Little support in Czech Republic for memorial to Sudeten German expellees

22-08-2003

Czechoslovakia was once home to three million ethnic Germans - known as Sudeten Germans - and the post-war expulsions remain a sore point with Austria and Germany. As one might expect, there is little understanding for a Berlin memorial in the Czech Republic - even the strongest advocates of Czech-German reconciliation say the proposal is just too contentious.

Expulsion of the Sudeten GermansExpulsion of the Sudeten Germans A bus draws up outside a modest complex of office buildings on the banks of the River Vltava, around 20 minutes from the centre of Prague. This secluded, rather forlorn spot is home to an odd mixture of tenants, including the embassies of Palestine and Afghanistan. But upstairs from the Afghans, a small team of people are doing their best to bring Czechs and Germans closer together.

Tomas Kafka is one of two directors - the other is German - of the Czech-German Fund for the Future. Established in 1997, the Fund quietly runs dozens of projects to help ordinary Czechs and Germans understand each other. But even Tomas Kafka believes building a memorial to Germans expelled from Eastern Europe is fraught with difficulty:

Tomas Kafka: "It's 60 years since the end of the war, and creating a centre as a mark of respect to one particular group of victims shouldn't be a problem. But unfortunately turning that proposal into reality is something else. The Devil's in the details: in principle it's a good idea, but in practice finding the understanding for such a project would be very difficult. And I'm not just talking about the Sudeten Germans, I'm talking about the whole concept of looking at history in terms of victims and perpetrators."

And you don't need to look too hard in this country for more outspoken critics:

"There was some injustice done, there's no doubt about that. But it cannot be compared with all the injustice done before by them to us."

Jaroslava MoserovaJaroslava Moserova Jaroslava Moserova, a member of the Czech Senate. She explained to me that what happened to the Germans of Czechoslovakia was undoubtedly a tragedy, but very much a tragedy of their own making:

"I always say that we lost the Germans the moment they fell under the spell of Hitler and Henlein. It was a great shame, they were good people, but we lost them the moment they lost their minds. And I know that some had to leave the country, and some of them were innocent, and that always happens unfortunately, and it's certainly something we cannot be proud of. But I don't have a feeling of guilt."

Rob Cameron: So a moderate view there, and one quite typical of this country. Czechs are keen to rebuild the friendship with their German neighbours. But a Berlin-based "Centre Against Expulsion" will find little support here.

22-08-2003