Opt-out granted, but not all share Klaus fears over Sudeten Germans


President Václav Klaus said he wanted an opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to shield Czech courts from European law, mentioning in particular the prospect of property claims from Sudeten Germans – ethnic Germans who were expelled en masse from what was then Czechoslovakia after the war. But not everyone in the Czech Republic shares Mr Klaus’s concerns, in fact some organisations highlight the country’s German heritage as a positive thing. Rob Cameron visited the former Sudeten city of Ústí nad Labem, and spoke to Ondřej Matějka from the NGO Anti-Komplex.

“The Germans lived here for centuries, that means they made their own culture, they made their own economy and social structures. All of this was lost when they were expelled after the war, and that’s why we’re trying to show that it’s a bad thing to do something like ethnic cleansing.”

What was the relationship like between those three million Germans and the Czech population in this country?

“It was possible to live together for hundreds of years. The troubles started after I would say the mid-19th century when the idea of nation – the Central European concept of nation - was created, which is not really compatible. It meant you had to be either German or Czech, you couldn’t be a 'Bohemian'. You had to decide to which nation you belonged. And since that we had a sort of fight between the nations, but it doesn’t mean that it had to have ended so brutally.”

How do you think that most Czechs now look upon the Sudeten Germans and the German history of their country?

“I think that Czechs nowadays are becoming aware of the value of this German history and its German cultural heritage, and many towns in the Sudetenland are trying to restore and discover this German history, because if you are concerned only with the Czech history that means you have only sixty years. If you want to get a longer history, you have to go to the German times of the town, of the village, of the region.”

It’s hard to imagine Czechs and Germans living together after the war, after to what happened to this country in the war, after what Germans did to Czechs after the war.

“We don’t try to say that it would have been possible or easy to live together after the war. I think it would have been possible, but it’s my opinion. We don’t want to change the history, we only want to learn from the history for nowadays. Because the Czech Republic is becoming a diverse country again, through immigration and through our membership of the European Union in this European context. We don’t want to bring the history back, but we want to show that this diversity is something normal and even usual even for the Czech Republic.”