Prague, Feb. 7 (RFE/RL) - The Czech Republic and its
powerful neighbor, Germany, are still at an impasse over a
declaration on bilateral relations.
Agreement on a declaration, meant to bring an end to historical
grievances, has stalled because of an increasingly bitter dispute
over World War Two reparations. Prague wants the German government to
compensate victims of Nazi war crimes, while Bonn is insisting that
Prague recognize the injustice suffered by the estimated three
million Sudeten Germans expelled from the Czech Republic at the end
of the war.
The German and Czech Foreign Ministers, Klaus Kinkel and Josef
Zielenec, held five hours of talks last month in an attempt to break
the impasse. But the talks broke down. Kinkel admitted that what he
called the "burdens of the past" were too great to reach an agreement
on the declaration.
At the heart of the dispute are differing interpretations of the
post-war Potsdam agreements, which approved the transfer. German
Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel caused an uproar in the Czech press
last month when he questioned the legality of the Potsdam documents.
He told the German newspaper General Anzeiger that the agreement
reached at Potsdam conference was a political declaration, not a
legal recognition of the expulsion.
Bonn is questioning the Potsdam protocols for three reasons. First,
the Potsdam declaration refers to the "orderly and humane" transfer
of Sudeten Germans. However, a joint Czech-German commission of
historians concluded that between 15,000 and 40,000 Sudeten Germans
died during the expulsion.
Second, the German side says that "expulsions" as such violate the
concept of self-determination enshrined in international law. The
Czech side insists on referring to the expulsion as a "forcible
Third, Bonn says the agreements are not legally binding because
Germany did not take part in the Potsdam conference. But many Czech
observers argue that Germany as a defeated power had temporarily
handed over its authority to the allies after the war.
The Czech side maintains that the Potsdam agreements, including the
measure dealing with Sudeten Germans, form the basis of the post-war
order of Europe, and cannot be put into question.
Legal experts say casting doubt on the legality of the post-war
expulsion would immediately open up the Czech government to property
and land claims from the vocal Sudeten German community now living in
Germany. The Czech Foreign Ministry insists that the Potsdam
agreements are still "a legitimate part of international law," and is
refusing to agree to any text that would open them up to legal claims
on property. But Bonn is also trying to avoid an agreement that would
lead Sudetens to demand financial compensation from the German
Many opposition politicians in Germany, including deputy Bundestag
chairwoman Antje Vollmer, have expressed sympathy with the Czech
position. Vollmer has said that the draft text of the joint
declaration, which has not been made public, contains everything the
German side could hope for. She says it includes "regret" for the
expulsion, condemnation of the crimes committed during the expulsion,
and a moral distancing from the Benes decrees, which stripped Sudeten
Germans of their property and Czech citizenship.
Analysts say electoral politics and domestic concerns are noticeably influencing the debate on the declaration. While the current German government is not facing elections in the near future, it is still beholden to the powerful Sudeten lobby in Bavaria, the land in which local government is controlled by the Christian Social Union, one of three parties in the federal coalition.
The head of the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft, Franz Neubauer, recently called on the German government to make Czech membership in
the European Union conditional on a renunciation of the Benes decrees.
Czech parliamentary elections are less than four months away. Some
analysts say that a post-election Czech government will have more
room to maneouver in negotiations with Bonn. Without an agreement,
however, Czech-German relations could take center stage in the
Already Czech opposition parties have called for an official
condemnation of Bonn for its handling of the Sudeten issue. Governing
coalition parties yesterday rejected an opposition motion to hold a
special parliamentary session to debate problems in relations with
Germany and formulate a stance on the negotiations.
Many politicians are urging Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to take up the issue at a special
summit. The two leaders have not yet talked about the issue, despite
a visit by Klaus to Germany last month.
With negotiations on the declaration indefinately suspended, a
breakthrough remains a distant hope.