German Chancellor Schroeder in Prague

Gerhard Schröder et Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK

The German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Prague for a one-day official visit on Friday morning to hold talks with senior Czech politicians. Topics of discussion throughout the day, during Mr Schroeder's meetings with President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and the leaders of both houses of parliament, were mainly expected to focus on the European Union and trade relations. Mr Schroeder was expected to visit the country eighteen months ago but cancelled the trip after former Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman called Sudeten Germans - ethnic Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia during WWII - "Hitler's fifth column". Now, Mr Schroeder and Mr Spidla stress that bilateral relations are better than ever.

Gerhard Schroeder and Vaclav Klaus, photo: CTK
According to the BBC's Petr Brod, a Czech journalist who has spent many years in Germany, Mr Schroeder's visit holds much importance as it confirms that the can of worms opened eighteen months ago, with regards to the ethnic German community in Second World War Czechoslovakia and their persecution in the years that followed, has now been closed. But will issues of the past no longer affect bilateral talks, especially since Mr Schroeder's visit comes at a time when there have been calls to build a memorial centre in Berlin to commemorate ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after WWII? Dita Asiedu spoke to Mr Brod about how we can expect Czech-German relations to develop after Mr Schroeder's historic visit:

"The problems stemming from the past are not in any way influencing the current relationship between the two governments, which stick to the declaration of 1997, in which Germany and the Czech Republic declared that they will not let issues stemming from the past influence their relations. The issue of the Benes decrees that is often mentioned - the decrees that were the basis for the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after the war is something brought forward by certain interest groups in Germany but it's not something that is raised by the German government."

So then would you say that the calls to open a memorial centre to honour ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe that have been given much attention, mainly by the media, will also not affect official bilateral relations?

Vladimir Spidla and Gerhard Schroeder
"They will not affect official relations although politicians on both sides are talking about these issues. Only this week we had a petition in which intellectuals and academics from several countries also raised concern. They feel that an exclusive focus on German suffering might cause irritations in neighbouring countries and there are such fears in the Czech Republic in political circles too. But this is a matter to be settled in Germany, by Germans and certainly won't lead to political interference from the official Czech side."

ctk0309/spidla_schroeder Is there a current development that you think could cause some friction bilateral relations, such as the EU constitution, for example?

"Yes indeed and it's only natural that the Czech Republic as a smaller country has concerns that are similar to those of other small countries - both current European Union members and candidate countries, which will join the EU next year - and these issues were raised earlier this week at a conference in Prague. These are countries that want to re-open the package that was produced by the Convent on the European constitution earlier this year. That package will go before an inter-governmental conference and the bigger countries like France and Germany are against re-opening that package, they are against changes in the proposed EU constitution. But the Czech Republic insists on certain points and will probably succeed in having some discussion at the inter-governmental conference."