Tension eased after Joschka Fischer's visit to Prague

Joschka Fischer and Milos Zeman, photo CTK

The German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was in Prague on Wednesday to hold talks with Czech officials, aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries. Problems arose last month, when the Prime Minister Milos Zeman described Sudeten Germans - expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War Two - as "Hitler's fifth column." And his recent comparison of the Palestinians to Sudeten Germans has only added more fuel to the flames. Alena Skodova has the details:

Joschka Fischer and Milos Zeman, photo CTK
The German Foreign Minister came to Prague to smooth relations with the Czechs, after some tension arising from recent uncompromising words from Prime Minister Zeman. He came under fire this week following interviews he gave during a trip to Israel, when he compared Yasser Arafat to Hitler and Palestinians to Sudeten Germans. Mr Zeman later said his comments were misinterpreted by the Israeli media, and Joschka Fischer said he accepted his explanation.

As for the Sudeten Germans, both Mr. Fischer and his Czech counterpart, Jan Kavan, stressed the two countries must work hard to overcome the bitter legacy of the past:

"I think we should try to overcome the bitterness of the past. Everybody understands that there is a difference between the German position and the Czech position. But between friends with a very tragic history, and we know about our responsibility. And we hope that our Czech friends one day will be ready together with us to bridge the difference, we will work for that. We have the sensitivity for the bitterness of both sides."

"The personal histories of both of our families indicate that we, our generation and in our personal families, know exactly what happened and why people even today feel the pain. This is not an alien subject to us. But it has to be approached exactly as Joschka says: within the context of cooperation, and to begin to narrow those gaps and to work gently away so that the bitterness will one day fade away."

Mr. Fischer said Germany would welcome an outstretched hand from the Czech Republic, a kind of humanitarian gesture towards the successors of those who had been expelled from their homes more than 50 years ago:

"If there would be a possibility for a humanitarian gesture, this would contribute another part to the bridge. Maybe one day we will reach a level which is not far from today when there is a real progress, so that we can overcome this bitterness."

Minister Kavan then added that Prague was considering compensation for those Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia who had not collaborated with Hitler during WWII:

"We are discussing in the Czech Republic among ourselves today a humanitarian gesture, Czech humanitarian gesture towards those Sudeten Germans who opposed Hitler and suffered after the war, to underline that a collective guilt is a principle which we reject."

Both ministers underlined that it was the present which both countries should concentrate on, as conditions for good neighbourly relations- outlined in the Czech-German declaration signed five years ago - were extremely favourable:

"We do want to concentrate on our current excellent cooperation and on the future cooperation in a more integrated Europe, and that in the spirit of the German-Czech declaration of 1997. We don't want the past to burden the future."