In this special programme on Czech Independence Day I am joined by noted historian Jan Rychlík, and we will also be hearing from Jan Hartl of the STEM polling agency. We will examine the influence of foreigners and minority groups in the Czech lands throughout history and try to gain a greater understanding of contemporary Czech attitudes in this regard.
The German Association for Exilees the (BdV) on Monday welcomed Czech and other commemorations in Central Europe of the expulsion of German communities at the end of WWII and recognition of the fact that this was often accompanies by violence. The association made the statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Potsdam Conference at the end of WWII. The association recalled that the Allied powers agreed at the Potsdam Conference in late July and August 1945 to the expulsion of German populations from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland but stressed that it should be done in an orderly and humane fashion. The conference did not legitimize the violence that had started even before the conference began, the association said in a press statement. The statement specifically mentioned massacres of Germans at Ústí nad Labem, the death march from Brno to the Austrian border, and attacks on Germans at Žatec and Lanškroun. A commemorative service was held at Ústí on Friday. Earlier this year the city council at Brno apologised for the death march and expulsion of former German citizens.
One of the early atrocities of World War Two was the violent suppression of protests by Czech university students on 28 October 1939. This was just over six months after German troops had marched into Prague. One student was killed and three weeks later a further nine were executed. Twelve hundred more were sent to concentration camps. The news caused outrage in countries fighting Nazi Germany and 17 November was declared International Students’ Day. With the help of staff from the Czech Radio archive, David Vaughan and students from the Anglo-American
Deputy prime minister and leader of the Christian Democrats Pavel Bělobrádek has come under for a visit to Munich at the end of the week during which he present a wreath in memory of the Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII. Leader of the communist party, Vojtečh Filip said it would have been better for Bělobrádek to have paid homage to those who laid down their lives for freedom rather than those that greeted Adolf Hitler, a reference to the euphoria in 1938 when the Sudetenland was attached to Germany. And Civic Democrat Member of the European Parliament Jan Zahradil asked for clarification whether the visit was official or private. Bělobrádek’s gesture did though win some support from other political leaders.
Around three hundred people are taking part in the march from Pohořelice to Brno commemorating the victims of the violent expulsion of local ethnic Germans that took place after the end of WWII. On May 31, 1945, some 20,000 German-speaking inhabitants of Brno were forced to leave the city and walk to the Austrian border. Around 1,700 are believed to have died of exhaustion on the way. Saturday's ‘Pilgrimage of Reconciliation’ will culminate with a commemorative meeting in the Old Brno monastery, attended by the mayor of Brno and other Austrian and German public officials.
The 66th Sudeten German Congress began in Augsburg, Bavaria, on Saturday with improved relations between Germany and the Czech Republic at the forefront of discussions. No mention was made of the Beneš Decrees, which controversially expelled around 3 million Germans, mostly living in the Sudetenland, from Czechoslovakia after WWII. German Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Emilia Müller said the Sudeten community, many of whom live in Bavaria, could be a foundation stone for improved German-Czech relations. She praised the resolution by Brno’s Council last week expressing regret for the expulsion of Germans to Austria in 1945. Around 1700 are believed to have died on a forced march out of the Czech city
The Brno council has made a declaration of regret for events in the city at the end of May 1945 when German citizens were expelled as part of post-WWII reprisals. Around 20,000 Germans were forced to march from Brno to Austria at that time, with around a tenth dying of exhaustion along the way. After the passing of the Declaration of Reconciliation and Common Future on Tuesday evening, the mayor of the Czech Republic's second city, Petr Vokřál, said he and his fellow councillors hoped all past wrongs could be forgiven.
The Sudeten German Landsmannschaft, an organization representing the interests of Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, on the grounds of the so-called Benes decrees, will no longer strive for the return of property to the expellees and their descendants, according to a statement the organization released to the press on Sunday. At a weekend conference the SL amended its statutes, dropping the passage stating it would fight for the return of confiscated Sudeten German property and replacing it with a commitment to strive for a European arrangement where basic human rights, including the right to a homeland and self-determination would be fully respected. The organization says it will strive for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be valid across the EU. Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus demanded an exemption from the charter for his country on the grounds that it could open the door to a wave of Sudeten German property claims, but the present centre-left government said last year it no longer wanted the opt-out. The possibility of Sudeten German restitutions have been a major issue of contention between the two countries.
In this week's Panorama, I am joined by Vilém Prečan, the chairman and founder of the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre. Along with photographer Karel Cudlín, he is the co-author of a new Czech-German book called Německý podzim v Praze 1989, or The German Autumn in Prague, 1989. This book chronicles a very particular set of events, namely the 1989 exodus of East Germans via the West German embassy in Prague, which ultimately led to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
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