Czech Republic: Sudety Area

The role of so called “German issue” in the Czech politics has almost the political and societal mainstream. Therefore, it is surprising that this question of post-war displacement of German minority appeared again and became one of the most relevant campaign issues. Miloš Zeman, current Czech president, repeatedly blamed Karel Schwarzenbeg, presidential candidate, for supporting Germans in their demands to gain their belongings back. This issue is called the Beneš Decrees.

Although this issue does not play a key role in the Czech politics, still, the Communist party use this policy to provoke the society in every possible occasion for example during the official visit of on Bavarian minister president. Nonetheless, the party policy shows its emphasis on international equality of all minorities and it strictly opposes its “German policy”. To get the complete picture of  constituting party policy, the official explanation says that party suppots this position for long period. This implies that Communist party did not change its view towards Sudet Germans since 1945. Interestingly, this issue belongs to the “hot issues” in the party; quite a large number of party members express their opinions in party friendly newspaper “Haló noviny”, in local party newsletters, or during public events.

The party argumentation is based on three argumentation typologies:

  1. Be against so called europenisation of the Sudet issue in the EU. The reason is that Sudet Germans will be able to push their right of self-determination and to get back their belongings in the former Czechoslovakia and to cause destabilization of whole Europe. As MEP Jiří Maštálka points out “… the right to self-determination of certain national groups will lead to transformation of ethnic and national issues into collective law subjects that will force against the EU integration. This process is from long term perspective cause reviewing of state borders. Therefore nationalism is dangerous for the European integration and its sophisticated form –right to self-determination - of national groups as well. Another MEP, Miroslav Ransdorf, argued that the rigid European federalization can enable to open the Sudet issues in context to the Lisbon Treaty. He pointed out that “… the road of Sudet Germans back to the Sudety area is able on in the federalized EU.
  2. Defending national interests against Sudet Germans demands and refusing any kind of rapprochement between Germany and the Czech Republic. From this perspective, the Communist MPs strongly opposed the 2010 visit of Benrd Posselt in Lidice and Petr Nečas speech in May 2013 in Munich. In case of Posselt’s visit in Lidice, where he apologized for Nazi crimes during World War II, Marta Semelová, MP, interpellate the government … “how is possible that in Prague are officially take up representatives namely Mr. Posselt that force the right to get their former belonging back… Thirdly, who defends the national interests of the Czech Republic?” Petr Nečas, former Prime Minister, suprised by his very open speech towards Czech-German relations. In Prague, he was critised among others by Vojtěch Adam, the Leader of Communist party, that “ … Petr Nečas does not defend the national interests of the Czech Republic… his behavior is inappropriate in regard to the Czech history, state sovereignty, and war veterans. He does not respect the Constitution and vilifies his own people. 
  3. Labeling Karel Schwarzenberg, the Leader of Conservative party TOP 09 and candidate for president in the 2013 election, so called as German collaborator,  “Vaticants” or aristocracy. The Communist party used this term during the presidential election campaign on various levels by the party officials, party members, and local party groups such as “Club of Czech Borders Land – Klub českého pohraničí”. The Sudet Germans issue popped up during the second round of presidential election and was heavily supported by tabloid newspaper Blesk. Schwarzenberg was described as a leading person of Sudent Germans movement defending in the Czech Republic and their interests instead of the Czechs ones. KSČM argues that Schwarzenberg betrays the national interests and, in that time, he should resign as a foreign minister.   

The party has developed three-stage typology:

  1. External influence keens on defend interests against national state. European integration is seen as a revisionist platform; in this understanding the integration is generally perceived with a distance 
  2. Using national history in favor of the party goals. Referring to the historical “truth” that Germans caused the war and therefore they had to be punished properly – so as Sudent Germans. The explanatory role of history is moved as an issue of national interests.
  3. Personification; having presidential candidate Karel Schwarzenberg as a representative of interests whose goal is to damage the Czech national interests. This argumentation was used during the presidential campaign and was one of the key decision factors of Milos Zeman victory. Nonetheless, the personification of Czech citizen defending other than Czech interests has been used at the first time since 1989.

TOP 09

Analyzing the party positioning towards the Sudet Germans can be undertaken from two different perspectives. The first one compares the party position with the KSČM; the second one is focusing on party’s historical experience.

Comparing position of TOP 09 with KSČM in case of this case study offers two points of view points: a) opposing to KSČM activities; b) active framing of good relations with Germany, in this case namely with Sudet Germans. To find a proper analytical chain, one should consider the position of TOP 09 as government party holding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; so that the Communist party defines its public activities on behalf of or against minister Schwazenberg. Therefore, for instance the high time of disagreeing activities of KSČM took place in time of  official Bavarian minister visit in Prague or official visit of Bernd Posselt in Lidice.

During the presidential campaign Karel Schwrzenberg expressed the idea that the Beneš Decrees have been overcome and that this issue should not be a burden in developing of good bilateral relations; and from the current perspective Beneš would be in the Hague judged for war crimes. After that, Schwarzenberg was accused, among others by KSČM as well, that he wants to open the possibility for Germans to get their belongings back and de facto break a post-war status quo. The reason why TOP 09 keens on cultivating good relations is given by its foundations – plural, open, and European idea supporting party. Slightly surprisingly, applying this principle to politics,  the opposition against that appears immediately; like in case of KSČM.

Focusing on historical experience of TOP 09 the party is not a natural successor as any political party that have participated on neither displacement of Germans after 1945, nor on negotiation of Czech-German Declaration in nineteens. However Karel Schwarzenberg participated indirectly in both occasions, the party misses direct institutional link. According to the party’s commitment to the centrist liberal-conservative ideology, party respects and develops the regional as well as national traditions. At the same time, party respects the commitment of European integration.

Regarding to the Sudet Germans issue, the party constitutes its policy as follows:

  1. Orientation towards future: the European Union is a platform of mutual cooperation. Karel Schwarzenberg for instance expressed support for continuing of Czech-German Foundation for Future. In regard of first Horst Seehofer visit in Prague, Bavarian Prime Minister, Schwarzenberg mentioned that “I’m not supporter of huge gestures… I welcome a real and natural cooperation between the Czech Republic and Germany.
  2. Less considering the past: speaking about Sudet Germans, the debate shortly ends up with the Beneš Decrees and their abolishing. As Schwarzenberg mentioned during the presidential election, the Decrees should not be again considered in context of bilateral relations
  3. Respecting Sudent Germans as a part of German nation and having equal attitude towards them as to any other nation. As Jan Farský, MP and mayor of Semily quoted: We perceive Sudet Germans as autonomous community as Italians, or French are. They respect our autonomy as we do.

TOP 09 shape its policy as follows

  • Cooperation and future oriented relations on both regional and national level
  • Respect to the commitment of the European integration; it means cooperation between nations as well
  • Respect of  historical experience, but perceiving that as an obstacle