It took all of sixteen years but the former owners of Kokorin Castle -the Spacek family - are an important step closer to regaining their family's inheritance. On Wednesday a regional court ruled that this majestic Gothic building should be restored to the family from whom the communists confiscated it when they came to power in 1948.
Built on a rock overlooking Kokorin Valley, Kokorin Castle is an imposing historical landmark, the origins of which can be traced back to the 14th century. Its dominant features are a round tower with a cone shaped roof and a large residential block. In the turbulent years of Czech history it was seriously damaged by Hussite troops in the 15th century, and later rebuilt. When the Spacek family acquired it in the early twentieth century it was in ruins. They spent a decade restoring it in the romantic style popular at the time, and adding various new features. But the castle did not remain in the family's ownership for long. After 1948, it was confiscated by the communist regime and later placed on the list of national monuments, a small list that includes some of the country's most important historic buildings. It was this fact that thwarted the family's previous attempts to get their property back. A law stipulating that national cultural monuments must remain in state ownership presented an insurmountable hurdle until the Constitutional Court ruled it invalid last June.
The Spacek family filed a new claim and was successful. The National Heritage Fund has appealed the verdict but the Spaceks' legal position is now much stronger. Josef Stulc of the National Heritage Fund explains the Funds reasons for appealing:
"It is our duty to exhaust all the means which our legal system provides to defend property which is in our custody. That is simply our duty. It is nothing personal and we are eager to have good relations with the Spacek family because if we lose the court case we will naturally offer to cooperate with them, to provide them with technical assistance and know how in the difficult task of looking after their inheritance."
The court's ruling has set a precedent giving others in the same position fresh hope. For instance, Karel Swarzenberg, a member of the old nobility who failed to get Zvikov Castle because it was on the list of national monuments, may want to try again. On Friday a court is to rule on Bouzov Castle, likewise on the list. The Kinski palace and Opocno Castle are also in the same circumstances. So is the National Heritage Fund concerned that it may lose custody of other priceless gems of Czech architecture? Josef Stulc again:
"I do not think that passing into private ownership is a tragedy for these historical sites. Indeed we have very good experience with people who have had property returned to them. They are keeping and running their recovered properties extremely well and in many cases cooperation with them has been excellent. It is an arrangement advantageous for both sides."