Monday was a surprisingly busy day for Czech diplomats focusing simultaneously on one of the world’s largest countries, Canada, and on one of the smallest: Liechtenstein. The microstate of 35,000 people has been the aggrieved party in one of the Czech Republic’s main international disputes, and only now have the two countries decided to reopen regular relations after a 60-year diplomatic row. Christian Falvey explains what’s at the centre of the row.
At a time of ever-growing European cohesion, the frosty relations between the Czech Republic and the Principality of Liechtenstein were an oddity. The House of Liechtenstein, the rulers of the tiny Alpine monarchy, held extensive lands across Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia from the 13th century, and the cold shoulders between the countries in more recent years have everything to do with property - 370,000 acres in the Czech Republic claimed by Liechtenstein, roughly ten times the size of the principality itself. At the end of the Second World War, the Czechoslovak government famously seized the German properties ringing its borders, expropriating the princely family’s estates and the UNESCO-listed Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, among other holdings. The family, however, protests that Liechtensteiners are not Germans, they are Liechtensteiners – a simple argument that has nonetheless driven the dispute for 60 years now. Today however, with the reinstatement of diplomatic relations, Liechtenstein will no doubt seek redress through new channels, and speculation is rife on whether the deal was reached through some sort of compromise. Max Hohenberg, spokesman of the government of Liechtenstein.
“There are no conditions. Look, if this situation is going to be solved at all – which we don’t know - it is only going to be solved through mutual dialogue. So, there are no conditions attached to yesterday’s agreement. The issue of restitution, or expropriation, has stood - and in many ways still stands - between our two countries, but I think both governments have come to realise that a constructive way forward leads through mutual recognition and the establishment of, I would say, normalised positive relations.”
On Monday at last, the constructive way forward was taken and the governments of the two landlocked, Central European states signed a memorandum – a first step in re-establishing diplomatic relations and recognising one another. Milan Řepka, spokesman of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained where things would go from here.
“The first step is the practical aspect of finding an appropriate time for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of our two countries to meet and sign a declaration on the renewal of diplomatic relations. Based on that there will no doubt be ambassadors named, at which point it will be possible to begin working on further developing normal relations between the countries, that means closer cooperation in international organisations and for example in the European integration process.”
Nonetheless, between the new-found friends there remains the pesky issue
of those 1,500 square kilometres of prime real estate. One stipulation that
Monday’s memorandum does make is that a joint commission of historians be
established between the two countries to shed as much light as possible on
the confiscation row – something that is not likely to be swept off the
newly-set diplomatic table.
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