Zeman voices support for compensating anti-fascist Sudeten Germans

Bernd Posselt (right) and Otto Schily, photo: CTK

On Monday, the Social Democrat Prime Minister, Milos Zeman, and party leader Vladimir Spidla both expressed support for the payment of compensation to Sudeten Germans who fought against fascism during World War II. Senate Chairman Petr Pithart echoed their call for compensation, which followed a gathering of Sudeten Germans at the week-end. Dita Asiedu has more:

Bernd Posselt (right) and Otto Schily, photo: CTK
The German Interior Minister Otto Schily and the Conservative candidate for Chancellor Edmund Stoiber, along with representatives of Sudeten German organisations, made statements about the controversial Benes decrees at a rally in Nuremberg at the weekend. Under the decrees, an estimated 2.5 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war. There is support for compensation for anti-fascist Sudeten Germans in the neighbouring countries of Germany and Austria. However, here in the Czech Republic some have reacted to the Social Democrats' promises with skepticism, and critics wonder whether Mr Zeman's statement is in any way connected with the upcoming general elections. But, according to Mr Jan Sechtr, the Czech Republic's chief negotiator on WWII compensation, the idea is not a new one:

"It does not come as a surprise. For years we have noticed the good relationship and cooperation between the Czech Social Democrats and the Social Democratic Sudeten Germans - a large number of whom were anti-fascists. The thought of a symbolic gesture is not a sudden decision. The problem now is to find the anti-fascists in question. Many of them have spread around the world since 1938 because they did not dare to go back home after the 1945 liberation."

This year, Austrian and German Sudeten Germans have been working harder than ever to make the Benes Decrees an international topic of debate. While neither Euro pean Union officials nor governments have shown any inclination to make the decrees an international issue, their future is still in debate. Some might say the offer of compensation of a symbolic sum may just be a simple attempt to appease the parties involved.

Mr Zeman said on Monday that he had expressed several times in the past that he appreciated those Sudeten Germans who were active in the anti-Nazi resistance, including those who suffered in concentration camps. There are tens or at most hundreds of such victims, he added. But the question remains how many of these people would actually get to claim the compensation. And will it be difficult to prove that one was an anti-fascist activist? According to Jan Sechtr, it would be a much easier task than providing proof of having been a WWII victim:

"It's not that difficult. It will be much easier than providing proof of having been a slave or forced labourer. It was an active role that people took. They clearly stated that they considered themselves a part of the Czechoslovak state - and they are the Sudeten Germans who deserve to benefit from the symbolic gesture."