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Czech Republic: Treaty With Germany In Limbo But Cooperation Building

Prague, 3 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- German President Roman Herzog will meet his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, in eastern Czech Republic tomorrow, but the meeting is not expected to bring to reality a long-delayed friendship treaty between the two countries, despite growing signs of greater cooperation and improved bilateral relations.

In his weekly radio address two days ago, Havel said his meeting with the German president is related to the treaty only indirectly. The main purpose is to observe the gathering of about 200 young people from both sides of the border, who have been exchanging views at a week-long conference.

Havel and Herzog initiated the conference to improve relations between the residents of the two countries, so they feel an obligation to attend. Possible discussions about the controversial treaty will only be held with the view that the agreement would be "an expression of our will to do something so our neighborly ties are the best they can be."

The treaty, which is supposed to renew "legal peace" between the two countries, was agreed on in principle last spring. But it has not been signed because opponents on both sides of the border want additional conditions attached to the agreement.

Theo Waigel, chairman of the Bavarian Christian-Social Union (CSU) and German minister of finance, outlined his demands for the acceptance of the treaty last week. The details of the agreement have not been publicized yet, but Waigel said it omits certain criteria Sudeten Germans feel have to be included if they are to accept it.

In an open letter to former residents of the western Czech town of Cheb, who were forcibly expelled from the former Czechoslovakia after World War II, Waigel said the agreed-on text of the treaty fails to address compensation for Czech victims of Nazism during the war and "a complimentary action toward the main victims, the banished Sudeten Germans." The text of the letter was published by the German weekly "Sudetendeutsche Zeitung."

Waigel set out the demands he said were needed for German government approval of the treaty. He said the forced expulsion of the Sudeten Germans must be cited as illegal, in contravention of international laws, and unjust, morally and ethically.

In addition, the Czechoslovak law of May 8, 1946 -- known as the Benes decree, which forgave crimes Czechs and Slovaks committed against Germans during the expulsion -- must be annulled and the Czech government must, at least, distance itself from the decrees.

Waigel said Germans are ready to deal with the darker sides of the mutual history of the two countries. He supports investigation into crimes committed in German name against Czechs, but "CSU also asks that the government of the Czech Republic also openly admit its own history."

Czechoslovaks avenged the Nazi occupation of their country and atrocities committed by the Germans during World War II by ousting, often brutally, Germans who had long resided in the border areas known as the Sudeten lands.

Many Czechs view the action as justified and oppose any apologies or compensation to the victims of the expulsion.

Even though the treaty has been on the table for months, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus was worried that any concessions made before the national elections in June could be used by the opposition in the country as a betrayal of national interests. Since the Czech governing coalition failed to win a majority in Parliament in the elections, Klaus has not, according to some German commentators, shown any new flexibility.

Alexandr Vondra, Czech first deputy foreign minister, rejected Waigel's demands. But he said he thought Czech-German relations progressed enough that the treaty could be signed within the foreseeable future.

Klaus expressed similar optimism after meeting German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel in Austria last week. After the meeting Klaus said "of course we touched on the Czech-German declaration and I believe, I can say, that he (Kinkel) is very optimistic that the declaration could be finalized in the near future."

Havel would only say the acceptance of the treaty is a "matter of political will." He added he believed the treaty would be accepted, "the only question is when."

Even though the finalization of the treaty remains in political limbo, there are signs of increasing cooperation between the two countries.

In addition to the promotion of ties between young people, who are unburdened by the sins committed in the past, a new border agreement between Germany and the Czech Republic went into effect today.

The director of the regional border control center in Plzen, Jan Porizek, said under the new agreement Czech and German border guards will work from one building on the border crossing between Vseruby and Eschlkam.

Travelers will be cleared in a one-step process and will not have to have their passports checked by Czech and German border guards separately. On trains between Domazlice and Furth im Wald, border guards will now be allowed to travel a longer distance on the trains, meaning they will not have to stop the trains if the passport control is not completed in time.

Porizek said both measures should speed up border crossing considerably. He added similar agreements are being prepared for other crossings between the Czech Republic and Germany.