First Czech conciliatory gesture to Sudeten Germans in Austria

from left to right:Cyril Svoboda, Benita Ferrer-Waldner, Vladimir Spidla, Wolfgang Schüssel, photo: CTK

Over the weekend, the Czech Republic apologised for the first time to ethnic Germans living in Austria for their expulsion at the hands of the Czechoslovak authorities in the years following WWII. At a European Forum in the Austrian town of Goettweig over the weekend, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said Czechs regretted that these events and actions ever happened.

from left to right:Cyril Svoboda,  Benita Ferrer-Waldner,  Vladimir Spidla,  Wolfgang Schüssel,  photo: CTK
The Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion and confiscation of property of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, are a frequent topic of discussion between the Czech Republic and neighbouring Germany and Austria. Ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia and moved to Germany and Austria have called on the Czech government to abolish the decrees, compensate them for their losses, and some want their property to be returned. The Czech government, however, has rejected these demands, saying that most ethnic Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia as Czech citizens had betrayed their country by siding with Nazi Germany during WWII, adding that their property is now owned by Czechs and cannot be taken away from them.

But while preparing for EU membership, the Czech Republic made a conciliatory gesture to Germany by expressing regret over the post-war expulsion and persecution of Czechoslovakia's large ethnic German minority in a 1997 Czech-German declaration. On Sunday, Mr Spidla said that the declaration also applied to Austria but stressed that the Czech Republic could not do more:

"Even if we admit to the responsibility for some immoral actions that took place in the post-war period, we cannot make legal amends. From a legal point of view - as the results of independent analysis made in previous years confirm - the matter is now closed," Mr Spidla said.

And while Prime Minister Spidla made the first Czech gesture to Austria, a foundation of ethnic Germans expelled from their eastern and central European homeland after World War II awarded a prize worth 10,000 Euros to three Czechs in Germany on Sunday. The Czech group commemorated displaced Germans with the erection of a "reconciliation cross" in the small town of Teplice nad Metuji, set up as a memorial to Sudeten Germans killed in Teplice in 1945 and all other people killed in ethnic conflict in the area. The award in Frankfurt by the Centre Against Expulsions was the first of its kind. Its organisers and observers hope to defuse lingering resentment about the expulsions.

But according to Martin Dzingl from the Assembly of Germans in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, there are some ethnic Germans - those who remained in Czechoslovakia - who suffered even after the post-war years and now deserve some sort of financial compensation:

"Although some Germans were allowed, or were forced to stay in Czechoslovakia, their property was confiscated due to their ethnicity. They were not able to stay where they had lived for generations and but were displaced to the northern parts of the country. They also could not work in the areas they were educated in, something which is reflected in the fact that their pensions today are still lower than they should be."

According to the DPA news agency, Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares has already been entrusted by the Czech government with the creation of a committee, which would process proposals to compensate some 3,000 ethnic Germans living in the Czech Republic by October 31st.