Czech court to decide on property confiscated at end of WW2

02-08-2003

Whilst Poland and its neighbours deal with the question of war criminals, the Czech Republic is intrigued by a court case which poses other questions about it's past. Franz Ulrich Kinsky - a member of an aristocratic family with long roots in Bohemia - has filed a total of 150 lawsuits, asking the Czech courts to confirm that he is the rightful owner of large amounts of property, which were confiscated from him after the war. He was a child at the time. The Czech authorities argue his father was a Nazi sympathiser and the confiscation was legal under the Benes decrees. Some 2.5 million people were expelled under the Benes decrees and many had property confiscated. Franz Kinsky says that as far as he knew, his father was no Nazi.

"Those are claims that have not been proved in my presence. I will look into them when I go to Europe. I have no idea. I know that my father was opposed to Hitler. The parent I knew - I mean I was two years old when my father died - and from those who've survived, I've always heard that my father was a very rightful person, he was a Christian person. He was a fair person, he defended minorities. These are all concepts that don't fit the SS, the SA and the like. If you ask me about my father all I know about him is what I have been related, and that is the opposite. That is a lot more than what a lot of the people who are building up this campaign against me can probably say about their own parents."

And Franz Kinsky also clarified exactly what these lawsuits are about.

"I'm not asking for the restitution of property. These are court proceedings in which I'm asking the judges to determine and establish, on the basis of documents, the reasons and grounds that represent who the owner is. Restitution is something else, that comes afterwards. If I'm declared the owner of something, then I can ask and negotiate with whoever the restutition of the property. But at this point, we're asking the court to decide who the owner is."

Much of the court's deliberations centred on the complicated issue of Franz Kinsky's nationality. He was born in 1936, and as such had Czechoslovak citizenship. But the Czech state claims regardless of his citizenship, in 1945 he was a German national, and so subject to the Benes decrees. Franz Kinsky challenges that assertion, saying he was too young to "claim" any nationality. So what nationality does he feel?

"I am Slav by the name. Kinsky, unlike what many people pretend, is not a German name and would never be a German name. Yet I consider that Kinsky and Bohemians, we have all kinds of blood in our veins. Italian, I even have Argentinean. Austrian, German, Spanish. We're a mixture, thanks God, of people. We're not an ethnically pure race like some people pretend they are. We're a mixture of a lot of people. It started with the Celts, and ended up with the Czechs."

02-08-2003