Sudeten Germans

As the fuss continues about whether or not Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, will sign the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to a detail that appears to have been generally overlooked.  It concerns Klaus’s demand for a special protocol or legally binding exemption from the treaty’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which, he says, is necessary to prevent a flood of claims on Czech property from the descendants of the roughly 3m Sudeten Germans expelled from the former Czechoslovakia after the second world war.

Leaving aside Klaus’s dubious assertion that the Charter could be exploited as the basis for such claims, the fact is that the Lisbon treaty already contains a special declaration by the Czech Republic on the Charter.  It is buried near the end of the treaty’s official text in a part called Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference, Section C: Declarations by Member-States.  The Czech declaration, which is labelled No. 53, sets out the Czech position that “the Charter does not extend the field of application of [European] Union law] and does not establish any new power for the Union”. Read more >>

It was inevitable, I think, that Czech President Vaclav Klaus would take his last stand against the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on the Sudeten German issue.  This has been one of the most highly charged themes of Czech politics since the former Czechoslovakia threw off communism in 1989.  By raising it, Klaus aims to break out of the extreme political isolation into which his hostility to Lisbon has pushed him on both the Czech and the wider European stage.  But it is a step that smacks of desperation as much as of calculation.

The Sudeten German question touches a genuinely raw nerve among some Czechs.  It relates to the several million ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of the second world war at the behest of the Prague authorities, who were convinced – with good reason - that large numbers of the German minority had served as a Nazi fifth column.  Some Czech politicians have proved willing to play on the fears of ordinary Czechs that descendants of the Sudeten Germans may one day succeed, through legal action, in reclaiming the property of which their forebears were stripped. Read more >>