Struggle continues for those who lost land after 1948 Communist takeover

Around 50 mostly elderly people from the S.O.S. civic association demonstrated on Tuesday morning in front of Government Office. They were there because they say they've been left out in the process of restitution: the return of property seized by the Communist regime after 1948. They carried placards carrying slogans such as: "What was stolen must be returned" and "We want the EU - we want a lawful state," demanding that the government pay attention to them. Most of the demonstrators have had severe difficulties getting back their property from so-called co-operative farms, which the Communist regime forcibly established throughout the country in the 1950's, but there were some who have had problems reclaiming their houses and apartments. Radio Prague's Zuzana Smidova reports.

The small gathering of protestors in front of the governmental headquarters didn't create as much noise as they wanted; with the heavy traffic it was at times difficult to hear the main speaker, who was standing on the steps by the entrance. The mostly elderly protestors took turns in holding up the placards and consulted each other on the latest details of their individual court cases. Jirina Karsova is their spokeswoman.

"We're trying to fight for our rights and for justice in this country. Because - and we're not the only ones who are saying this - some members of the government have admitted it as well - the Czech Republic is a country with no rule of law. As a German citizen I can confirm that there's a huge difference between the Czech Republic and the EU when it comes to law. The police are basically admitting that in this country a thief is not a thief, and a swindler is not a swindler."

Another protestor, 74-year-old Josef Svoboda, told me how he was trying to reclaim his house in Prague. He is one of the many who have turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg:

"I sent my case to Strasbourg because the Czech courts have ruled against me. The people at the Lawyers' Association told me that there was just no political will to make such decisions. So I turned to the Justice Ministry and to the Interior Ministry, but without any success."

However, Mr Svoboda is highly sceptical about his progress in Strasbourg. In a letter he has just received from a Czech representative at the court, it says his complaint might be rejected on formal grounds.

Most of the property these people are concerned about is property belonging to the former co-operative farms. I called Hugo Roldan, the spokesman of the Ministry of Agriculture, and asked him to explain the current situation which brought the demonstrators to the government's headquarters on Tuesday.

Hugo Roldan: The people who were demonstrating yesterday are misunderstanding two things: the restitution titles and the so-called transition shares. Regarding restitution itself, they were already settled. I have to say that by the end of the last year more than 97 percent of the restitution titles were settled, were finished.

Radio Prague: So this is just a minority.

HR: Yes. The main confusion is that these people are claiming their transformation shares. The transformation law, according to which the former co-operatives were transformed into limited companies or stock companies, established the right of original owners to transformation shares in the co-operatives' current assets. It's a form of compensation for lost profits during the communist era, when the co-operatives were operating with the property of these original owners. That law was approved in 1992 and it predicted that after seven years of operating the new companies would be able to pay the original owners a transformation share. But as it happened, of course, during that time many of these companies went bankrupt or were operating with losses, not creating any profit. So the law also stipulates that these people could get their transformation shares not in cash but as part of the property.

RP: But most of them want cash?

HR: "Yes.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
run audio