impact on the general atmosphere in this country.

For the ruling communists the situation presented a real dilemma. On one hand there was their friendship with the East German regime which made them inclined to clamp down on the refugees. On the other hand, the tense situation within Czechoslovakia made any strict measures a risky step to take. The situation certainly played a role in their inability to cope with the growing threats and made them an even weaker obstacle to the changes that lead to their fall.

When the new, democratic government did take over in Czechoslovakia, relations with its German neighbors were high on it's list of priorities. An official delegation, headed by Premier Calfa, visited Bonn on November 29th. There was a strong feeling that Czech-German relations, frequently very problematic throughout the centuries, and especially during and after World War II, had to be stabilized under the new conditions.

But at the same time there were growing fears among some in Czechoslovakia that the grievances of Germans expelled from the country after the war could become louder, and after reunification, these fears became stronger. The issue has remained a point of discussion, but has not marred relations between the Czech Republic and the reunified Germany. Today Czech-German relations are probably better than at any time in history.

Author: Olga Szantová
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