Pavel Tigrid receives the highest German distinction

Germany has thanked the Czech writer and journalist Pavel Tigrid for his work in improving Czech-German relation, by awarding him the country's highest decoration, the Great Cross With Star, given to outstanding figures by the German president. The ambassador, Hagen Lambsdorff, handed him the decoration at a ceremony in Prague in the presence of the Czech president, Vaclav Havel. Alena Skodova has this report:

Pavel Tigrid has been awarded the highest German distinction in recognition of the years he has devoted to Czech-German reconciliation and for his activities in the Coordination Council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum. His life has mirrored many of the dramatic events of the 20th century. He was born in 1917, worked at the Foreign Ministry after WWII, and in 1948, when the communists took power he emigrated to West Germany. In the 1950s he was the programme director of the Czech and Slovak departments at Radio Free Europe, in the 1960s he moved to France and launched a samizdat magazine called Svedectvi.

After the fall of communism, Pavel Tigrid returned home, and he has been extremely active since returning, although he is now well over eighty. In the mid-1990s he was minister of culture and till March this year he worked as co-chairman of the Coordination Council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum, established after the Czech-German Declaration of Reconciliation was signed in 1997.

At Wednesday's ceremony President Havel pointed to Mr. Tigrid's work during the years when he worked for the Czech president as his advisor on Czech-German issues. "I would like to thank Mr. Tigrid for what he has done to help make sure that political trials and communist dictatorship are never repeated," said President Havel, alluding to the fact that back in the 1960s, Tigrid was - in his absence - sentenced to 14 years in prison for treason.

In a speech giving thanks for the award, Mr. Tigrid said that although his mother had been transported in a cattle train to Auschwitz, he had never agreed with the manner in which nearly 3 million Sudeten Germans were en masse expelled from Czechoslovakia after WWII. They were transported in the same cattle trains and were only allowed to take a handful of personal belongings with them. Tigrid said he strongly opposed the principle of collective guilt - the principle under which almost the entire ethnic German minority was expelled after the war.

He also pointed out that during the 42 years of communism in Czechoslovakia, the authorities had fomented hatred not only against fascism but against the whole German nation. Paradoxically enough, though, East Germany was one of the Soviet Union's most loyal allies back then.