Czechs open old wounds in Germany

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The Independent Online
IN AN escalating row over reconciliation, the President of the German Parliament has written to the Czech Prime Minister, urging him to withdraw his disparaging remarks about Sudeten Germans.

Sixty years after the infamous Munich agreement, the Sudeten question is as sensitive as ever. German politicians, notably Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria, have threatened to keep the Czechs out of the EU unless they strike a meeker tone.

Milos Zeman, the new Czech Prime Minister, is accused of comparing the right-wing Sudeten Germans' Association - or Landsmanschaft - based in Bavaria where it influences the government, to Communists and the racist Republican party. The Landsmanschaft insist on restoration of their property rights in the Czech Republic.

Mr Zeman expressed reservations about Sudeten Germans nominated by Bonn being in a Czech-German reconciliation commission, following the 1997 signing of an agreement meant to heal wartime wounds.

In the accord, Bonn regretted the wartime occupation of Czech lands, for which the plight of Sudeten Germans had been the pretext, and Prague apologised for the brutal expulsion of 2,500,000 ethnic Germans after the war.

Mr Zeman said: "In the discussion forum there should be people who supported the accord. As there are no Communists or Republicans on our side, I don't see why the Landsmanschaft should be present on the German side."

The Sudeten Germans felt insulted, compelling the Bavarian government to weigh in. Even Chancellor Helmut Kohl was menacing.

"If the idea of being a good neighbour means insulting a group of people who suffered particularly, just as your people suffered under the Germans, then you can't expect that we'll be good neighbours," he wrote.

But Mr Zeman, a Social Democrat, remains oblivious to German fury. "I would take the comments with a certain dab of humour and a certain dab of indulgent tolerance," he said. "Sharp things are sometimes said in a pre-election campaign."