Relations between Germans and Czechs considerably warmer ten years after Czech-German Declaration

Angela Merkel, photo: CTK

German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a brief visit to the Czech Republic on Friday to discuss the future of the EU constitution and other issues with Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek and president Vaclav Klaus. The German Chancellor's visit also coincided with the tenth anniversary of the so-called Czech-German Declaration. This document was signed in Prague ten years ago this week and was drafted to help lay the foundation for modern German-Czech relations.

Angela Merkel,  photo: CTK
When the Czech-German Declaration was signed in January 1997, it was intended to encourage good neighbourliness between the countries and to draw a line under the injustices of the past.

Considering that these injustices included such emotive issues as Nazi persecution and the subsequent violent expulsion of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, it is unlikely that the countries' turbulent history will ever be forgotten. Nevertheless, a page now does seem to have been turned on the harrowing events of the Czech and German past.

Tomas Jelinek is the director of the Czech-German Fund for the Future, an organisation that was established to foster good relations between Germany and the Czech Republic after the signing of the declaration.

"I think there are some rifts, which I'm not sure can be healed, but I see big progress in these areas because the Czech-German declaration brought compensation payments for Nazi victims. Moreover, class actions and the Red-Green coalition in Germany brought compensations for former forced labour. On the other hand, a gesture of reconciliation was made towards Sudeten anti-fascists by the Czech government. I think this has led to more sensitivity and empathy in both societies."

The activities of the Czech-German Fund for the Future include running cross cultural exchanges and other projects to help the two countries understand each other better. After a decade of work like this, Tomas Jelinek says that relations between Czechs and Germans are considerably warmer and that this thaw in relations has been partly helped by the fact that many of the countries' dealings with each other are now conducted on a multilateral level within a wider European context:

"First of all, I would say that we know each other better than we did ten years ago and we are closer to each other. Both countries are members of the European Union and NATO.

Our politicians now meet more in a multilateral context and there were only marginal problems on the bilateral agenda in the last few years, such as German trash on Czech tips and so on. In particular, the citizens of both countries know each other much better. I think the Czech German Declaration played very positive role in this evolution and still does today."

Although the fund was initially only meant to exist for a decade, both countries have decided to keep the project going so as to help ensure that all the good work of the past ten years is not undone and that Czechs and Germans continue to maintain a friendly relationship. Tomas Jelinek again:

"It's important to have a good mutual relations between these two countries and then we can contribute to European integration. We can enjoy good cooperation on international issues. But without mutual interest between the citizens, I don't think there can be better understanding and respect for each other."