Lex Schwarzenberg – the controversial ruling that still stirs emotion in Czechia

Hluboká nad Vltavou Castle

Lex Schwarzenberg was a special law drafted after World War Two with the sole purpose of stripping one of the most prominent Bohemian aristocratic families of most of their property. Legal experts consider it to be one of the most blatant legal wrongdoings in Czechoslovak history.

After the end of the Second World War, the vast estates of the von Schwarzenberg family drew the ire of the government of the National Front, a coalition dominated by the Social Democrats and Communists.

Czechoslovakia’s most influential politicians considered the Schwarzenbergs unduly wealthy, and decided to nationalise the family’s estates. That aim was complicated by the fact that the Schwarzenbergs had remained loyal to the Czechoslovak state during the war and were even active in the anti-Nazi resistance. It meant that the Beneš Decrees, a series of laws used to expel and take away the property of purported collaborators, could not be used to expropriate the Schwarzenbergs property.

Schwarzenberg's tomb in Domanín | Photo: Jan Rosenauer,  Czech Radio

Therefore, a special law had to be drafted. The legal force of the so-called Lex Schwarzenberg concerned only the noble family. The Constitutional Assembly, the Czechoslovak parliament of the time, debated the bill on July 10, 1947. None of the legislators, not even the future victim of Communist purges Milada Horáková, condemned the proposal.

Many historians and lawyers consider Lex Schwarzenberg to be a black spot in the Czech legal code and a breach of democratic principles. Karel Šimko, a judge on the Czech Supreme Court, had this to say about the law: “Lex Schwarzenberg is kind of a zombie. Dead and alive at the same time. It created property arrangements that persist to this day and are unjust to the original owners.”

The Schwarzenberg family has sued to overturn the law. In 2009, after several unsuccessful claims, the Czech Constitutional Court finally ruled to exempt the family tomb in Třeboň from Lex Schwarzenbeg. Karel Schwarzenberg became the lawful heir of the tomb. Nonetheless, it is still administered by the Czech National Heritage Institute, a state institution for managing national monuments.