German candidate for Chancellor calls for the abolition of the Benes decrees

Edmund Stoiber, photo: CTK

At a weekend rally of the biggest Sudeten German organisation, the Landsmannschaft, in Nuremberg, the Bavarian Prime Minister and conservative candidate for the post of German chancellor, Edmund Stoiber again called for the abolition of the controversial post-war Benes decrees. The legislation sanctioned the expulsion of some two and a half million ethnic Germans - known as Sudeten Germans - from Czechoslovakia after WWII. Mr. Stoiber says the decrees contravene European legal norms and values. Alena Skodova has more:

Edmund Stoiber,  photo: CTK
In his speech at the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft annual meeting in Nuremberg, Edmund Stoiber was again most vocal about the German plight more than 50 years ago. He stressed that the existence of the Benes decrees at present was unacceptable and that it was in the Czech Republic's own interest to distance itself from them. That's something Czech politicians refuse to do. They say the Benes decrees were part and parcel of Czechoslovakia's post-war policy and the post-war settlement in Europe as a whole, that's why it's not easy to simply erase them from the past.

With only four months to go to the general election in Germany, Mr. Stoiber's call is seen by some a pre-election ploy, meant to appeal to Bavarian voters. But Edmund Stoiber is a hot candidate for the post of German chancellor, so would this issue become a part of official German policy if he were elected? I put this question to Czech political analyst Jiri Pehe.

"It could be an official German line if Stoiber is elected, on the other hand I would not exaggerate the importance of what he said because Stoiber called for the abolition of the Benes decrees - that is obviously something that on the one hand sounds very threatening to the Czech side. On the other hand, I don't think Stoiber, being a reasonable politician is talking about the Benes decrees 'ex thunc' that means retroactively, he's talking about abolishing them 'ex nunc', basically declaring that from now on they will not be used and the Czech Republic will not abide by them. So I think we need to keep that in mind, on the other hand he also said that the decrees will not be an obstacle to the Czech Republic's membership in the EU, so he's careful and I think it would be really unfortunate to make a big deal out of this."

German officials have assured the Czech Republic that Germany would not ask for any compensation or make any property claims on behalf of the expelled Sudeten Germans, so why do they call for the abolition of the Benes decrees in the first place?

"I think that a lot of Sudeten German organizations want just a symbolic gesture from the Czech Republic and we have to distinguish among various Sudeten German organizations. They speak various voices and we should keep in mind that this is a community of three and a half million people - that means a huge community - and there are many different spokesmen for this community, and the Czech side usually reacts to the most radical declarations that appear in this community, while moderate voices are ignored. I think in general most Sudeten Germans really do not think that the Czech Republic could return property that was confiscated, that they understand this is a question of the past, and they basically want from the Czech Republic just symbolic gestures, perhaps an apology, perhaps some symbolic compensation."