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Czech Republic: Czech-German Declaration Praised And Criticized

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 11 December 1996 (RFE/RLL) - The Czech-German declaration that was leaked to the news media this week, less than two weeks before its scheduled initialling, has provoked praise from mainstream politicians in both countries.

The declaration constitutes an attempt to provide a clear statement about the two countries' common past in this century.

The key phrase is contained in point four of the eight-point statement: "Both sides...declare that they will not burden their relations with political and legal questions arising from the past."

Czech politicians in particular say that the document, which was negotiated in secret over two years, goes further than they expected it would in dealing with the unhealed wounds of the past.

However, the declaration has come in for harsh criticism from the main Sudeten German expellees' organization, the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, as well as from groups of Czech veterans, nationalists, Communists and the Czech Jewish community for skirting or ignoring certain issues or being too weak.

The main Czech opposition party, the Social Democrats, says it is reserving judgment until it gets an official copy of the document.

President Vaclav Havel, whose idea it was to draw up a declaration, is currently in hospital recovering from a lung operation and unable to speak. He has not issued any comment yet, not even through his spokesman.

The declaration is due to be formally signed and later ratified by the two countries' parliaments early next year. It appears to have been leaked by the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft to the German news media on Monday, four days after German chancellor Helmut Kohl gave the association's leader Franz Neubauer an advance copy.

Neubauer denies having leaked the declaration. But the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" today says Neubauer is not telling the truth and leaked the document in a bid to delay Foreign ministers Klaus Kinkel and Josef Zieleniec from initialling the declaration next week. Kinkel is particularly incensed at the leak.

In an interview with the paper today, Neubauer says the declaration fails to state that the expulsion of some three million Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II was wrong. He criticizes the declaration for not expressing remorse over the expulsion and instead merely expressing regret over the suffering and injustice resulting from the expulsion.

Most media attention is centered on the wording of points two and three of the declaration.

In point two, the German side accepts responsibility for its role in the developments leading to the Munich Pact of 1938, the flight and expelling of Czechs from the borderlands -- the so-called Sudetenland -- and the break-up and occupation of Czechoslovakia. The German side regrets the suffering and wrongs inflicted by the Nazis on the Czechs and notes that the Nazi policy of violence toward the Czechs helped prepare the ground for the post-war flight, expelling and forced resettlement of the Sudeten Germans.

In point three, the Czech side expresses regret that much suffering and many wrongs were inflicted on innocent people during the post-war expulsion and forced resettlement of the Sudeten Germans.

Perhaps the most controversial phrase in the declaration is that the Czech side "particularly regrets excesses which were at variance with elementary humanitarian principles and also with the laws valid at the time and also regrets that under law 115 of May 8, 1946, these excess were not regarded as unlawful and as a consequence were not punished."

The first postwar Czechoslovak parliament, in one of its last acts before the general elections of 1946, amnestied Czechs for crimes committed against German civilian inhabitants at the end of the war and in the first days of peace. Tens of thousands of Germans were killed by Czechs, mainly by the so-called Revolutionary Guard, in various acts of revenge that included forced marches and summary executions in the final days of the war and its immediate aftermath. Czech and German estimates of the number of killings differ widely.

The Sudeten German expellees had demanded that this law and various presidential decrees enabling the confiscation of Sudeten German property be abrogated. But Czech nationalist and veterans'groups have defended the 1946 law as necessary at the time to enable Czechs to defend themselves from revenge-seeking Germans.

The Czech Jewish community has criticized the declaration for lacking any reference to the Nazi German extermination of nearly 80,000 Czech Jews or compensation for Czech victims of the Holocaust. Chief rabbi Karol Sidon says the genocide of Czech Jews at the hands of the Nazis cannot be merely described as "suffering and iniquity."