Noble family celebrates victory as court returns castle to original owners

Opocno Castle, photo: CTK

There was victory for one of the country's old aristocratic families this week, when a court in Hradec Kralove ended a 12-year legal row by ruling that a Renaissance-era castle belongs to the family of nobles that owned it for hundreds of years before World War II. Opocno Castle was first seized by the Nazis and then nationalised by the Communists after the war, but it's taken more than a decade for the former owners to wrench it back from the Czech state. Rob Cameron reports.

Opocno Castle,  photo: CTK
The ruling - by the District Court in Hradec Kralove - ordered the Czech authorities to return Opocno Castle to Kristina Colloredo-Mansfeld, a direct descendant of the castle's pre-war owners. Barring an appeal to the Supreme Court, the keys to Opocno Castle - which in its present form dates back to the 15th century - will be handed back to the Colloredo-Mansfeld family.

The case involved a highly complex examination of family history in the years leading up to and directly following the Second World War. Under Czech law, property owners can reclaim land and buildings seized by the Communists after 1948. Kristina Colloredo-Mansfeld duly filed her claim, in which she reported the castle had been seized first by the Nazis in 1942, and then by the Communists six years later.

But the Czech government rejected the claim, saying ownership of the castle automatically fell to the state under the 1946 Benes decrees, i.e. two years before the Communists came to power. The decrees legitimised the seizure of property belonging to the country's large German minority, most of whom were expelled from Czechoslovakia: an act of reprisal for their perceived collaboration with the Nazis.

Kristina Colloredo-Mansfeld maintained that the 1946 seizure was unfair, since her father - Prince Josef Colloredo-Mansfeld - had neither renounced his Czech citizenship nor sided with the Nazis before the war. He later fled Czechoslovakia with his family. The Ministry of Culture, which oversees castles and other historic property, argued that the castle belonged to the public. But that argument was also rejected by the court, and the Colloredo-Mansfeld family emerged triumphant. It's unclear whether the government will take the case to the Supreme Court: Culture Minister Pavel Dostal warned the verdict could bring into question the very legitimacy of the Benes decrees.