Plea for leaders to reject nationalism

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The Independent Online

With Nationalist rhetoric gripping Central Europe in a way it has not done since the fall of the Iron Curtain, a group of 25 intellectuals from across Europe, including heroes of the struggle against communism, have united to issue an appeal to politicians.

With Nationalist rhetoric gripping Central Europe in a way it has not done since the fall of the Iron Curtain, a group of 25 intellectuals from across Europe, including heroes of the struggle against communism, have united to issue an appeal to politicians.

The group, which includes the German writer and Nobel laureate Günter Grass and the French radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, have called on Central Europe's politicians to end the nationalist posturing.

At the heart of the recent rhetoric have been events from half a century ago, at the end of the Second World War, when the ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland were forcibly expelled from Czechoslovakia because they were accused of siding with the Nazis. German and Austrian politicians, including Jörg Haider, have been demanding that the Czech Republic and Slovakia rescind the Benes decrees, under which the expulsions took place.

No chance, say Czech and Slovak leaders, who have responded in a similar nationalist vein. Some Hungarians were expelled too, so the Hungarian right has waded in, completing the row's spread across Central Europe.

It has been fuelled by back-to-back elections across the region this year. And so far, the nationalist talk has done candidates little good. In the Czech Republic, a centre-right party led by a flamboyant nationalist has just been defeated by the centre-left party, led by a dull technocrat, and the same happened in Hungary a couple of months ago.

An election in Slovakia, and the big one – in Germany – are still to come, and Edmund Stoiber, the centre right's candidate for German Chancellor, has been making noises about the Sudeten Germans.

The appeal has also been lent support by the Catholic Church, with Vaclav Maly, the Archbishop of Prague and a leading figure in the Velvet Revolution, also a signatory.

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