Bavarians stir up Sudeten-German row

IN A speech certain to have set alarms bells ringing in Prague, Edmund Stoiber, Prime Minister of the powerful south German state of Bavaria, yesterday called on the German government to step up pressure on the Czech Republic to enter direct talks with representatives of three million Sudeten Germans forcibly expelled from what was then Czechoslovakia after the Second World War.

To loud cheers at the annual Sudeten-German rally in Nuremberg, Mr Stoiber said it was high time the Czechs faced up to the gruesome events of 1945 and 1946 and admitted their guilt. 'If the Czechs want good relations with us, they have to make an attempt to come to terms with their past - as we have - rather than simply sweeping it all under the carpet,' he said. 'I think the Foreign Minister should now put this on the agenda in our bilateral relations.'

With Germany one of the main champions of the Czech and East European attempt to join the European Union and Nato, Prague can hardly afford to allow the Sudeten- German issue to cast a permanent cloud over its relations with its most powerful neighbour.

Mere mention of any kind of a dialogue with Sudeten Germans, however, sends most Czechs into a rage. Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Prime Minister, described as an outright 'provocation' the fact that he had been invited to attend the Nuremberg rally this weekend, which attracted a crowd of more than 100,000, many dressed in traditional Sudeten-German folk costumes. Government spokesmen in Prague describe the Sudeten-German issue as 'a closed chapter'.

Historians estimate that more than three million from a total of three and a half million Sudeten Germans were expelled from their homes concentrated in the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia after the war, while their properties and businesses were confiscated. An estimated 40,000 died as a result of disease and in lynchings carried out by Czechs exacting revenge for what they regarded as the treacherous role played by the Sudeten Germans in bringing about the break-up of their country under the Munich Agreement in 1938.

Sudeten Germans, the majority of whom subsequently settled in Bavaria, admit that wrongs were committed, but they object that they were punished collectively for the sins of the Nazi regime.

'We did not all want Hitler but we were all punished in the same way,' said Ingeborg Schultz, a woman in her seventies who, like most of those in Nuremberg for the rally, had personally experienced the vertreibung (expulsion). 'We have all heard about the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis, but what about those committed by the Czechs against us?'

In addition to acknowledgement of the injusticies they suffered, many Sudeten Germans are pressing for a loosely defined 'right to a homeland' in the Czech republic: for the few that would still want it, they should have the right to return and to acquire property there. Hardliners suggest they should be given their old properties back or compensated for them in full.

Given the scale of the expulsion and the time that has passed, few on either side realistically think they can be reversed or that there could be any financial compensation. But many Czech officials believe that any kind of dialogue with the Sudeten Germans could be the thin end of the wedge.

In the immediate aftermath of the 'Velvet' revolution of 1989, President Vaclav Havel tried to open up a wide-ranging debate on what had happened after the war and personally described the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans as 'morally defective'. His attempt failed, however, with most Czechs showing no inclination to discuss the issue.

'The suffering of the Sudeten Germans was connected to the Second World War,' said Jiri Weigl, an adviser to Mr Klaus. 'All over Europe people had to bear hardships. But what we should remember is that dozens of millions lost their lives and their property. This group only lost their properties.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk