Czechs and the Czech-German Declaration:
Thesis submitted in partial requirement for the degree of Master of
Philosophy at the Institute of Russian and East European Studies, University
Among neighbours, it is certainly better to support each other than
to be shooting at each other - especially when they outnumber you eight
to one. (1)
The Czech-German Declaration was a central issue in Czech-German relations
during the past two years. It was originally intended to resolve outstanding
difficulties stemming from the poor relations between the two nations especially
in the past century. It was hoped that it would "draw a thick line
in history" and clear the way for more positive relations in the future.
The Czech-German conflict has been a constant and unfortunate feature
of Central European history, but ill-conceived and poorly handled from
beginning to end, the Czech-German Declaration will do little to change
that. The last two years have only shown that traditional fears continue
to exist in Czech society. This document did not foster reconciliation
between the two nations but only aggravated animosities.
The Declaration was not popular among the Czech people. Czechs rejected
it and the new interpretation of history behind it. The Declaration caused
great political and social stress in the Czech Republic and threatened
fundamental elements of democracy in the country.
The debates around the Czech-German Declaration demonstrated the serious
rift that still exists between Czech intellectual élites and the general
II. Historical Contexts: Czech-German Relations
Bias and History
Almost any description of the Czech-German relationship from a historical
perspective will be biased. On one hand, this is due to the fact that the
Czech-German interface in Central Europe has existed for more than a millennium,
and any description, however extensive, will always be finite and thus
necessarily include certain facts and omit others. More importantly, the
difficulty in describing the Czech-German interface stems from the historical
work of the past two hundred years, which has been consistently tied to
national ambitions and political objectives during every era and under
every régime. Reviewing the literature both past and present, one finds
that historical objectivity is in short supply (2).
In the context of Czech-German relations, history is clearly not a stale
science. History is a living entity which, far from remaining behind the
ivied walls of academia, pervades all aspects of Central European culture
and politics. This does not discount the importance of historical research
of many historians in the region, but merely points out the fact that the
choice of research topics and the emphasis of conclusions do not escape
the context of the age in which they are written. Each era, each group,
each historian is moved to present history in a certain way. At times,
a climate of fear moved historians to present their findings in a régime-approved
manner. Earlier, Czech patriotism was the overriding influence. Today,
a political atmosphere strongly favouring reintegration with the West has
supported a new approach to history for many historians.
As Ladislav Holý has noted:
Historical facts are not objective in themselves but construed as such
through the interpretation of the past, part of which is the selection
of the events which are to be mentioned or disregarded.
In the Czech context, where history and politics overlap considerably,
actual facts are remembered or forgotten depending on the cultural and
political atmosphere of the day. Furthermore, what happened in the past
is not as important for today as what people believe has happened.
A historical memory is not something a nation has because it has a history;
it is something created through a nation's reminding itself that it has
a history. (3)
The question then becomes "Who does the reminding?" Quite
clearly that role is filled by intellectuals and the ruling élites. Creating
and maintaining a certain historical myth - which Holý rightly describes
as a "presumed national tradition" (4) - is a clear political
goal of each ruling group in every era.
With this in mind, it is not history itself, but the political use of
history which is of prime concern in this paper examining the most recent
political reassessment of Czech-German relations as embodied in the Czech-German
Declaration. Because this paper examines Czech attitudes towards history
and politics in relation to the Czech-German interface, it will now concentrate
on the work of Czech historians and the use of history by Czech politicians.
It would come as no surprise to anyone that Sudeten German historians present
history in a rather different light, although the most recent trend in
Czech historical studies approaches this somewhat (5).
The following is therefore a brief review of the history of the Czech-German
interface with a deliberate bias towards the Czech point of view - or points
of view as they have changed over time. Almost every one of the following
items and its importance in Czech history has been vigorously supported,
questioned, doubted and rejected in various eras by various historians.
Again, the point is not to detail an exhaustive history, but to highlight
areas of history which Czechs themselves highlighted in the past or emphasize
today. To examine Czech attitudes towards the Czech-German relationship
through history, one must be aware of certain repeatedly emphasized events
and revered figures in the Czech historical pantheon. Only in this way
can one hope to follow the intricate arguments of commentators, historians
and politicians in today's Czech press and fully understand the issues
which surround the Czech-German Declaration.
A Brief History of the Czech-German Interface
Of course, neither Germanic tribes nor Slavic tribes were the earliest
residents of what one would now call Central Europe. The fact that Celtic
tribes (among others) were there earlier, however, has not cooled the debate
among Czech and German scholars as to which of their ancestors settled
there first after the Great Migration of Nations. The absurd argument based
on sparse evidence was a favourite of more nationalist Czech historians
like Polišenský, who, for example, stressed that early proto-German settlements
were only temporary (6). Lack of evidence on all sides does not prevent
bitter debate. It seems safe to say that proto-Germans and proto-Czechs
were in contact with each other for centuries before the arrival of Christianity.
Czech history also stresses the Slavic character of the short-lived
Great Moravian empire of the ninth century which saw the advent of Christianity
in the region and the role of the earliest Czech princes especially the
legendary and canonised Václav (Wenceslas, ?-935). Modern books describe
how the choral tribute to Saint Václav in the Middle Ages was "equivalent
to a modern national anthem" (7). Saint Václav later became a key
symbol for the Czech national revival of the 19th century emphasizing the
Slavic over the Germanic. During the events of the late 1980s, the nationalist
character of the Revolution was emphasized when the square which bears
Václav's name and impressive statue - unquestionably "the heart of
the country" (8) - became the focus of mass gatherings.
As in other regions in Central and Eastern Europe in the 13th century,
the Czech lands saw extensive colonisation at the request of nobility seeking
extra labourers. Many of the new colonists were German speaking, but the
question of how many 20th century Sudeten Germans could claim to be descended
from this wave of colonisation is fiercely debated in academia and even
in today's press. Czech historians tend to support the view that most Germans
living in Czechoslovakia at the time of its founding in 1918 were descendants
of 16th and especially 17th immigrants. The implication, of course, is
that because their ancestors have only been living there for three or four
centuries, the German speaking population had less of a national "right"
to live in the Czech lands (9).
The Hussite Wars (1419-1434) are portrayed by some Czech historians
as anti-German in character. The historian and Czech national revivalist
František Palacký (1798-1876), who saw Central European history as a constant
clash of Slavic and Germanic elements, was one of many who attached nationalist
significance to this era of religious reformation and crusade (10). Some
assert that the Hussite Wars led to a reduction in the number of German
speakers in the Czech lands (11).
No two hours of Czech history are more critical to the Czech conception
of the Czech-German dynamic than the brief Battle of White Mountain just
outside Prague on 6th November, 1620. The Battle of White Mountain became
synonymous with the executions of 27 Czech nobles which occurred as a result
several months later, the forced conversions under the strong hand of the
Counter-Reformation and the exile of thousands of Czechs who refused to
convert in the 1620s. Newly arrived German speaking nobility began to take
over large tracts of land as spoils of the Thirty-Years War, and German
speaking artisans followed. Often described as "the end of Czech nobility,"
the three centuries which followed have been typically portrayed as a period
of "darkness" when the Czech language and culture were pushed
into the provinces under the stress of Germanisation (12). Some of the
latest Czech history books try to balance the "darkness" with
the cultural advances of the Baroque era (13), but much of the Czech view
of Czech history is tied up with the "what if" question of what
their "natural" historical progress would have been had the German
Catholics not interrupted Czech development (14). As we shall see, exacting
revenge for White Mountain would later become a popular Czech nationalist
slogan and justification for radical land confiscations after both world
The Czech national revival of the 19th century was easily as much a
reaction against German nationalism as it was an emphasis on Czech identity.
Holý notes succinctly that:
During the national revival, Czechs defined themselves as a nation in
conscious opposition to the Germans, who were culturally, politically and
economically the dominant element in Bohemia. (15)
In fact, Czech national identity is largely based on the rejection of
all things German though it was always wedded to a fundamental respect
for and a constant comparison to the strengths of the German nation. Thus
the fact that the Czech-German Declaration not only forced Czechs to re-examine
their relationship to their neighbours but also asked them to re-evaluate
their own national feelings is hardly a surprise.
From this era at least, the Czechs have felt a strong sense of nationhood
and the equally strong sense that their nation is in competition with the
German nation - competition for cultural achievement, for economic success
and gradually for political dominance in the Czech lands of Bohemia, Moravia
and the rump Silesia. As mentioned earlier, this Czech sense of competition
between Slav and German (also considered as a conflict between democracy
and feudalism (16)) was the entire basis for the leading revivalist Palacký's
historical work on the history of the region and had enormous influence
on Czech historians and politicians.
Many Czech historians today stress that nationalism was not around before
this period (though one can hardly ignore the ethnic character of the Kutná
Hora Decree of 1409 (17)). One is led to the conclusion that the strengthening
of education in the Habsburg empire especially during the reign of Maria
Teresa (1740-1780), and the consequent advantages conferred to the rising
class of literate civil servants made the knowledge of German more important
and led to national sentiments. Before Maria Teresa's Enlightenment reforms,
one's lot in life was completely determined by the class one was born into,
and even learning a new language could not alter that. In the 18th century,
the expanding Habsburg bureaucracy demanded more widely spread literacy,
but those who did not speak German natively were at a distinct disadvantage.
The new feeling during the 18th century that some could advance themselves
based on language and the fact that the preferred language was German naturally
led to a feeling of "otherness" that formed the kernel of Czech
nationalism in the 19th century.
As the 19th century passed, Czechs and Germans became more and more
distinct and their mutual animosity escalated. In the Habsburg empire,
both Czechs and Germans felt like a disadvantaged minority. The Czechs
felt like victims of the Austrian lands in which they were a minority,
and the Germans felt themselves to be under pressure in Bohemia and Moravia
where they were a minority (18). In Bohemia and Moravia, Germans and Czechs
competed to build more schools and monuments than the other nation. Towards
the end of the last century as Czech political power grew and often became
an important factor for a hopeful coalition in Vienna, Czech demands increased.
These demands were most often associated with achieving equality for the
Czech language, and the Germans in the region resisted them. The competition
and conflict resulted in spilt blood on a number of occasions, most notably
in 1897 in the events surrounding the rise and fall of Prime Minister Badeni.
The riots and the "spirit of December" in which they occurred
formed a rallying point for the more militant Czech (anti-German) nationalists
The traditional Czech view of the Czechoslovak First Republic is a sense
of national joy for the nation as the three centuries of "darkness"
finally come to an end. There is no doubt that the new state was formed
as a pan-Slavic state created by Czechs and Slovaks for the mythical Czechoslovaks
(20). The very first words of the first constitution of 29th February,
1920 - "We, the Czechoslovak nation" - make the national character
of the new state undeniably clear (21). Masaryk saw to it that Palacký's
view of history being an epic conflict between Slavs and Germans was dominant
during the First Republic. The traditional Czech view of that era also
emphasizes that Czechoslovakia remained progressive and democratic in the
interwar period unlike rest of Central Europe (22).
Today, many Czech historians are stressing that not everyone was happy
with First Republic. They point out that three million German speaking
citizens of the new state (about 23% of the population (23)) never asked
to be a part of the new state and in fact the new state had to occupy renegade
German regions of the country militarily in order to cement the national
revolution (24). The land redistribution which followed the establishment
of Czechoslovakia heavily favoured the Slavic populations at the expense
of the Germans and was widely seen as aiming to "redress the wrongs
of White Mountain" (25). The German speaking population during the
First Republic at first opposed the state. Later in the 1920s, an activist
policy was favoured, and a few Germans were even found in the government.
This fact in particular is highlighted by Czech historians who wish to
demonstrate the decency of the First Republic, the "enlightened"
character of Czechoslovak policy and the inherent democratic nature of
their nation (26).
The deteriorating relationship between Czechs and Germans in the 1930s
as a result of the economic slump and the rise of Hitler is well known.
Czechs wishing to indicate their nation's innocence emphasize Sudeten German
agitation in this period, the links between Henlein and Hitler and the
shameful electoral results of 1935 when 63% of the German vote in Bohemia
and 56% in Moravia went to Henlein's Sudetendeutsche Partei. The Sudeten
Germans are widely viewed as aiding and abetting Hitler to break apart
the democratic state of Czechoslovakia and are even indirectly credited
with the creation of Nazism itself (27). Today's promoters of Czech-German
reconciliation prefer to highlight the fact that the Czechoslovak state
provided asylum for several of Germany's leading cultural figures in the
For more traditionally minded Czech historians like Luža, the occupation
during World War II was "the divisive period" in Czech-German
relations (29). Stating that "The Czechs and Slovaks suffered nothing
like the horrors imposed upon the Poles" (30) is meaningless to the
estimated 250,000 killed (about 80,000 of which were Jews) and to the hundreds
of thousands imprisoned or sent to work in Germany (31). The general terror
of the protectorate régime and specifically the horrors of Lidice and Ležáky
during the rampage which followed the assassination of Heydrich have never
been forgotten. It is also recalled that those particular terrors were
organised by a Sudeten German: K.H. Frank (32).
Aside from fostering a growing public sympathy for the Soviet Union
after the painful rejection by the West at Munich, the years of the protectorate
in Bohemia and Moravia encouraged a desire for revenge against the Germans
- especially against the Sudeten Germans who had caused the break-up of
the Czechoslovak state. The feeling developed that Czechs and Germans could
no longer share the same state. Cooler heads agreed with the formulation
of radical solutions to the "Czech-German problem" but for reasons
other than revenge: separating the two nations would prevent another Munich.
Both sentiments found strong support among those living in the shadow of
the protectorate and among members of the government in exile, who gradually
received Allied backing for their plans (33).
The most studied and most controversial aspect of Czech history today
is certainly the post-war transfers of the German speaking populations
from the renewed Czechoslovakia. There is even a debate over the appropriate
label for what happened with some calling it a "transfer," some
insisting it was an "expulsion" or a "forced resettlement"
and others preferring the term "ethnic cleansing" (see below).
Here is a perfect example of the point made earlier that it is impossible
to write about Czech history without expressing a bias: the simple choice
of one word immediately betrays the author's sentiments.
If the historians cannot agree on a label for the post-war events, it
is, of course, unlikely that they will agree on the facts themselves. Most
do agree, however, that events of that period fall into three rough phases:
1, Germans fleeing from the Red Army at the end of the war; 2, a disorderly
period of local outbursts of revenge - called the "wild transfer"
in much of the Czech literature; and 3, the organised and systematic mass
transfer of the majority. Much historical research today is focused on
the latter two phases and the vengeful horrors which took place during
the "wild transfer."
Some German sources claim that up to half a million Germans did not
survive the transfers, but Czech authors have traditionally refuted this
(34). Recent Czech surveys have increased the traditional figure of a few
thousand to perhaps as many as 50,000 dead as a direct result of the transfers
and perhaps a quarter of a million dying indirectly due to the transfers
(35). By the end of 1946, over 2.2 million German speaking residents of
Czechoslovakia had been formally transferred to the American and Soviet
occupation zones of Germany. Perhaps 230,000 to 310,000 Germans remained
in Czechoslovakia when the transfers were complete (36).
Although many Czechs at the time saw the expulsions as a "payback
for White Mountain" (37), the organised transfer seems to be motivated
more by geopolitical security concerns than by vengeance and collective
guilt. It was certainly planned by Beneš and the Allies before 1945 (38).
There is much debate around the extent to which the Allies assisted in
the expulsions and the role of the Potsdam agreement and earlier agreements
(39). In the end, one can say with little argument that about 2.5 million
German speakers were relieved of their property and forcibly expelled from
Czechoslovakia in 1945-46 and that during that time, tens of thousands
lost their lives.
Today, there is a growing awareness in the Czech Republic that the lawlessness
surrounding the expulsions and the spoils created by the confiscated property
of the expellees helped to win support for the Communists and aided their
rise to power (40). Though this idea is by no means new for foreign historians,
former Czech exiles and former Czech dissidents (41), it is only now that
wider Czech society is being exposed to the connection between the German
expulsions and the rise of Communism.
The Communist era brought waves of not only Communist but also Sudeten
German propaganda. In the heat of the Cold War, the Communist leadership
portrayed West Germany as a fascist régime aiding revanchist Sudeten German
groups. The régime thus adopted and strengthened the traditional attitude
of an eternal Czech-German struggle supported by Palacký and Masaryk (42).
The régime poured scorn upon Czechoslovak dissidents who published in
West Germany and Czech exiles who lived there. Of course, many in West
Germany did offer assistance to dissidents and exiles as part of their
concern for human rights in the Eastern bloc, and Catholic Czechoslovak
exiles were often aided by a Catholic Sudeten German group in West Germany
(43). The régime claimed that such people were in league with the revanchist
Sudeten Germans (44). Hatred of Sudeten Germans and fear of their return
were important tools for the régime and the Communists fostered them accordingly
(45). The Communist régime thus maintained the anti-German feeling among
Czechs throughout four decades.
III. After 1989: A New Approach
The November Revolution of 1989 brought with it new Czech views of Germany
and the post-war German expulsions from Czechoslovakia. Dissidents and
exiles, already somewhat familiar with the varied opinions among foreign
historians and less influenced by the old régime's propaganda, began to
force the difficult issue of Czech-German relations onto the Czech public
agenda. In official spheres, the uncontested leader of this movement was
The first sign that official attitudes were changing was Václav Havel's
decision to make his first trip abroad to both East and West Germany just
three days after becoming president. The new face towards Germany was closely
associated with a new approach to history, and Havel was one of the key
driving forces behind the new outlook.
In March 1990, Havel made a speech during the visit of German President
Richard von Weizsacker which was of key importance. After remarkably criticising
the widely respected First Republic, Havel spoke of the need for Czechs
to face the darker sides of their national history, especially the post-war
transfer of the Germans from Czechoslovakia. He specifically criticised
the principle of collective guilt which he felt was the underlying impulse
for the transfers, he openly spoke of the connection between the lawlessness
of the transfers and the rise of Communism and he clearly labelled the
events as "the mistakes and sins of our fathers" (46). In the
same year and in the same spirit of remembrance, a plaque was placed on
the bridge in ňst' nad Labem where in the summer of 1945, over a thousand
Germans were brutally murdered by Czechs seeking revenge (47).
These acknowledgements of and apologies for past wrongs were heavily
criticised by many Czechs at the time they were made and even years later
(48), but this new approach in official circles was not entirely new to
all Czechs. It had its roots in dissident and émigré networks, that is,
among intellectual élites. Recent years have seen this new approach to
the Czech-German issue blossom openly both in academic theory and in political
practice, and there is little doubt that this is part of a wider movement
in Czech thought that is decidedly pro-Western.
Background to the New Balance: Reinventing Central Europe
In the late 1970s, there was a broadening of Czech criticism of the
transfers both in émigré literature and also from the home country. An
article by the historian Jan Mlynárik in Svědectví (run by Pavel Tigrid
in Paris) in 1979 is widely believed to have started the modern re-examination
A notable samizdat work called Bohemus which followed soon after was
the work of seven Prague authors and examined the Czech-German relationship
in the Czech lands throughout history but especially examined the transfers
and their effects. It criticised the transfers as undemocratic and clearly
made the connection between the lawlessness during the transfers and the
rise of Communism. According to the authors the transfers hurt the economic
position of the state, weakened the cultural richness of the Czech lands
and "damaged the moral standing of the Czech nation." Bohemus
concludes, among other things, that:
It is simply a tragedy that these nations, which until that time had
lived side by side for centuries and which had been able to accomplish
much together - even in competition and sometimes in conflict - had to
separate. The diversity of the human world, the diversity of tolerant cultures,
traditions and races - that hope... suffered in our land in favour of a
desire to create closed mutually divisive enclaves.... The war caused a
general dehumanisation of people... and Czechs did not escape this... (50).
This is clearly a radically different approach in comparison with the
traditional nationalist view of the transfers as the just answer to White
Mountain. Another interesting point about Bohemus is that several of the
authors would later become important figures in the 1990s' effort to spread
the new view of Germany and the Germans to a wider Czech audience (including
Jiří Doležal and Petr Pithart). At the time Bohemus was written, of course,
the limited readership of samizdat severely reduced the power of these
As the 1980s progressed other samizdat works began to re-examine the
history of the Czech-German relationship. One that deserves mention was
Václav Kural's work which explored the Czech-German interface during the
First Republic. Originally intended for publication abroad in 1988, Kural's
Konflikt místo společenství? aimed to continue the work of Jan Křen's Konfliktní
společenství about the Czech-German problem in the years 1780-1918. Křen's
work went to 68 Publishers in Toronto in 1989. These works explored the
reasons behind the collapse of the Czech-German "community of conflict."
Both works, along with a further Kural work dealing with the protectorate
era and a work by Tomáš Stanék dealing with the transfers themselves, appeared
in Czech bookstores after the Revolution and finally brought the new approach
to history to a wider audience (51).
More than isolated historical works, these early re-examinations of
the Czech-German relationship were part of a wider intellectual movement
which was gaining much favour in dissident and émigré circles during the
Communist period. The new approach to Germany and the Germans was an integral
part of the intellectual renewal of the "Central European" concept.
Central Europe was seen as a unique entity not belonging to "Eastern
Europe" in the historical and cultural senses. The stress for a great
body of writing was on the Czech connection to the West, and de-emphasized
Czech ties to the East, namely Russia.
In many ways, the "Mitteleuropa" movement can be traced back
to the earliest years of Communist rule. Václav Černý's Vývoj a zločiny
panslavismu was an early work which expressed the feeling that the Communist
régime in Czechoslovakia was rooted in an Eastward-looking pan-Slavism
especially the pan-Slavism of Beneš. Beneš' sentiment, though clearly understandable
considering his bitterness at the treachery of Munich and equally clearly
shared by millions of his fellow Czechs in the 1940s, was seen by Černý
as a fundamental mistake. Czech culture and history had made Czechs essentially
different from Slavs to the East. Romantic notions of Slavic brotherhood
were, in Černý's view, inappropriate for the Czechs and had led to the
brutality of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia (52).
Of course, Černý's work was not formally published until 1993, but Černý
and his philosophy had an enormous impact on the dissident community in
Czechoslovakia some of whom would become the first set of leaders after
the Revolution. Additionally, the man and his work helped to provide some
continuity between the opponents of the régime in the 1950s and the dissidents
around the Charter 77 movement of the later age (53).
In the 1980s, the Mitteleuropa concept was championed by many intellectuals
in the Czech dissident and exile communities, most notably perhaps by Milan
Kundera in his essay "The Tragedy of Central Europe" in which
he talks of the Czechs' "struggle to preserve their identity - or,
to put it another way, to preserve their Westernness" in the face
of Russia, which is "a singular civilisation, an 'other' civilisation"
(54). The Mitteleuropa concept also helped to bring together the dissident
communities in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia (55), and it had a strong
impact on those who would rewrite the history books about the Czech-German
The oft repeated philosophy of this strain of thinking is that Czech
culture under the Communists was unnaturally separated from its spiritual
home: the West (57). The "unnatural separation" thesis was often
supported by Western intellectuals as well (58). Perhaps this support can
be seen as an expression of Western solidarity with the human rights struggle
within Communist Czechoslovakia.
A primary intellectual foundation of the Velvet Revolution for the dissidents
involved thus became "the return of Czechoslovakia to Europe"
and as Holý rightly points out about the Revolution:
The national traditions were invoked to foster the confidence that the
Czechs, as a democratic, cultured, and well-educated nation, rightfully
belonged to the West. (59)
The "return to Europe" myth became the background for an enormous
wave of writing. Most dissidents and Western academics seemed to overlook
the fact that the experience of absolutism and totalitarianism is integral
to European history, and so, in reality, Czechoslovakia had never "left"
Europe. Furthermore, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Czechs
never openly rejected the system which was supposedly so "unnatural"
to them also barely raised an eyelid amongst the intellectuals.
After 1989, the Catholic church joined those supporting a pro-Western
emphasis and the belief that the Czechs belong to Western culture (60).
This is certainly related to the traditional competition between Catholicism
It is critical to realise, however, that the strong influence of the
Mitteleuropa concept upon dissidents, exiles and Western academics does
not necessarily imply wide acceptance of the concept among ordinary Czech
Thus the new intellectual approach to Czech-German relations is not
just an isolated longing for better relations with a neighbouring state.
It is an idea with a strong intellectual pedigree. Czech-German reconciliation
is necessary as a part of the whole about face which sees Czech thought
turning away from the East and towards the West. The gradual reorientation
of the intellectual community even formed a philosophical justification
for the Revolution. In the simplest sense, the Russian/Soviet system represents
the East and capitalist Germany represents the West (61). It is the classical
Czech question - between East and West, between Russia and Germany - and
the dichotomy was as old as Czech political thought itself. The pendulum
was simply swinging back.
By the logic of this pro-Western attitude, accommodation with Germany
is necessary if the Czechs are to "return to Europe." Given Germany's
standing in the EU, this is doubly so. This was the philosophy of many
exiles and dissidents before 1989 and the philosophy which slowly permeated
to other Czech intellectuals after 1989. Reorienting Czechoslovakia towards
the West became a goal of the overwhelming majority of politicians and
political commentators after the Revolution, and the road "back to
Europe" ran through Germany.
Summary Of the New Balance
Discussion progressed after the Revolution to such an extent that by
1995, Václav Havel could speak of the arrival of a "new age"
in the re-examination of Czech-German history: "an age of new reflection,
including a historical reflection, and an age of a new balance" (62).
This new approach, or "New Balance" to use Havel's words, to
Czech-German history and relations is rooted in the intellectual movement
stressing Westernness and is identifiable today by four main attributes:
1: The years of co-operation and peaceful coexistence of Czechs and
Germans are highlighted and stressed. Apart from discussions of the transfers,
the divisive eras are played down. It is generally assumed that the peace
between the two groups was only recently and regrettably shattered by the
rise of nationalism in the 19th century (63). In essence, this romantic
image is tied to the old concept of bohemism of Bernard Bolzano, who, in
the early 19th century tried to halt the rising tide of Czech-German animosity
with a concept of a political Bohemian nation of two equal parts: the Czechs
and the Germans (64).
The Declaration adopts such sentiments in its preamble where it recognises
"the long history of fruitful and peaceful coexistence of Czechs and
Germans" (See Appendix I).
Occasionally this romanticisation of the Central European past takes
on absurd forms in musings about the joys of Kaffeekultur in Habsburg Vienna
or in mythical creations of an idyllic rural harmony of peoples (65).
2: Traditional icons of Czech patriots are criticised. The criticism
extends to such national heroes as Palacký (66) and even T.G. Masaryk (67)
who is the historical figure of which ordinary Czechs are most proud (68).
3: Understanding and compassion are expressed for the Sudeten Germans
especially those who suffered during the transfers (69). An effort is made
to divide contemporary Sudeten Germans into the majority who are peace-loving
and those few who are radical and seek to disrupt Czech politics with their
demands for a "right to a homeland" (70). At the most conciliatory
end of the spectrum, there is talk of the Sudeten Germans as "former
fellow citizens" (71).
4: The association between the post-war lawlessness of the transfers
and the rise of the Communist régime is stressed (72).
One will note from these primary attributes, that this New Balance is
strongly related to the Czech tradition of comparing themselves with the
Germans (73). In an effort to be modern, there is a perceptible feeling
expressed in the writings of the intellectual élites that the Czechs should
examine their dark history as the Germans have done. During the visit of
the German president in March of 1990, Václav Havel was more direct:
On behalf of his nation, our guest has already spoken the difficult
truth about the suffering which many Germans - or more specifically the
ancestors of today's Germans - have brought upon the world in general and
upon us in particular. For our part, are we able to say everything that
we should say? I am not so sure. (74)
Havel's famous "apology" for the transfers then follows. It
is quite obvious that the Czech re-examination of the Czech-German relationship
will thus necessarily include a national Czech self re-examination, as
Divisions in the Pro-reconciliation New Balance Movement
Of course, the New Balance approach to Czech-German history and relations
is not accepted by all Czech intellectuals. Some historians and political
commentators are steadfast in their opposition to the "Czech protagonists
of reconciliation" and to the Czech-German Declaration itself (75).
They shall be discussed below.
Even those intellectuals who support the New Balance are by no means
united. The protagonists of the movement are spilt somewhat, and the rifts
have become more obvious in the last few years. Advocates of the New Balance
fall into two rough groupings:
The first group has been more firmly pro-reconciliation and unhesitatingly
friendly towards Sudeten Germans. Many intellectual élites have made Czech-German
reconciliation their cause. They express stronger regrets over the loss
of the Central European amalgam of three cultures living together (Czech,
German and Jewish). The declaration "Smíření 95" has been one
of the focal points of this end of the pro-reconciliation spectrum. Along
with many signatures from the German side, the declaration had 67 signatures
from the Czech side with people such as the former leading advisor to Václav
Klaus Bohumil Doleěal, Catholic Priest and activist Václav Malý and most
notably Former Prime Minister of the Czech government within Czechoslovakia
and today's Chairman of the Senate Petr Pithart. The prime request of those
signing is that "The government of the Czech Republic and representatives
of the Sudeten Germans begin direct talks on all matters which either side
feels are unsettled" (76). Bohumil Doležal described the direction
of this movement early in 1996 with the following words:
The problem of the events of the years 1945 to 1947 is a problem between
Czechs and Sudeten Germans. It is not a problem between Czechs and Germans,
and in my opinion, all problems should be solved where they originate and
by the people who are directly concerned. (77)
There have been similar statements by Pithart and other politician/intellectuals,
many of whom were active in politics in the more idealistic 1990-1992 period
of Czech public life, which call for direct negotiations and use more radically
pro-reconciliation language. Former Foreign Minister Jiř' Dienstbier, for
example, bluntly likened the transfers to an "ethnic cleansing"
(78). In terms of deeds not words, Ludvík Vaculík has been campaigning
for investigations of post-war transfer crimes (79).
It is important to remember, however, that even one of the most "Sudeten
friendly" Czechs Petr Pithart has harsh words for Franz Neubauer,
the more extreme leader of the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, and refuses
to meet with him (80). One must also bear in mind that the opinions of
this more openly pro-reconciliation faction of the New Balance movement
underwent a series of changes during the course of the declaration debate.
Specifically, some of the more ardent supporters of direct talks backed
off considerably (81).
The magazine Střední Evropa represents one aspect of this more extreme
New Balance faction. It is not shy about pointing out the Czech role in
the destruction of the hallowed Mitteleuropa. It is criticised by the more
moderate pro-reconciliation group for being too Catholic, too aristocratic
and too supportive of the old monarchy (82).
The second group of Czech intellectuals advocating the New Balance in
Czech-German relations and history is best described as the moderates.
They also strongly support Czech-German reconciliation and regret the loss
of multicultural Mitteleuropa, but they are not quite so adamant as the
ultras. This group includes Havel and the historians close to him such
as Jan Křen, who was named the chairman of the Czechoslovak delegation
to the Joint Commission of Czech and German Historians and who was chosen
to accompany Havel on his historic trip to Germany to speak before the
Bundestag (83). While clearly acknowledging the need for the "new
balance" and the "changeable flow of historical research"
(84), supporters of the more moderate stance behave somewhat more pragmatically.
Perhaps they feel that given the radical demands of some of the more
extreme Sudeten German leaders and the radical anti-German sentiments expressed
by some within the Czech Republic, one cannot expect miracles but must
strive for what is possible in relations. It is certainly no coincidence
that many in the more aggressively pro-reconciliation group of ultras are
not now active in politics while many in the more moderate group are. The
strong public condemnations of Havel's March 1990 speech may have made
these people more wary of being too bold in the cause of reconciliation.
Many are thus wary to fully apologise for the post-war transfers as it
is seen as opening the door to a return of Sudeten Germans, which, as will
be seen, is a primary fear in Czech society.
The fundamental difference between these two groups of pro-reconciliation
New Balance intellectuals is that the ultras call for open talks between
the Czech government and Sudeten German representatives, and the moderates
tend toward a basic awareness that this is an unpopular idea among the
Czech public. As will be seen, however, both groups of intellectuals, even
the moderates who have some understanding of public sentiments, are separated
from the opinions of ordinary Czechs. The moderates may temper their speech
somewhat, but for the bulk of Czech society, both ultras and moderates
are speaking another language. The subtle difference between these two
groups within the New Balance movement does not seem to interest the wider
public who is suspicious of the movement in its entirety. These issues
shall be taken up below.
In summary then, the New Balance is the intellectual trend that started
as a "discussion of the German question in dissident and émigré circles"
and "takes a critical view towards nationalist interpretations"
in the analysis of Czech-German history and relations (85). It forms the
philosophical background for the Czech-German Declaration. The movement
has both an ultra and a moderate wing. One will see that it is specifically
from the moderates within the pro-reconciliation New Balance movement that
the idea for the Declaration emerges.
Relations with Germany After 1989
Formal relations between Bonn and Prague dramatically improved after
1989. As mentioned earlier, Havel made his first foreign visits to the
both German states within three days of becoming president. Cross-border
contacts, especially economic ones, proceeded apace. Capital, according
to then Finance Minister Václav Klaus, was not German nor French, but simply
capital, which Czechoslovakia needed (86).
Post -November Foreign Minister Jiří Dienstbier did not manage to get
Czechoslovak concerns onto the table at the "2+4" talks on German
reunification as the Poles had done (87), but his Westward looking approach
did in 1991 result in the successful negotiation of the Czechoslovak-German
Agreement on Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Co-operation, which was
initialled by both foreign ministers in October 1991 and signed by Kohl
and Havel in February of 1992. Containing the controversial word "expulsions"
in reference to the post-war transfers, the agreement was criticised in
some quarters, but, as Havel then claimed:
...it is a good agreement. The results at this time could not be better
- neither for Germans nor for Czechs. Some problems are not solvable, and
there is no need to solve them... (88)
The threat of a return of Sudeten Germans through post-communist property
restitution was handled simply by fixing an appropriate date before which
restitution of confiscated property would not be allowed. The cut-off date
thus became 25th February, 1948. Those who had property confiscated after
this date (and their descendants) could claim the property back. Ethnically,
they were overwhelmingly Czech. Those who had property confiscated before
this date, notably millions of Sudeten Germans, were simply ignored. It
was a simple solution to compensate the victims of some excesses of the
late 1940s but not others. The dividing line was clearly ethnic, but it
turned out not to be so simple as it left open the question of restitution
to Jewish Holocaust survivors in Czechoslovakia. This was later addressed
with the creation of a limitted legal loop-hole (89). Since 1989, Sudeten
Germans have consistently failed to win their claims in the Czech courts
Thus, the attitude of those early politicians was firmly Western oriented
and one might even say accommodating towards Germany as shown by their
willingness to use words like "expulsion." They eagerly sought
economic relationships and formal expressions of friendship with the newly
reunified Germany. They were unwilling, however, to allow a return of Sudeten
Germans through property restitution. Such a political programme would
have been untenable in view of public opinion.
1992 and Beyond
The next generation of politicians which emerged victorious from the
1992 elections and the divorce of Czechoslovakia also wanted to direct
the country Westward, but they were even more aware of public fears and
hatreds concerning the Czech-German issue than the former government, which
was more strongly influenced by idealistic émigrés and dissidents. The
group of pragmatic, even economically populist, politicians behind Klaus
was obviously closer to peoples' hearts than the more idealistic Civic
Movement of Dienstbier and Pithart.
The Czech economy continued to be more and more connected to Germany
every day. Germany became the largest source of foreign direct investment
in the Czech Republic with almost twice the investment of the second largest
source (91). For several years now the Federal Republic of Germany has
also been the Czech Republic's most important trading partner (92).
Of course, the Czech government has consistently refused to meet directly
with representatives of Sudeten German groups or to reconsider the cut-off
date for restitution. It is clear that almost all politicians across the
spectrum consider giving ground in these areas the quickest method of political
suicide (93). Still, by the mid-1990s, Czech-German relations were described
as "the best in modern history" by Czech Foreign Minister Zieleniec
(94), and the outgoing German ambassador in Prague spoke of the "new
quality" to relations especially in the fields of economic, cultural
and even military co-operation (95).
Reflecting the business community, a general German-friendly attitude
had developed in government circles because it was seen as a matter of
necessity. A strong German presence in Central Europe and in the Czech
Republic in particular was described as simply "our fate" by
the Czech Privatisation Minister Tomáš Ježek (96). The comment of a Czech
embassy official in London sums up the modern official attitude rather
well: "Given the geography, we have no choice but to develop a good
relationship with Bonn" (97).
Additionally, a new generation of Czechs and Germans had come of age,
and they felt that the old fears were groundless. Perhaps there was still
a Czech-Sudeten German problem for the older generation, but youth thought
Why a Declaration?
With this rosy picture of blossoming relations and good will, one may
well ask whether there was ever really a Czech-German problem in the 1990s
after all and whether a formal declaration was ever really necessary. True
the Czech Republic (along with Slovakia) was the only country not to have
its Nazi victims receive direct compensation from Bonn, and this was (and
is) due to nagging claims of the Sudeten Germans. But five years had elapsed
since the Revolution. There was a friendship treaty between the two states,
and relations were strong economically and culturally.
The one real political blot on the rosy picture was the poor personal
relations between Kohl and Klaus. The ill feeling between them seems to
have been caused by Klaus' undiplomatic comments to Kohl in Budapest in
1993 regarding Bonn's support of Sudeten Germans and by some of Klaus'
more Eurosceptic statements which upset the ultimate Europhile Kohl (99).
It is hard to see how this personal difference justifies the pain and trouble
all sides suffered to forge the Declaration.
Had the originators of the document any idea of the controversy and
national embarrassment the Declaration would cause, they certainly would
have prevented the flawed idea from ever reaching the drawing board. It
is thus quite clear that those who first created the idea for the Declaration
did not foresee the resistance it would receive among the Czech public.
It is obvious that they did not understand the depth of anti-German sentiment
among ordinary Czechs.
The fact is that the impetus for the Czech-German Declaration did not
stem from the need to resolve practical problems in Czech-German relations
nor, by any means, from an expression of popular will. The need for a declaration
was not envisioned by the pragmatic politicians of the post-1992 coalition.
The idea of a declaration arose from a philosophical longing to make peace
with the past and to anchor the intellectual New Balance in official words.
It was a concept that sprung from the ideals of intellectual élites - from
the former dissidents and exiles. In fact, the spark for the Declaration
came from Václav Havel himself.
IV. The Declaration
The Road to the Declaration
Václav Havel's speech at Charles University on 17th February, 1995 set
the Declaration process in motion. In calling for a new dialogue, Havel
saw a need to finalise discussions about the past in order to begin looking
towards the future. "The time of confrontation must end, and the time
of co-operation must begin." He hoped for "the creation of a
new Czech-German relationship." Havel believed that the two nations
needed to formally draw "a thick line" between the past and the
future in the "thousand year coexistence of Czechs and Germans in
our land, which in the past two centuries have become more complicated..."
After some initial conflicts on the Czech side as to whether the talks
should be conducted by representatives of governments or parliaments, by
June 1995, both the Czech and German governments had selected their chief
negotiators for the Declaration discussions. The Czech Alexandr Vondra
and the German Peter Hartmann began to meet regularly (101). The primary
characteristic of the negotiations, which would continue for the next year
and a half, was their secrecy. Rumours naturally filled the gaps in public
information. Very few knew what was really being discussed, and this brought
some to fear the worst (102). Even parliament was kept in the dark throughout
In January and February 1996, a crisis developed in the negotiations
over the meaning of the Potsdam Agreement. While the Czechs felt that the
document basically expressed Allied support of the post-war transfers,
German Foreign Minister Kinkel insisted that Potsdam was "only a political
declaration" to which Germany did not feel bound. Kinkel's questioning
of the permanence of the post-war situation sent a shock wave not only
across the Czech Republic but also across Western capitals. The Czech papers
spoke of the worsening climate of Czech-German relations, and the German
papers were saying that relations would be better without a formal declaration
about the past (104). The bitter dispute was described by the British Daily
Telegraph as "the gravest crisis in Germany's relations with an east
European country since the collapse of communism" (105). The deteriorating
state of Czech-German relations caused by the Declaration negotiations
brought Klaus to proclaim: "It's not a fiasco!" - leading most
to believe that it was (106). The Declaration seemed a dead letter, and
relations were definitely at the lowest point since the Revolution.
Negotiations did continue, however, but with the approach of the 1996
elections in the Czech Republic, it was agreed to postpone any major announcements
until after the political situation was settled. It was hoped that the
Czech-German issue would not enter into the campaign (107). Some in Bonn
were obviously hoping for the electoral victory of a more co-operative
set of Czech politicians (108).
Of course, the emotional Czech-German issue, made topical by the Declaration
negotiations did play a part in the 1996 parliamentary elections. Once
the poll was released that 86% of Czechs would never cast their vote for
a party that supported an apology to the Sudeten Germans, it was hard to
believe that the issue would not be a factor in the election campaign (109).
In efforts to discredit each other, both the coalition parties and the
opposition Social Democrats exchanged accusations of German campaign support
(110). A few days before the election, rumours that the Declaration was
ready were spread by the German press and the more irresponsible elements
of the Czech media (111).
The Sudeten Germans could not resist adding their traditional destabilising
influence on Czech politics. At the annual meeting of the Sudetendeutsche
Landsmannschaft held a week before the Czech elections, their leaders and
their defender Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber repeated their major demands
on the Czech government including direct talks with the Czech government
and the cryptic "right to a homeland." Stoiber also stated that
the fulfilment of these demands should be a precondition for the acceptance
of the Czech Republic into the EU (112). The more extreme Sudeten Germans
and their protectors in the Bavarian government have always provided a
regular barrage of threats and comments which cause upset in the Czech
Republic and sour Czech-German relations (113), but such threats just before
the election could only help the radical Czech right gain a seat or two.
One should not get the impression that the Declaration and Czech and
Sudeten German reactions to it were the only points of concern in Czech-German
relations in the last few years. Other matters also had a influence on
relations. For example, two German tourists were shot dead by police in
September 1994 and March 1995. In the second incident, the victim was shot
in the back of the head after being force to lie on the ground for a minor
traffic offence (114). Republican leader Miroslav Sládek infamously commented
that there were too many Germans anyway. This is, of course, only one instance
of the regular anti-German speech for which the Republicans are well known
and which added their own negative influence to Czech-German relations
in the past few years (115). The Republicans are treated below.
Another issue that soured Czech-German relations concerned the Chief
Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Gerd Albrecht, a German. His problems
with his employers started after he refused to appear with the philharmonic
at the Vatican at a celebration of the establishment of diplomatic relations
between the Vatican and Israel. Havel said that Albrecht had damaged the
reputation of the Czech Republic. Albrecht later hinted that Havel had
called him an anti-Semite, and Havel denied this. Albrecht later apologised,
but his days in Prague were numbered due to other conflicts which always
had a resonance of Czechs versus Germans about them (116).
After the Elections
The election results certainly did not clarify the political situation
in the Czech Republic; it made it more complex. Perhaps realising that
no better deal could be hoped for in the near future, Kohl declared in
September that the Declaration would be ready "by year's end"
(117). The rumours, often spun by the Landsmannschaft and greedily accepted
by the Czech press, continued (118).
In November, conflicting rumours produced a word game between Klaus,
the Republicans and Bonn. A Republican MP asked Klaus whether the Declaration
would contain the word odsun (transfer) or vyhnání (expulsion). Klaus mysteriously
replied that the prepared document contained neither word. This confused
everyone, unleashed a new flood of rumours, released fresh accusations
from Neubauer and brought a sharp denial from Bonn, which claimed that
the Declaration contained the word Vertreibung (expulsion) (119).
It eventually emerged that the Czech word to be used in the Declaration
to identify the transfers/expulsions would be vyhánžn' (120). The difference
between vyhnání and vyhánění is rather slight: they differ only in verbal
aspect, a quality that neither German nor English has. The difference is
essentially that the first emphasizes the completion of the act while the
second emphasizes the ongoing action. In the declaration, the word vyhnání
was avoided probably because it is rather forceful and loaded, while vyhánžní,
being a rather rare word, has not got the same strong overtones. Perhaps
also the Declaration's emphasis upon the ongoing action is meant to emphasise
that the Czech side condemns certain excesses of the expulsions but not
the expulsions themselves. The German version did contain the clear word
Vertreibung, but the question remains whether the two versions of the Declaration
have the same meaning. In any case, the Czech news reading public was treated
to long articles on grammar and linguistics the likes of which had not
been seen since the "Great Hyphen Debate" between Czechs and
Slovaks in the spring of 1990 (121).
Some insisted that the linguistic acrobatics had legal ramifications
(122), but the absurdity of the grammatical debate only revealed the rumour
promoting secrecy which surrounded the whole preparation of the Declaration.
It was a rather hopeless time for journalists who, rather than deal with
the substantive issues of Czech-German relations and the complexities of
history, had to settle for arguments as to whether this or that word would
be in the final Declaration or not. This "embargo on information"
was recognised by many at home and abroad (123).
The Public Finally See the Declaration - By Accident
On 7th December some of the actual text leaked into the press, and two
days later the full text was mistakenly made public. It seems that the
Prague office of German ARD television first released a few passages of
the text which it had received from the Chancellor's office in Bonn. Foreign
Minister Zieleniec, believing that ARD had released the full text, then
gave the full text to the Czech Press Agency (ČTK) from which all media
received it. This does not seem to have been planned at all but rather
seems to be mere bumbling (124). The accusations flew back and forth between
Prague and Bonn each blaming the other for the unfortunate leak. Klaus
charged ARD with incompetence. The fact that just a few days before, Kohl
had shown the finished Declaration to the leaders of the Sudetendeutsche
Landsmannschaft (even before the Parliaments got to see it) led some to
believe that the Sudeten Germans had been responsible for the leak (125).
The accusations certainly did not help Czech-German relations. The unwanted
leak after a year and a half of carefully guarded secrecy made the situation
"a bit more complicated" (126).
The next fumbling step for the Declaration was its initialling by the
foreign ministers on 20th December. The ceremony was marred not only by
the unexpected publication just over a week earlier but also by the rather
undiplomatic comments of Germany's top diplomat that Germany regarded the
compensation of Czech victims of the Nazis as a matter for the Czech government
and that the Declaration was not the "full stop" in the course
of history that many Czechs had wanted (127).
On 21st January, 1997, Helmut Kohl made the long-awaited visit to Prague
to formally sign the Czech-German Declaration with his counterpart Václav
Klaus. The visit was made under unusually strict security measures and
blackened by the unseemly protests of Republicans (128). Unfortunately,
despite the many months of difficult negotiations, it was clear that Prague
and Bonn still did not agree on what they were signing. Kohl felt obliged
to mention that the declaration left Sudeten restitution issues still open
(129). Klaus diplomatically kept silent at the time, but Kohl's words caused
an uproar in the Czech press. Wasn't the Declaration supposed to put that
final "full stop" in the course of history that Zieleniec and
Klaus spoke about back in 1995? (130)
The German parliament ratified the Declaration with an overwhelming
majority on 30th January to the accompaniment of further claims by Kohl
that Sudeten restitution issues remained unresolved and that the Declaration
offered a clear guarantee to Sudeten Germans for the privileged treatment
in attaining permanent right to remain in the Czech Republic. Again, the
words brought further expressions of shock and horror in the Czech press
(131). Kohl did not smooth the path for the difficult next act in the Declaration
The ratification of the Czech-German Declaration in the Representative
Assembly (lower house) of the Czech Parliament can only be described as
just short of a complete disaster. The young Czech democracy was put through
a gruelling test and emerged severely bruised as a result. As will be seen
below, parliamentary rules were bent and procedures were altered to get
around the monotonous filibustering, accusations of high treason and acrid
racial slurs from Republican MPs (132). There were calls to ban certain
political parties, and only a few cooler heads prevented such harshly undemocratic
The week of ratification of the Declaration was a time of legislative
firsts. The debate over the Declaration was the longest and most stormy
debate to ever come through the Czech parliament. It was the first time
that body ever worked through the night and the first time it ever worked
on a Saturday (134).
After days of conflict, a back room compromise between the leader of
the minority government and the leading opposition figure at the head of
a hopelessly split party broke the deadlock which had brought shame upon
the whole Republic. The compromise involved an accompanying resolution
which essentially was meant to be an answer to Kohl's recent statements
and to stress that the Declaration would put an end to the arguments relating
to the past.
There was audible relief in Germany and in the Czech Republic that "Thank
God, it's over" (135).
The ratification in the Czech Senate on 5th March, by comparison, was
almost without incident, and many felt that the smooth procedure in the
new upper house went some way to mending the damage to democracy wrought
in the lower house (136). Oddly, however, some senators were unaware that
they were voting on the Declaration when they raised their hands in the
final vote (137).
The final stage of the Declaration drama was the exchange of presidential
speeches in reciprocal parliaments. On 24th April, Havel offered a complex
speech attempting to redefine the "nation" in modern Europe (138).
Amid fears of Republican protests, Roman Herzog spoke less grandiously
to a joint session of the Czech Parliament specially convened at Prague
Castle on 29th April (139).
After more than two years since its inception, the Czech-German Declaration
What Is It?
When the Declaration was finally mistakenly published, it was described
by some as "bold" (140). Of all the things the Declaration is,
it is certainly not bold. It would be worthwhile examining what the Declaration
Starting a Sentence with a Full Stop:
Originally, of course, the Czech side hoped that the Declaration would
draw that "thick line" in history that Havel spoke of in 1995
and that "full stop" that Zieleniec and Klaus wanted. Roughly,
this was a hope to end once and for all the threat of Sudeten German restitution
claims and the threat that Sudeten German blackmail could prevent or delay
Czech entry into the EU. As Vice-Premier of the government and leader of
Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) leader Jan Kalvoda said in early 1996:
The Declaration has one, and only one possible value: that is to legally
close the past and claims stemming from the past. If this is not the content
of the Declaration, then the Declaration will have no sense whatsoever.
As Kohl's comments a year later at the signing ceremony and at the ratification
in the Bundestag clearly show, the German side still regards these matters
to be open (142).
If the Declaration did not fulfil its original purpose, did it at least
bring about a reconciliation of the two sides? After the Declaration was
signed, interestingly, the father of the document Václav Havel seemed to
believe that it was never meant to close the past nor was it an act of
One tries to develop reconciliation with one's enemies, and I do not
have the feeling at this time that the Czech nation and the German nation
are enemies which need to seek reconciliation.
One can never close the past. The past is within us, it is a part of
This was a complete reversal of the hopes expressed in his March 1995
speech and completely erased the Czech justification for the Declaration.
Why were there so many months of difficult negotiations and stressful political
battles if this Declaration could not fulfil its primary goal and if reconciliation
was never needed anyway? The Czechs scrambled to find meaning in this absurdity.
Many commentators, both Czech and foreign, struggled to find the right
metaphor to describe just what this unusual document was. It was called
a "thermometer" of Czech-German relations (144), a "link
in a chain" (145), a "car looking for a highway" (146),
an "apology exchange" (147), a "delicate house of cards"
(148) and a "hard little island in the swamp of history" (149).
The Chairman of the Parliamentary Constitutional and Legal Committee called
it merely a "gentlemen's agreement" (150). Pavel Tigrid labelled
it not a thick line in Czech-German history (as Havel had wanted in 1995)
but rather a "starting line" (151).
There was a search for the proper punctuation metaphor. Remember that
both Klaus and Zieleniec had earlier hoped for a "full stop"
in the Czech-German sentence of history. For example, Zieleniec stated
in 1995: "At the end (of the Declaration process) I see an official
full stop in history," though he did mention that "such a full
stop does not mean just the end of something but mainly the beginning of
something new." In the same year Klaus also confirmed the need for
the appropriate mark of punctuation:
That we wish the Declaration, when it is finished and ratified, to mean
a clear full stop in history, is completely obvious. That is clearly its
By late 1996, however, the punctuation metaphor had changed. Zieleniec
was now calling it a colon, not a full stop (152).
By February 1997 when a question mark hung over the issue of ratification,
confused commentators saw the Declaration as neither a full stop nor a
colon but rather an exclamation point (153). Again, one was reminded of
the Great Hyphen Debate of a few years earlier.
The Contents of the Declaration
Many were upset at specific words in the final text. The word vyhánění
was indeed in the final document and caused some difficulty with Bonn as
mentioned earlier, but it was hardly the only word people took issue with.
Some Czechs were worried that the Declaration introduced the term "Sudeten
German" into official Czech documents for the first time, and aside
from legal ramifications the term remained "a trauma for Czechs"
in the words of Deputy Minister of Defence and former Chairman of the Parliamentary
Foreign Relation Committee Jiří Payne (154). Others were bothered that
the words "national socialist" were used instead of "Nazi"
(155). One relatively well-respected commentator was even dissatisfied
with the word prostor (space or area) because he saw behind it a "technocraticoinstrumental
conception of Europe" which was part of the classic German plans to
dominate the continent (156).
Returning to the serious, is important to note that the Declaration
contains a troubling logical incongruity. On the one hand, the document
condemns the concept of collective guilt which was used to sentence all
the Sudeten Germans to expulsion (Point 3). On the other hand, other parts
of the text have the "Czech side" and the "German side"
accepting guilt on behalf of their respective nations. In Point 2, for
example: "The German side recognises the responsibility of Germany
for its role in the historic development..." which led to World War
II and the suffering caused. In Point 3: "The Czech side regrets..."
various actions. In places, the Declaration rejects the notion that an
entire nation can be guilty of historical tragedies, and in other places,
the Declaration supports the view that a whole nation must accept responsibility
for its past. This logical inconsistency makes much of the Declaration
a complete nonsense.
The Declaration is, however, probably better defined by the words which
are not in the brief text than those few that are. Quite a number of important
details are altogether missing from this document.
First, direct reparations for individual victims of Nazis are omitted,
and thus the Czech Republic (along with Slovakia) remains unique of all
Germany's neighbours. Second, for a Central European document that is supposed
to offer "a clear word about the past" (157), the Declaration
oddly does not mention the Holocaust of Jews, as the Czech Jewish community
and Elie Wiesel have noted (158).
The Declaration also makes no mention of the Sudeten German role in
the collapse of the First Republic and no mention of Potsdam and Allied
support of the transfers. It is indeed "a selective interpretation
of history" (159), and the basis of that selectivity is the New Balance
Oddly, point 7 in the Declaration has the Czechs paying more per capita
towards a fund which is supposed to support projects which will "primarily
favour the victims of national socialist violence" (160).
For the Sudeten Germans, none of their primary demands were met. They
expressed disappointment that the Declaration was critical of "suffering
and injustice caused to innocent people" but failed to condemn the
transfers themselves (161). Czech groups with a direct connection to the
issue were also disappointed (162). In fact, no group that felt it might
have something to gain through an official declaration was at all satisfied
in the end. Everyone with a direct stake in the Czech-German issue was
The Declaration as a Reflection of Legal Realities
The lack of progress represented by the Declaration can partially be
explained as a simple reflection of the legal background in each country.
On the German side of the negotiating table, the government faced a crippling
restraint on its actions which prevented it from formally closing the Sudeten
reparation issue. If it were to formally renounce claims on Prague, Bonn
itself could face thousands of Sudeten German compensation claims (163).
The Czech side also faced a legal problem at home. In 1994, frustrated
with being the last country to reach a compensation deal with Germany and
worried that the victims may never live to see their compensation, the
Czech government decided to teach Germany a "moral lesson" and
provide a symbolic payment from the Czech treasury to Czech victims of
the Nazis (164). It was hoped that this would embarrass the procrastinating
German side into action, but Law 217 seems to only have weakened the Czech
bargaining position at the negotiating table. German officials could openly
claim that the issue of compensation for victims of the Nazis had been
settled already by the Czech government and therefore Germany need pay
nothing (165). The Declaration only reconfirmed that Prague was left holding
In light of the legal constraints, many commentators wrote (after the
fact) that people should not have had "unrealistic expectations"
in the preceding two years (166), though many of these same commentators,
along with the government, were responsible for inflating public expectations
during the same period (167). Clearly the original intention of a "full
stop" or a "thick line" was not reached, and even the generally
pro-government Mladá fronta DNES was forced to recognise this (168).
This declaration was not "bold." Of legal necessity, "the
fundamental positions of both sides remain the same" (169). Despite
hundreds of metaphors to try to describe this unique document, Point Four
makes the Declaration's meaning quite clear: it is essentially an agreement
More Disaster That Declaration?
There are many reasons to believe that the Czech-German Declaration
actually caused more harm than good. Some of these reasons are outlined
First, the Declaration was handled very poorly, one might even say that,
from the standpoint of international diplomacy, it was "amateurish"
(170). There were earlier general mistakes on the Czech side which have
already been mentioned such as the failure to be more active in the "2+4"
talks and weakening of their starting position through the ratification
of Law 217. The failure to work together with other members of the Visegrád
group was also a criticism of some who felt that the small Czech Republic
could not confront Germany on her own (171).
The insistence on secrecy around the negotiations only aided rumour-mongering
and intensified fear in society. Those fears fed the hatred of nationalists.
As one commentator put it during the crisis surrounding the meaning of
Potsdam at the beginning of 1996:
It is necessary to reveal the contents (of the Declaration). There is
no sense in piling up further and further misunderstandings around a text,
which no one knows. It would be better if we all knew how far we are willing
to go and how far the German side is willing to go. (172)
Others were more direct and revealed the fears of many:
The closely guarded secrecy, which has thus far surrounded the text,
begs the question - if everything is in order, as the government keep saying,
why then couldn't the citizens familiarise themselves with the official
Czech position earlier? (173)
To many it seemed that the secrecy around the negotiations itself had
damaged relations and meant that the Declaration was actually hurting relations
more than helping:
The Declaration, instead of providing a way to address problems of the
past, has only muddied - in no small part due to the conspiratorial character
of the negotiations between the two ministries - the waters of Czech-German
relations and opened the door for those who act exclusively on base emotions.
Even the Parliaments were kept in the dark (175).
Surprisingly, after so much effort to maintain secrecy for a year and
a half, the text of the Declaration was leaked by what appears to be further
bungling, and as was seen above, this leak further damaged relations.
Further diplomatic faux-pas added yet more strain to the relationship.
Kinkel's questioning of Potsdam in January 1996 can be mentioned in this
regard. Kohl's remarks at the signing and at the ratification in the Bundestag
showed bad faith as he was essentially trying to reinterpret the Declaration
"before the ink was dry" (176). The Czech Parliament then added
its own reinterpretation in the form of an accompanying resolution. The
lack of agreement over the meaning of this document could lead to future
The two year struggle for a declaration only served to damage relations
- or "dramatise" them to use Zieleniec's words (178). The Declaration
solved none of the problems those involved in the issue hoped it would.
Even the personal relationship between Kohl and Klaus remained frosty at
the signing ceremony (179). The Declaration and the negotiations surrounding
it served no purpose and damaged relations more than it helped them.
In addition, the Declaration opened up other new problems as calls were
heard for similar declarations with Slovakia (180) and Russia (181).
Republican Attack and Government Counter-Attack
Most seriously, however, the Declaration endangered democracy and the
popular image of democracy in the Czech Republic. The threat to democracy
came both from the hate-inspired acts of attention-seeking Republicans
and from the efforts of mainstream politicians who tried to stop them.
Though, as will be seen, all political parties utilised nationalism
and sometimes played to extremist views, the Republican Party was without
question, the most guilty of using hate to threaten and make a mockery
of the democratic process. The individual acts of its members will be described
in more detail in the section on political parties, but for now one can
keep in mind the racist language used by Republican protesters during Kohl's
visit, the racist language used on the floor of Parliament and the seemingly
endless filibustering not only to delay the ratification but also to delay
the cancellation of Parliamentary immunity of certain Republicans suspected
of criminal acts (hate speech is a criminal act in the Czech Republic).
As bad as many of these Republican actions became, however, moves by
those in power to thwart them were more worrying. There were, for example,
moves made to force the Declaration through the Parliament without allowing
the planned preparation time for proper debate (182). Klaus' party made
similar moves in the Senate to try to get the Declaration through that
house in a special session even before it reached the floor of the Bundestag
or the Czech Lower House (183). Later there were unusual moves to immediately
start immunity hearings (184). Some of these manoeuvres to manipulate legislative
schedules may seem to be just tactical political moves, but they were highly
irregular, and in the last instance, the separation of powers critical
to a democracy was damaged as legislators were actually exercising judicial
At another point in the ratification hearings, all members of the coalition
boycotted a question period (in protest at racist Republican statements).
They thus willingly transgressed the Rules of Parliament. Put quite simply,
the government broke the law (186).
It is also worrying how, in addition to refusing to meet with leaders
of two parties which represent about 20% of the electorate, the President
openly accused Republican leader Miroslav Sládek of involvement in the
vicious attack on Pavel Dostál MP. While one could clearly say that the
attack was likely to be politically motivated and even Republican ordered
given Dostál's views of the Republicans, it seems inappropriate in a democracy
for a president to determine guilt in individual cases. Many had their
suspicions, but no clear evidence had yet been available to make any link
directly to Sládek (187).
On top of these disturbing points, the Czech police acted more forcefully
than is necessary in several cases related to the Declaration. First the
police forcefully tried to pull the microphone from Sládek as he spoke
at a legal gathering in protest of the Declaration and Kohl's visit (189).
Then the police raided the offices of the Republican caucus within the
Parliament without the prior knowledge of the Parliamentary leadership
(188). In another incident, overzealous police forces, in anticipation
of the removal of Sládek's parliamentary immunity, took Sládek into custody
before they had actually received official word that the immunity was lifted
Descent Into Farce
Democracy became almost comic where the Declaration was concerned. On
one level there was the immature name-calling, one example of which occurred
when Republican MP Jan Vik called Havel mentally incompetent. This led
to the same accusation being directed at Vik from Christian Democrat and
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Jan Kasal. At about the same time, an
editor of the Republican press organ Republika Jiří Vařil brought a suit
against Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Deputy Chairman of the Civic Democratic
Alliance Karl Ledvinka for Ledvinka's statement that Republicans and Communists
were "rabble and low-life" (191). Of course, there were also
the racist slurs of Republican MPs on the floor of the Parliament itself
The farce continued in the Senate when many Social Democrats did not
know they were voting for the Declaration itself when the count was taken
(193). It later was revealed that there had been a mistake in the counting
Perhaps the most damaging to democracy's reputation in the republic,
however, was the monotonous and senseless filibustering that continued
in the Parliament during the ratification process and even after the Declaration
had passed. The endless repetitions of chemical formulae (195) could not
have inspired much faith in democracy among those relatively new to the
democratic process. Worst of all, the antics and filibustering prevented
all reasoned debate on the Declaration issue (196). This is true despite
the fact that the Parliament spent more time on this than on any other
issue in its history. One of the primary goals of all parliaments - to
be a forum for public debate - was thus undermined. The prevention of real
debate suggests that democracy is unwell in the Czech Republic as a result
of the Declaration.
A Loss of Faith
As a result of Republican actions, official efforts to stop them and
the apparent farce that democracy had become, many in Czech society suffered
a loss of faith in democratic processes. Ignoring democratic principles,
some made demands to move swiftly and resolutely against the Republican
Party. As Daniel Kumermann lamented: "The voices calling for the elimination
of the Republican Party are strengthening day by day" (197). Often
those voices came from positions of power. Klaus said he was weighing the
possibility of a more determined measure against the Republicans and that
asking people not to vote for the extremists was not enough anymore. Kalvoda
said that banning the party was a "legitimate consideration,"
and MP Pavel Dostál openly supported such a move (198). Interior Minister
Jan Ruml stated that he could envision the banning of the Republican Party
(199). People were losing faith in democracy.
Of course, the actions and the speech of the Republicans are repugnant
to many, but the actions of those in power are even more disturbing precisely
because they are the people in power. Those in power, as one commentator
pointed out at the time, must ultimately accept responsibility for the
deterioration of democracy (200). The only question was that given the
parliamentary numbers mandating a minority government, who was really in
After reviewing the history and meaning of the Czech-German Declaration,
it is quite clear that it has actually brought more harm than good to the
Czech Republic. Essentially, the agreement itself says little and changes
nothing in relations with neighbouring Germany. If anything, the poor handling
of the negotiations only worsened relations between the two states. Furthermore,
the struggle over the Declaration within the Republic endangered democracy
and democracy's reputation in Czech society.
The year and a half it took to complete this two page document show
how difficult reaching any agreement was. Somewhere during the negotiations,
probably about the time of the Potsdam debate early in 1996, the two sides
realised that the Declaration was not really going to amount to much in
the end. At that point, it was probably decided that they had to continue
with the process and produce a document, even a meaningless one, because
both sides had invested so many words and so much energy into it that to
let the talks collapse would be a severe embarrassment. Thus they struggled
on to produce and ratify the text as it appears today: the agreement to
The domestic cost to the Czech Republic, however, was high, primarily
because the philosophy behind the Declaration was out of step with the
V. The Declaration and Czech Society
The reaction of Czech society towards the Declaration and to the New
Balance philosophy behind it was by no means unified. A wide range of opinions
was seen from all segments of society. The most notable cleavage in Czech
opinion, however, was clearly between the intellectuals who support the
New Balance approach to history and the general public who were much more
suspicious of alterations to traditionally cherished myths. Throughout
the entire two years and despite a massive drive by many intellectuals
and many in the press to win their support, the majority of the Czech public
never supported the Declaration. The rift between the intelligentsia and
ordinary Czechs was deep and wide.
Historians, Intellectuals and the "New Balance"
If we take into consideration all the monothematic titles, proceedings
of various conferences, memoirs and new collections of documents, we can
say that in the five "post-November" years, a great deal has
been done to shed light on the history of Czech-German (and Czechoslovak-German)
relations - probably more than was done in the whole forty years of the
last régime. (201)
Building on samizdat and exile work of earlier decades, much historical
investigation in the 1990s aimed to re-examine the Czech-German relationship
and put it into a new focus. As mentioned earlier, the aim was clearly
to distance Czech thinking from Russian/Communist myths which were originally
linked in the Czech context to older pan-Slavist ideas. The aim was to
"rediscover" (re-emphasize) the Western legacy of Czech history.
By the time Václav Havel inaugurated the declaration process in early 1995
by formally announcing the need for a period of "historical reflection"
in Czech-German relations (202), a ferment of such reflection, was already
well underway. The move towards the "New Balance" was evident
not only in academic journals and discussion fora but also in newly published
and newly republished books found in the local bookshop. The daily press
was also full of historical information. The historical events receiving
the most attention recently have been the post-war expulsions of Sudeten
Germans. It would be impractical to list the plethora of works which have
emerged on the subject in the past eight years, but one should note some
of the more notable re-examinations of Czech-German history through Czech
Academic and Intellectual Journals
Of course, the revelations of newly published research and the conclusions
drawn have caused quite a tumult in the intellectual world and these have
been reflected several journals. Two periodicals which deserve special
mention here are Soudobé dějiny and Střední Evropa.
Soudobé dějiny, as a historical journal, has been at the forefront of
publishing information on previously censored and unreleased material.
In the field of Czech-German historical research, the journal has generally
added the weight of facts behind the New Balance movement. As with all
material in this movement, articles in this journal attempt to balance
the "battles, injustices and violence" of Czech-German history
with the "fertile symbiosis" which living together brought, they
criticise the "limited national rights of Germans" during the
traditionally exalted First Republic and they draw connections between
the transfers and the rise of Communism in post-war Czechoslovakia (203).
Střední Evropa (Central Europe), as the name implies, tends to be rather
enchanted with the "Mitteleuropa" concept. Václav Černý's influential
Vůvoj a zločiny panslavismu was first published on its pages (204). This
periodical is definitely under the influence of the "ultras"
in the New Balance movement. These include those such as Emanuel Mandler,
a member of the editorial board of Střední Evropa, who is not afraid to
use the term "ethnic cleansing" when referring to the post-war
transfers (205). He, for example, feels that the whole Czech attitude towards
Germany is misdirected:
Our Czech Republic is small and not very rich, and it has decades of
authoritarian régime behind it. Still, at the end of the millennium, we're
trying to negotiate with Germany as though we were part of that anti-Hitler
coalition which hasn't existed for half a century. (206)
Mandler and Střední Evropa are strongly criticised by some of the more
moderate voices in the New Balance movement for their "conservative,
Catholic and aristocratic" viewpoint which supports Habsburg Austria
(207). Those opposed to the New Balance simply call it a "pro-German
There have been myriads of discussion fora held in Central Europe over
the past few years, at which Czech-German history and reconciliation have
been discussed. The first to open a dialogue between Czechs and representatives
of Sudeten German organisations occurred in the spring of 1991 (209). Groups
of Czech and German intellectuals have formed several organisations to
promote Czech-German friendship, and they have provided their comments
on the Declaration as it has progressed (210). The Catholic Church has
also sponsored various conferences focusing on the Czech-German issue.
One important figure in the Catholic side of the debate reviewed a recent
Church-sponsored Czech-German conference in such a way as to demonstrate
how the Church sees the issue. In its condemnations of the post-war "ethnic
cleansings," its horror at Beneš' call to "liquidate the Germans"
and its references to the Sudeten Germans as "our former fellow countrymen,"
the Church clearly shows its support for the New Balance. The same author
reveals a clear awareness of the strong connection between the new pro-Western
outlook, the New Balance approach to history and the Declaration:
Let us remember how the anti-German complex made possible the spread
of pan-Slavic myths for which we have paid a high political price. It is
not by accident that political opponents of the Declaration are in large
majority the same people who oppose our becoming members of European and
Atlantic structures. (211)
The Catholic Church has also been indirectly involved in one of the
most important discussion fora for Czech and German historians and other
interested intellectuals: the annual conference at Jihlava sponsored by
the Ackermann-Gemeinde, a Catholic Sudeten German organisation. The conference
has seen a variety of opinions expressed over the years and has been a
meeting point for ultras and moderates of the New Balance movement as well
as a few of those more sceptical of the New Balance altogether (212).
Of course, these discussion fora are primarily matters for intellectuals,
but occasionally politicians from both countries take part and add wider
public controversy to the debates. The speech of German Ambassador to Prague
Anton Rossbach this year was one such occasion as Rossbach restated the
official German position that Sudeten German restitution questions remain
open precisely because of the Declaration. Even strong advocates of reconciliation
such as Pavel Dostál MP and Jaroslav áabata bitterly attacked the ambassador's
Many newly published books on the Czech-German interface have appeared
in recent years and have brought the New Balance message to a wider audience
than intellectual journals and discussion fora. One of the best examples
is the aforementioned series of books by Jan Křen, Václav Kural and Tomáš
Staněk which attempts to cover the period of Czech-German history from
1780 to 1947 in four volumes (214). The authors' subdivision of this enormous
time period is telling: the period of 1780-1918 is treated in one book,
the next two books cover the periods 1918-1938 and 1938-1945 and the final
book concerns the post-war events of only three years. This division of
research clearly shows a desire to concentrate on the previously "taboo"
theme of the transfers (215).
Aside from new books dealing specifically with the subjects of the Czech-German
interface and the transfers in particular, some new general history books
have been showing signs of the New Balance philosophy. In one book on twentieth
century history published immediately after the Revolution (Křižovatky
20. století), for example, the authors adopt what might be labelled a "proto-New
Balance" position. In line with the traditional interpretation, they
estimate the death toll at "around 7000", fail to provide any
detail of the horrors of the transfers and justify the transfers from the
standpoint of Potsdam and national security. On the other hand (and tending
toward the New Balance approach), the authors also regret the loss of human
resources in the emptied border regions, express some sympathy for those
who were separated from their "fatherland" and draw the connection
between the transfers and the rise of Communism (216).
A later general history work went well beyond this early half step.
The widely popular two volume series Dějiny zemí koruny české published
by Paseka adopts a clear New Balance approach both towards the overall
The rich and fruitful, though clearly never completely unproblematic,
coexistence of Czechs and Germans in our lands persisted from the middle
ages, but its character started to change notably in the 19th century...
and also towards the specific events:
Revolutionary injustice appeared in full measure (after World War II)
in relation to the ethnic minorities.
The book adopts a very critical stance towards the post-war expulsions,
includes a photograph of Sudeten Germans nervously awaiting transfer and
clearly makes the connection between lawlessness and the rise of Communism.
It speaks of the "tragic fate of the German minority" (217).
Even history books for younger readers have begun to present the New
Balance approach by openly discussing the mistakes and horrors of the post-war
transfers. The book Československo 1938-1945 of the successful Dějiny v
obrazech series, for example, has photographs showing Germans in various
stages of transfer, reprints Beneš' statement about "liquidating"
the Sudeten Germans and laments the presidential decrees which allowed
those who committed acts of injustice against the Germans to remain unpunished.
In words that could almost come from the mouths of some present day Sudeten
German leader, the book speaks of "the right to a homeland" which
the Germans of Czechoslovakia lost. The text regarding the post-war situation
is simple and clear:
It is sad and inexcusable that a group of Czechs employed the same methods
as the Gestapo: beatings, torture, degrading human integrity and maltreatment
leading to murder.
The book continues by discussing briefly the Brno "transfer of
death" and the Ústí nad Labem massacre. For a book aimed at those
"ten years of age and up," it certainly pulls no punches. It
is one hundred percent in line with the New Balance (218).
In addition to these and other new works, many old books supporting
the New Balance approach to history are being republished in new editions
and collections. One should at least briefly mention the republication
of Edvard Beneš' speeches and writings related to the transfer in a new
collection. It shows the evolution of the transfer idea in the mind of
the president in exile and after his return when he spoke of the need to
"uncompromisingly liquidate the Germans in the Czech lands,"
a phrase that has received much attention of late (219). Another mention
should also be made of the earlier cited Vývoj a zločiny panslavismu (The
Evolution and Crimes of Pan-Slavism) by the late Václav Černý which provided
much of the fundamental pro-Western, anti-Eastern background to the New
Many Czech editions of works by Sudeten German historians have also
appeared for the first time on the shelves of Czech bookshops in recent
years. Two which deserve mention are Němci a Češi by Rudolf Hilf and Německo
a Češi by Ferdinand Seibt (220). Both authors are very active in the politics
of reconciliation. The second of these two republished works emerged just
as the Declaration was being completed, and the popularity of the topic
made Německo a Češi one of the most requested books at bookshops across
the republic (221).
One cannot help but notice how involved the historian Jan Křen is in
the formation of the New Balance approach to history. The Chairman of the
Czech Contingent of the Czech-German Commission of Historians was not only
part of that team which created the four part series on Czech-German history,
but he has also been involved in the creation of many of the other works
mentioned above. Křen edited the Czech version of Seibt's book and provided
an introduction to the new collection of Beneš' speeches and writings on
the transfers. Before 1989, he helped the authors of Křižovatky 20. stolet'
by providing his flat as a meeting place for their discussions of twentieth
century history (222).
All these new works support the New Balance approach to Czech-German
history. They all emphasize the periods of co-operation between the two
nations, they all offer criticism of traditional Czech icons like Masaryk
(primarily for the minorities policy of the First Republic), they all express
sympathy for the suffering of Sudeten Germans especially the suffering
during the transfers and they all associate the post-war lawlessness and
evacuation of the border regions with the rise of Communist power in Czechoslovakia.
In short, they break with tradition by noting and sometimes even stressing
Czech mistakes rather than blaming events solely on the Sudeten Germans.
These new works targeting a wider audience are presenting the New Balance
message to the general public. The New Balance concept is much more widely
known today than it was even just a few years ago. The question thus becomes:
are ordinary Czechs convinced by this new version of history? The answer,
as we shall see, is that they are not yet convinced. This is the case despite
a flood of relevant items in the popular media as well.
The Popular Media
As is often the case in Czech society, history does not remain an academic
discussion enclosed in the sterile world of historical journals and obscure
fora of intellectuals. Nor does it remain on the pages of books. Readers
of all major newspapers and magazines were regularly treated to history
lessons and new research shedding light on the darker periods of Czech
history, notably the events immediately after the war. Fresh historical
research was common in the dailies and weeklies (223). There were also
floods of opinion pieces on the state of Czech-German relations, and television
showed documentaries and debates on the issue. The new history certainly
had a wide audience.
The Czech-German "question" became a popular topic, and as
the Declaration began to come into the news, the entire Czech-German issue
swamped the printed pages of newspapers like few topics have since the
Revolution. Newsprint polemics between intellectuals were often fierce
and caustic. These debates occurred both between supporters and detractors
of the New Balance (224) and between moderates and ultras within that movement
(225). Often, German historians and Sudeten Germans would join the fray
(226). The approach of several individual newspapers is described below.
Because the controversial Czech-German issue is so intimately tied to
Czech national identity (227), this wave of articles and opinion pieces
did not just include a new view on Germans but also examined the very nature
of Czechness (228). The New Balance and the Declaration it gave birth to
were primary topics of discussion in Czech society over the past two years,
and one could see quite clearly that their ambitious and idealistic intellectual
supporters were finding it difficult to convince the sceptical wider audience.
Because the popular media played such a critical role in attempts to
bring New Balance views to the wider public during the discussion of the
Declaration, it is essential to examine the way these issues were presented
in the media if one is to understand the important gap between the more
idealistic intellectuals and the sceptical public. Editorials and commentaries
of leading intellectuals often supported the New Balance and the Declaration,
but elsewhere in the pages of these newspapers, the public's resistance
to these new ideas was recognised.
This section concentrates on the role of four daily newspapers and their
presentation of the New Balance approach to Czech-German history in general
and the Declaration in particular. Those dailies are: Mladá fronta DNES,
Právo, Slovo and LidovŽ noviny (229). In their presentation of the new
history and in their treatment of the Declaration issue, these four dailies
exhibited both intriguing similarities and note-worthy differences.
As mentioned earlier, all newspapers were heavily saturated with articles
dealing with the New Balance and the Declaration. In the months when the
Declaration was most current (December 1996 - March 1997), it was common
to see five or six articles and editorial pieces on the subject in each
newspaper every day. All four newspapers printed the full text of the mistakenly
leaked Declaration in mid-December, and some carried it again in January
after the signing and in February after ratification in the Czech parliament.
Confirmation of Earlier Observations:
From the hundreds of articles on the Declaration in these Czech newspapers,
several oft-noted weaknesses of the Czech press were immediately apparent,
and one can say that the observations of Steve Kettle are easily defensible
(230). Specifically, Kettle's argument that the "The Czech media are
heavily dependent on ČTK (the Czech News Agency) for their news."
was obviously true for information surrounding the Declaration. Not only
was information drawn from the central (and state subsidised) ČTK source,
but often entire sentences and even whole paragraphs were reprinted from
ČTK bulletins verbatim, as Kettle noted in his general survey of the Czech
media. The story of Kohl's stroll along Wenceslas' Square after the signing
which appeared on 22nd January, 1997 was a more light-hearted example of
verbatim reprints from ČTK in the pages of Mladá fronta DNES, Lidové noviny
and Právo. Other stories, such as the reports on German reactions to Kohl's
speech of 21st January, which appeared as verbatim ČTK reprints in Právo
and Slovo on 25th January, were more serious examples. One sometimes gets
the feeling that one is reading the same newspaper twice or three times
rather than reading different newspapers.
Another of Kettle's observations which is supported by this paper is
that there seems to be a bit of confusion among some commentators at all
these national dailies as to the purpose of an opposition in politics.
There was a frequent association of opposition to government with opposition
to state, though different papers did this to different degrees. The subject
is discussed below.
Almost all commentators in every newspaper relied very heavily on the
use of the first person plural in their writings. So many opinion pieces
were founded on the use of "we," "us" and "our"
that it is simply impossible to count them all. It is notable that both
sides in the New Balance debate spoke in this manner: those vehemently
opposed to the new history (231), and those strongly in favour of the New
Balance (232). Commentators of all newspapers wrote in this style, and
some even spoke of the Sudeten Germans as "our Germans" (233).
For those more familiar with the media in Anglo-American cultures, this
style of writing and its ubiquity in the Czech media are really rather
On the one level, commentators seemed to use "we" as a simple
psychological tool to draw support to their arguments: "we" are
all on the same side after all, aren't "we?" On another level,
the constant use of "we" and "us" in writings about
the Declaration presented the Czech-German issue as a matter of national
and ethnic importance. This is the "trans-historical national identity
going by the name of 'we'" which Holý identified in his analysis of
the Czechs and their national myths (234).
The phrase u nás, for example, meaning "among ourselves,"
often stood in place of the neutral phrase "in the Czech Republic."
U nás is clearly a much more loaded term from the national and ethnic standpoint.
In addition to reconfirming the point made by Ladislav Holý concerning
the greater importance of the nation over the state in Czech society (235),
the use of such phrases in the debate surrounding the Declaration intensified
the feeling that the Czech-German issue was an ethnic "us versus them"
By the frequent use of "we," "us" and "our"
all newspapers betrayed a striking insularity of Czech national self-opinion.
Some might label this a sign of Czech "provincialism" (a favourite
Czech intellectual epithet for those who disagree with their arguments),
but oddly, even Czech commentators who often deride their fellow countrymen
for their "provincialism," were regularly using this ethnically
insular style of writing in their pieces about the Declaration. The respected
political analyst Jiří Pehe, for example, was one (236).
In essence, the cosy "we" style clearly demonstrates that
all sides of the debate over the New Balance and the Declaration which
represents it were appealing to the nationalism inherent in Czech society.
It demonstrates that the Czech belief in their own unique nationhood is
strong and almost universally held.
Declaration for the European Union?
Just as many politicians did, the dailies made a strong association
in pro-Declaration articles and commentary between the Czech-German Declaration
and the Czech Republic's acceptance to the EU and to a lesser extent NATO.
Despite the fact that Bonn's pro-EU expansion policy has never been in
doubt in the past few years (237) and despite the fact that the preamble
to the Declaration only re-enforces the German commitment, many in the
Czech press felt that to question the Declaration was to question the Czech
ambition to integrate into Western structures. Obviously, this would question
the very philosophical foundation of the Westward looking New Balance and
even the Velvet Revolution itself.
The Declaration was regularly equated with the EU in the Czech press.
For example, under the headline "Prague Aims for Europe Through Bonn"
and appealing to "supra-national responsibility," Michal Mocek
in Mladá fronta DNES explained that:
Relations between Czechs and Germans are not just a Czech or a German
matter but also a European matter. (238)
Later, Mocek was joined by Luboš Palata in the same daily:
The honourable ratification of the Czech-German Declaration would not
only be a contribution to overcoming the historic animosity between two
neighbouring states in the middle of the continent. It would also be an
important shift towards European co-operation. (239)
Referring to Chirac's stated approval of the Declaration Petr Zavadil
commented in a tone of Euro-optimism in Lidové noviny:
The Czech and the German Parliaments will be voting on the future of
Europe (when they discuss the Declaration). And Paris gave a clear yes
to the declaration. (240)
Articles in the Western press and news from Germany which supported
the idea that there was a connection between the Declaration and Czech
integration into the EU were often reprinted in the Czech press (241).
Accepting the Declaration would also be a sign of the Czech Republic's
ability to work within the EU and NATO according to Adam Černý:
For NATO and the EU it is true that one of the most fundamental criteria
for evaluating candidates is their ability to negotiate and come to agreement.
Potential opposition to the Declaration was often seen as questioning
the Czechs' EU ambitions. Josef Veselý in Právo wrote that:
...no one can foresee what effect the unreasonable reaction of some
Social Democratic MPs will have on the clear imperfections of the Declaration
nor whether their rejection will hinder greater European matters. (243)
Petr Uhl in Právo agreed:
Miloš Zeman often states that the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD)
is more concerned about our future in an integrated unified Europe than
the governing coalition . Therefore , he cannot allow the government to
take all the credit for this step (the Declaration) which is necessary
and beneficial for both nations and their neighbours... (244)
Havel's late attempt to deny the connection (245) only revealed how
interconnected most saw the issues of European integration and the Czech-German
Declaration to be. Aside from this one statement, Havel was always associating
the two. In his speech which sparked the drive for a declaration Havel
spoke at length about Germany's role in the Eastward expansion of the EU
(246). European integration was also one of his self-confessed primary
reasons for the topic of his speech (homeland) before the Bundestag on
the occasion of the final acceptance of the Declaration (247).
Quite clearly, all the media under examination, not to mention the key
advocate of the Declaration the President himself, openly supported the
idea that the acceptance of the Declaration was akin to acceptance of Czech
efforts to join the EU and NATO. In this, one instantly sees the pro-Western
philosophy behind the New Balance movement.
To the intellectuals who advocate the New Balance and whose articles
were supporting the EU/Declaration connection in the media, the threat
seemed great that if the Declaration failed, the whole pro-Western approach
of the post-November years would be in doubt. They thus presented the Czech
public with a choice of accepting the Declaration as is, or doubting the
Czechs' Westernness and longed-for future of "freedom and prosperity"
(248) in the European Union.
From another point of view, one could say that they risked the pro-Western
orientation of the post-November Republic on the success of the Declaration.
Given the fact that the governing coalition was a minority one and the
fact that most people in the Czech Republic never supported the Declaration,
this was a rather serious gamble.
Interest in Foreign Opinion:
The Czech media all revealed a strong interest in the foreign - especially
German - press. Reprints and summaries of foreign articles were common
(249), and there was almost an obsession with "what the world will
think of us." In many ways, this fact is related to the previous two
points in that much of the press indirectly maintained an "us versus
them" approach and that the Declaration was generally assumed to have
wider European implications.
There was a general fear for the country's international reputation
especially around the time of the ratification crisis. For pro-New Balance
intellectuals, refusing to accept the Declaration as it was became equivalent
to ruining the Czech Republic's good name abroad. For Mladá fronta DNES,
Mocek called on the Parliament to think of "the interests of the whole
Republic" and to ratify the Declaration smoothly as the Germans had
done (250). Later, Mocek and Palata wrote:
The more we argue over the acceptance (of the Declaration)... the more
that favourable feeling which the Declaration evoked abroad will fade.
The pressure of the EU's gaze during the ratification procedures was
strong for these commentators:
Europe does not usually notice the Czech Republic. After the signing
of the Declaration, we became the centre of attention... That part of the
continent to which we want to belong has given its clear signal that it
regards the Czech-German path to reconciliation as very important, welcome
and just. (252)
On the fact that, in the battle for the Declaration, party interests
might be put ahead of state interests, Tomáš Hájek commented in Lidové
noviny: "For the image of the Czech Republic abroad, this cannot bring
anything positive" (253). Ivana Štěpánková noted similar opinions
in the pages of Slovo:
More responsible (members of the Social Democratic Party) are aware
that the course of the Parliamentary debate over the Declaration will show
the present ability of the party to make its mark at the European level
and to suppress internal divisions in the interest of the external image
of the Czech Republic. (254)
Once again, the idea that "the world is watching us" was a
view supported in the president's office. In early February 1997, Havel
said that if the Declaration was not ratified, it would bring great shame
upon the country and would be a great blow for its interests (255).
This strong concern with how the internal political situation will affect
the country's image abroad is very similar to the fears of showing "instability"
after the 1996 elections to Parliament (256). Just as it was after the
election, the fear of damage to the country's image was used to political
advantage in the debates over the Declaration, as will be seen below.
Comparisons to the Germans:
Because Czechs have traditionally defined themselves "as a nation
in conscious opposition to the Germans" (257), it is not surprising
that the Czech media through the course of the Declaration debates often
made comparisons of their own nation to the German nation. At no time was
this more apparent than just before and then during the ratification battle
when the smooth ratification of the Declaration by the Bundestag was looked
upon with something resembling envy.
Considering the proper role for the Czech Social Democrats as an opposition
party facing an internationally important document, Petr Robejšek for Slovo
An exceptionally instructive lesson about the role of an opposition
in a democratic system was given to us by the Deputy Speaker of the Bundestag
Antje Vollmer. (the behaviour of Vollmer in relation to the German governing
coalition) has shown what a substantial difference there is between a political
enemy and a political rival. (258)
Miloš Zeman should follow her example, according to Robejšek. Michal
Mocek for Mladá fronta DNES summed up this sentiment:
By its clear and absolute support for the Declaration, the German Parliament
has given an example to Czech MPs who will be discussing this document
in the upcoming days. (259)
Miloš Hájek in Lidové noviny was even more direct:
It needs to be said: By the clear count (of votes in the Bundestag),
the Germans have given us a lesson. (260)
Obviously, the Czech tradition of comparing themselves to the Germans
continues to this day.
Coverage of Czech and Sudeten German Extremists:
As most main-stream Czech politicians try to do, the mass-circulation
Czech press generally attempts to ignore Czech radicals. This is true despite
the fact that nearly twenty percent of the country voted for the relatively
unreconstructed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and Miroslav Sládek's
Association for the Republic - Czechoslovak Republican Party in the 1996
Parliamentary elections and the fact that their support has remained more
or less at the same level ever since. Of course, in the run up to the debate
over the Declaration, Právo, as part of its wider overall coverage, ran
a few opinion pieces by prominent Communists (261), and during the ratification
process no newspaper could ignore the antics of the Republicans. These
are exceptions to the general rule, however, that, just as President Havel
refuses to meet with the elected leaders of these Parliamentary parties,
the main-stream dailies usually put their heads in the sand in relation
to the activities of these more extreme groups.
The lack of coverage of Czech extremists in the Czech media is more
than made up for by the extensive coverage of Sudeten German extremists.
It may seem odd that radicals on the one side are ignored while those on
the other side constantly receive the media spotlight, but with the entire
Declaration debate almost universally painted with an ethnic "us versus
them" brush, it is perhaps not so surprising that the press is more
willing to point out "their" unreasonable personalities and statements
The Czech media was captivated by the uncompromising and often revanchist
voices in Germany. Seemingly every statement by Franz Neubauer of the Sudetendeutsche
Landsmannschaft was reprinted, analysed and discussed in all the dailies.
Statements of support for the radical Sudeten Germans from leading CSU
politicians and government officials in Bavaria also received top billing.
This attention is given to their statements even when the content of them
reveals nothing new and is simply a repetition of what they have been saying
for years. By far the best example of this was the leading headline of
Mladá fronta DNES just days before the Czech Parliamentary elections: "Sudeten
Germans Repeat Their Demands Towards Prague" (262).
Despite scarce resources, all the major dailies send their own correspondents
to Sudeten German gatherings, and questionable rumours from Sudeten German
sources are eagerly reported as fact in the Czech press. In November 1996
shortly before the Czech Senate elections, major dailies reprinted a story
from ČTK in which the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft made a statement
suggesting that the soon to be released Declaration would leave restitution
questions open and contain their demand for a "right to a homeland."
This was also associated with the threat that the Czech Republic should
be kept out of the EU until this demand was met (263). The threat to hinder
Czech entry into the EU was repeated by Neubauer just before the ratification
period in the Czech Parliament, and again this rather hollow threat (given
the preamble to the Declaration) was dutifully reprinted in all the major
Czech dailies (264). At the same critical moment for the Declaration, Neubauer
claimed that he had a letter from German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel
which suggested the German government was demanding changes to the Czech
legal system in favour of the Sudeten Germans (265).
The radical Franz Neubauer, in particular, receives an excessive amount
of attention. For example, during the tumultuous week of the ratification
of the Czech-German Declaration in the Czech Parliament (11th to 18th February,
1997), the four dailies under examination carried 36 articles with references
to Chancellor Kohl, the political leader of the 80 million strong country
with which the Czech Republic was creating a joint statement. In the same
period there were 41 articles with references to Neubauer, the leader of
a group of perhaps 200,000 Sudeten Germans.
Of course, many statements of Sudeten German groups are newsworthy and
deserve attention by the Czech press, but when old demands and threats
are simply repeated by Sudeten German extremists in what are clearly deliberate
attempts to destabilise Czech politics at critical periods, it is surprising
that the Czech press offer them so much support by reprinting their statements
and passing along their rumours. It is obvious that Neubauer understands
traditional Czech fears very well and knows too that the Czech press, which
uses traditional fears to sell newspapers, will print his every menacing
word. In the face of Neubauer's overt manipulation, perhaps a bit more
editorial responsibility is in order.
Often, a New Balance intellectual (266) or a moderate Sudeten German
(267), made an effort to defuse the panic by reminding readers that the
Sudeten German radicals are very few in number and that Neubauer is unknown
in Germany. The rational approach supported on the editorial pages, did
not change the headlines.
Many newspapers thus exhibited a dual personality: they ran calm and
reasoned editorials in the back pages but printed upsetting headlines on
the front page. Intellectually and philosophically, these newspapers supported
the New Balance approach to Czech-German history and relations, but at
the same time, they also used shock methods which appealed to traditional
fears (268). This dual approach in the papers clearly demonstrates that
the editors are very aware of the fact that the traditional Czech sentiments
towards Germans remain strong. Though the comment and editorials may support
the New Balance, old fears and hatreds sell newspapers.
Despite the above similarities, the four Czech dailies under examination
did have some important differences. The editorial pages of Mladá fronta
DNES were certainly more pro-Declaration and pro-New Balance than any of
their competitors. Each daily also adopted a different stance towards the
competition between the coalition and the opposition Social Democrats.
Finally, Právo deserves special mention for its more wide-ranging coverage
of the Declaration from start to finish.
Mladá fronta DNES: Defender of the Declaration -
While all four newspapers contained more commentary in favour of the
Declaration than against it, Mladá fronta DNES, the daily with the largest
readership in the Czech Republic (269), was clearly the most pro-Declaration
and the most pro-New Balance. As proof, one may simply examine all the
commentary pieces relating to the Declaration in the five weeks following
the mistaken leak of the document (to take a manageable yet representative
time period). One will find that Mladá fronta DNES had 16 editorials and
commentary essays in favour of the Declaration and only one against. In
addition, that singular piece against the Declaration was by Rudolf Hilf,
a pro-reconciliation Sudeten German who, in line with some ultras in the
New Balance movement on the Czech side, thought that the Declaration did
not go far enough. In the same period, Právo printed 17 for and 8 against,
Slovo 9 for and 2 against and LidovŽ noviny 7 for and 4 against.
The Declaration's backers at Mladá fronta DNES were relentless in their
support. When the agreement became public, Mocek and Palata gave the Declaration
their full approval, said that it would put an end to legal claims of Sudeten
Germans by placing a "full stop in a segment of history" and
Those who have fundamental reservations with the text, ought not to
seek fault with the negotiators but rather within themselves (270).
In January, Mocek continued his support in New Balance style by saying
that the Czechs should not try to hide their guilt for the transfers behind
the Potsdam agreement (271) which is an opinion Mocek has supported, along
with Klaus Kinkel, since the days of the Potsdam debate in early 1996 (272).
The paper's consistent pro-Declaration (and pro-government) stance was
maintained throughout the period in harsh attacks on the opposition Social
Democrats who the paper believed were threatening the Declaration and damaging
the image of the Republic abroad.
Some have suggested that German ownership of Mladá fronta DNES is the
force behind this "pro-German" position (273). It is, of course,
difficult to judge the extent of the owners' interference in Mladá fronta
DNES's editorial approach to the Declaration issue. Rather than direct
interference, perhaps there is simply some influence in the sense that
the editors feel that good relations with Germany are good for their business
and personal careers. To say anymore would just be speculation, but certainly,
some Czechs believe there is more to it. As far as the pro-Declaration
attitude of Mladá fronta DNES is concerned, it seems that the paper is
simply continuing its tradition of supporting the government as the Declaration
was seen as the government's work.
Pro-State or Pro-Government?
Many stories in the dailies failed to clarify the difference between
opposition to the state and opposition to the current government (274).
All opposition to the government negotiated Declaration was seen as threatening
to the state and the gains of the Velvet Revolution. As many coalition
politicians did, the press often presented all opposition forces as one
group of extremist malcontents.
Though all newspapers were guilty of this to some extent, Mladá fronta
DNES and Lidové noviny far surpassed the others in the amount and consistency
of articles which lumped the Social Democratic opposition with the anti-state
opposition Communists and Republicans.
There are scores of cases where this "lumping" occurred, but
a few examples here will help to illustrate the point. Mimicking Klaus'
attack on the Social Democrats the previous day (275), Luboš Palata in
Mladá fronta DNES on 7th February 1997, criticised the Social Democrats
and their leader Zeman for their lack of státotvornost (willingness to
support the constitution and the foundations of the state) because of their
resistance in supporting the Declaration:
For two years, Foreign Minister Zieleniec tried to make a státotvorný
politician out of Miloš Zeman - to make him someone with whom it would
be possible to speak about the basic problems of diplomacy - and even include
him and his party in the solutions to those problems.
These attempts, according to Palata, had failed, and others at Mladá
fronta DNES also doubted Zeman's státotvornost (276). This criticism essentially
classifies him and his party as part of that group which opposes the state
in its post-November form: the extreme Communists and Republicans.
The Social Democrats were flirting with the extremes, according to Mladá
It is not without discomfort that one notices the fact that the majority
of Social Democratic MPs including Miloš Zeman supported together with
the Republicans the proposal to remove the ratification of the Czech-German
Declaration from the agenda of this sitting of Parliament. ČSSD thus took
another step towards the border which, despite all the scandals surrounding
its leader, still divides it from the dark world of extremism. (277)
When the Social Democrats raised their hands at the same time as the
Communists and Republicans in this minor vote in the Parliament which was
a futile attempt to delay the ratification of the controversial Declaration,
Palata proclaimed that "the treasonous pink alliance" had threatened
to destroy Zieleniec's efforts to complete the Declaration (278).
The Social Democratic opposition did not have legitimate reservations
about the text, according to Jiří Leschtina in Mladá fronta DNES but only:
"...a short-sighted desire to toady Communist and Republican voters..."
(279). This idea was supported by others at Mladá fronta DNES (280)
Other commentators even lumped Czech opponents of the Declaration with
the German revanchists. Stanislav Drahný writing for Lidové noviny claimed
...with the exception of a few fringe groups of the Czech political
spectrum and a segment of the Sudeten Germans, no one is protesting against
the Declaration. (281)
Pavel Tigrid, a champion of the New Balance, writing for the same paper,
disregards rational reservations to the Declaration and links those:
...reactionaries on the German and Czech sides - the Sudeten group called
the Landsmannschaft and our big-mouthed super-patriots in Prague. In unison
they call this a scandal. Let them chant together about the past. The rest
of us are headed for the future. (282)
Bohumil PeĐinka, again in Lidové noviny, even claimed that Zeman was
aiding the Sudeten Germans:
Miloš Zeman loves paradoxes wholeheartedly. By his political behaviour
lately, he himself has created one: the one and only hope of the politically
organised Sudeten Germans is Zeman himself. (283)
Other newspapers occasionally carried pieces which lumped the Social
Democrats with the radical Republicans and Communists and denied that anyone
could have rational reservations to the Declaration (284), but such sentiments
were moderated by pieces which dispelled the myth that all those opposed
to the Declaration were radicals (285).
Sadly, even respected commentators and political analysts propagated
the myth that all opposition was extremism. Jiří Pehe, for example, lumped
Social Democrats, Communists and Republicans in an article for Lidové noviny
(286) and elsewhere claimed that ČSSD is "looking more and more like
a populist and semi-nationalist party" which "on the question
of the Czech-German Declaration is standing suspiciously close to extreme
parties" (287). The dissident/politician forever trying to make a
come-back Jiří Dienstbier, claimed that all who oppose the Declaration
were "radical populists" suffering from "provincialism"
This general view, especially as expressed in the pages of the most
widely read pro-government newspaper Mladá fronta DNES, made reasoned public
debate over the Declaration almost impossible because if one had any doubts
or reservations of any kind, one was instantly labelled "an extremist."
Formerly the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist
Party of Czechoslovakia but now the only one of the three largest circulation
dailies to be in domestic hands (289), Právo (Rudé právo until 1995) proved
to be the most well-balanced newspapers of the four under examination in
terms of variety of opinions concerning the Declaration. On one notable
day, Právo carried an interview with government Declaration negotiator
Vondra and an opinion piece from the Chairman of the Communist Party Grebeníček
which blasted the Declaration (290). In the five-week sample mentioned
above, Právo had both more pro-Declaration pieces and anti-declaration
pieces than any other daily. Právo certainly had more articles and commentary
pieces about the Declaration than any other newspaper.
Právo, the second most popular daily in the country (291) also had more
source material for research into the Declaration. All newspapers carried
the full text of the Declaration when it was mistakenly leaked on 10th
December, 1996, but only Právo printed the full texts of important speeches
such as Klaus' and Kohl's speeches made at the signing of the Declaration
(292). The other three newspapers only summarised them to a greater or
lesser extent. The same can be said of the two presidential speeches made
in April (293). Právo also printed the full text of the petition against
the Declaration by the "working group" of intellectuals (294).
Právo provided more detail than other newspapers at several points in
the Declaration saga. One notable example of this was the coverage of the
ratification in the Bundestag. Právo carried more quotes from the speeches
of German politicians in the Bundestag during the proceedings than other
The wider variety of opinions and greater detail of Právo offered readers
quantitatively and qualitatively better information about the Declaration
than the relatively limited pages of its main competitor Mladá fronta DNES.
The Press: A Dual Face
The Czech press played a vital role in transmitting information about
the Declaration and about the New Balance to the Czech public. Different
dailies adopted different positions toward the issue, but all contained
more pro-Declaration articles than anti-. Mladá fronta DNES was clearly
the most openly in support of both the document itself and the philosophy
behind it, and this represents a continuation of its regular pro-government
stance. Právo offered the most coverage of the issue and the widest range
These differences should not overshadow the many similarities in the
four dailies under examination. The most important aspect of the Czech
media in relation to the Czech-German issue in the past two years is that
all newspapers exhibited a dual face to the public. On the commentary pages,
the papers most often presented the opinion pieces of New Balance intellectuals
and editorials supporting them. They adopted an overall philosophy in favour
of the New Balance approach to history which stems from that small Žlite
group of former exiles and dissidents who developed their pro-Western outlook
long before November 1989. The writings and statements of Pavel Tigrid,
Jiří Pehe, Jiří Dienstbier, Ludvík Vaculík, Petr Uhl and, of course, Václav
Havel, filled the pages of these papers. In their support of the New Balance,
they were joined by many in the editorial staff of these dailies in what
was clearly a general (though uncoordinated) attempt to convince the Czech
public to support the Declaration.
At the same time, the same papers ran disturbing headlines and shock
stories related to the Declaration on the front page in an effort to sell
their papers. This demonstrated the point that, wherever their own sentiments
lie, the editors knew that traditional opinions of Czech-German relations
and history were still wide-spread in Czech society. In fact, as we shall
see, most Czechs regard the New Balance version of history with suspicion.
The editors of these newspapers were coming to grips with a critical cleavage
in Czech society: the yawning gap between intellectuals and the people.
Public Attitudes Towards Germans, the New Balance and the Declaration:
Unlike many intellectuals and media commentators, ordinary Czechs were
reluctant to support the Declaration and the New Balance approach to history
which it represents. Throughout the course of the two years in which the
Czech-German Declaration was an issue, the Czech public maintained its
traditional sentiments in relation to the Germans and Germany.
From beginning to end of the two year Declaration saga, Czech public
opinion was firmly in favour of the post-war transfers of Sudeten Germans
from Czechoslovakia. In March 1995, 49% of Czechs said that the transfers
were completely right and proper, and 25% said that the transfers were
mostly right and proper. 6% said they were improper and unjust and 1% said
they were very improper and unjust. 13% were unable or unwilling to answer.
Those numbers were almost identical to the results of the same poll taken
two years before (296).
Public opinion research from March 1996, a year into the Declaration
debate, showed no change in attitudes towards the post-war events. According
to one study, only 7% of Czechs said they would be willing to vote for
a party which supported an apology to the Sudeten Germans for the transfers.
86% said they would certainly not vote for such a party.
The same research also noted that half of all Czechs believe Germany
is an economic threat, 39% saw it as a political threat and 25% believed
Germany to be a military threat. These figures were actually 4-10% higher
in this 1996 poll than they were a few years before, that is, before the
Declaration issue came onto the public agenda (297). The Declaration (still
shrouded in secrecy in March 1996) was increasing public fears, not promoting
A few months later in May 1996, one polling agency changed the questions
and received a different set of data. It was revealed that 55% of Czechs
would support a declaration in which the Czechs would "disavow"
the transfers in exchange for a German promise to abandon restitution claims
and immediately compensate Czech victims of Nazism. 30% said they could
not accept such an exchange. This was hailed as progress in Czech-German
relations and a victory for Czech pragmatism by the supporters of the Declaration
(298), but, in reality, it did not represent any change in public sentiments.
The unique poll results in May 1996 simply represented an ambiguity
in language. The Czech word for "disavow" (distancovat se), like
its English counterpart, has a rather hazy meaning. On the one hand, the
term can mean "to renounce" (zříci se, zříkat se), and this is
clearly the lens through which Declaration supporters were viewing the
poll results. The term, however, can also mean simply "to back away
from" (vzdálit se, vzdalovat se) or "to maintain a certain distance
from something" (zacho(vá)vat odstup od něčeho) in the sense of denying
knowledge or responsibility for something (299). The ambiguity of the question
led to the unique response. Even the organisers of the poll admitted that
the absence of the clear word "apology" (omluva) accounted for
the strange results (300).
Later polls clearly demonstrated the faulty nature of that May 1996
question and re-emphasised that opinions towards Germans and the Declaration
had never changed. In fact, by August 1996, polls were showing that, even
though people felt that Czech-German relations were worsening, public support
for the whole conciliatory declaration concept was actually falling (301).
In the autumn, it was learned that a third of Czechs did not think the
Declaration would benefit relations and a another third of Czechs did not
see a reason for the Declaration or were not interested in it. Only 32%
supported the as yet unknown document (302).
Research in October 1996 continued to demonstrate the public's negative
stance towards the New Balance approach to Czech-German history and relations.
It was revealed that, while two-thirds of Czechs expressed "confidence"
in democratic Germany, two-thirds also feared a return of a German super-power
with nationalist ambitions towards smaller neighbouring states. 75% still
approved of the post-war transfers as they had in 1993 and 1995 (303).
Three quarters of the Czech populace have plainly never supported one of
the basic tenets of the intellectuals' New Balance .
Opinions After Publication of the Text
Once the mistaken leak made the text public, popular Czech opinion towards
the Declaration changed somewhat, but the negative attitude towards the
new version of history did not. In the first round of public opinion sampling
after the publication of the text, support for the Declaration jumped to
49%. Those opposed (21%) and those undecided (30%) had declined in number.
Some Czechs were either satisfied with the arguments they had been hearing
and reading in support of the Declaration, or the published text had relieved
them of some of the darker fears which its earlier secrecy had engendered.
Of course, still less than half of the population supported the Declaration.
The reasons respondents gave for rejecting the Declaration are also
telling. 13% said is was superfluous and eighteen percent objected to its
revision of history. Most interestingly, however, was the most common reason
for rejection: "a general mistrust of Germans." 26% of those
rejecting the document expressed this feeling (304).
At no time before or after the publication of the text was the Czech
population behind the Declaration. Fewer than half supported the Declaration
in the end, and an overwhelming majority consistently rejected the New
Balance historical reinterpretation which it represented.
Individual Voices of Protest
In addition to the opinion polls, individuals made their voice heard
in a variety of ways. Many of those lone voices expressed strong opposition
to the Declaration and to the New Balance version of history. Even some
pro-Declaration MPs, for example, openly remarked at the number of highly
emotive letters they received asking them not to support the Declaration
(305). It is worth recording some of the voices behind the public opinion
Some letters to the editors of various papers revealed deeply held beliefs
in the traditional interpretation of history and rejected the Declaration.
One reader wrote to Právo:
By their "new approach" to history, the creators of the Declaration
obscure the substance of the events in the period 1938-1945, and the Declaration
is unfortunately just another step in the gradual and dangerous revision
of the results of World War II in which the victim was not Germany but
democratic Czechoslovakia. (306)
Another Právo reader expanded on this theme:
The word "Sudeten" ought never appear in our press. There
never was any Sudetenland, and therefore there were never any citizens
of Sudetenland. They were always Czechoslovak citizens of German ethnicity
with all the rights, responsibilities, advantages and disadvantages of
all the others. They never liked this equality, and therefore they conspired
against the Republic and attempted to destroy it right from the beginning.
...they assert that the cause of all evil was the year 1918 and the foundation
of independent Czechoslovakia... For them T.G. Masaryk is the cause of
all evil... (307)
Obviously, the New Balance approach to Czech-German history was not
acceptable to many Czechs. Referring to a comment in the paper a few days
earlier, a reader of Mladá fronta DNES offered the following:
I am glad to see that someone has finally come out and said that the
position of Germany towards compensating the victims of (German) fascism
is a German disgrace, a "blemish" on the democratic facade of
today's Germany... Instead of this Declaration it would be better for Czech-German
relations if the German government or parliament simply recognised the
Potsdam agreement. (308)
An Auschwitz survivor, wrote to Lidové noviny saying that he felt the
apologies of the two sides were not properly balanced in the Declaration
given the "beastly" horrors of the Nazis (309). In a survey in
Slovo, one man agreed: "I have the unpleasant feeling that we are
apologising more than the Germans" (310).
Other Czechs simply felt that the Declaration was a pointless and even
damaging review of the past. In the same survey above, another respondent
thought that the Declaration was "only a senseless evocation of old
ghosts." A Právo reader agreed:
...intergenerational returns to the past and efforts to rename concepts,
which in their essence remain the same, only prolong the trauma which should
die with us. It only means handing that pain to our sons and grandsons...
Other lone voices were heard though individual acts of protest. A week
after the Declaration was leaked, hand-written posters appeared in a village
near Cheb, an area formerly peopled by Germans. With slogans such as "Hitler's
orphans, stay in the Reich" and "Your home is in the Reich, Mr.
Neubauer," the posters primarily attacked Sudeten Germans. With a
dismissal of the rural community which is all too typical in Czech politics,
the regional ODS leader said that if the posters are only appearing in
such a small village, they are not worth worrying about (312).
More signs appeared in Teplice on the day after the Declaration was
ratified. In black spray-painted letters more than a meter high, the words
"14th February, 1997 National Treason" appeared in several locations
throughout the city. The mayor of Teplice said he would ignore the protest
and the police would not investigate (313).
Of course, these letters to the editors and these individual acts of
public discontent do not in themselves show widespread dissatisfaction
with the Declaration and the New Balance which it represents. They are
included here only to give voice to the polling data which has consistently
shown that most Czechs do not accept the Declaration and that most Czechs
reject the New Balance version of history. The Declaration and its philosophy,
stemming from the pens of various intellectuals, have not been welcomed
by the wider Czech public.
History: Intellectuals and Ordinary Czechs
Although German society was never very interested in the Czech-German
Declaration and the issues surrounding it (314), Czechs seemed captivated
by them. Not only were the media full of Declaration stories and commentary,
but the subject became a common topic of conversation in homes and pubs
across the country. In Czech society, history is often a topic of general
conversation, and these discussions reveal a great deal about how Czechs
see themselves. Identification with the Czech "presumed national tradition"
is an essential characteristic not only of Czech national feeling but also
of individual Czech personality (315).
The New Balance approach supported by prominent intellectuals in the
daily newspapers therefore challenged more than just historical fact and
the traditional interpretation of the past. The whole approach challenged
fundamental Czech notions of themselves as a nation and as individuals.
This new history was casting doubts on many an individual's sacred beliefs.
Presentations of and ruminations on the darker aspects of Czech history
could be seen as a national and even a personal insult.
In addition to being a Czech-German issue, the Declaration thus became
a "Czech-Czech" issue (316) as Czechs confronted their past and,
more importantly, their perceptions of the past which form a part of their
individual personalities. While some Czech commentators began to damn the
Czech "fear of the Germans" (317), muse about the Czech "fascination
with Germany" (318) or criticise the Czechs' narrow-minded "provincialism"
(319), few understood just how deeply and personally the Czechs cherish
their national sympathies.
Often the intellectuals exhibited an almost hopeless ignorance of public
sentiments. One perfect example can be seen in an article by Pavel Tigrid
in Lidové noviny in February 1997. Tigrid describes how "contrary
to his habit," he was forced to take a taxi in Prague in order to
reach a meeting with a group of German MPs at Prague castle. When he explained
his haste to the taxi driver, he heard the "cheerful" man say:
"Ah, yes... another meeting with those loser Sudetens." Tigrid
expresses shock that the taxi driver immediately saw all Germans as Sudeten
Germans and that the taxi driver would not accept Tigrid's attempts to
explain the new Germany (i.e. the New Balance view of Germany) to him.
"They're all the same," said the man as Tigrid listened in surprise
and discomfort (320).
To anyone who is even remotely familiar with ordinary Czech views of
Germans, the taxi driver's words are not at all surprising. Tigrid's shock
can only be explained by his own self-confession that he does not travel
by taxi very often. The intellectual supporters of the New Balance, many
of whom were isolated from their people for years in exile or even isolated
at home in small and necessarily exclusive dissident communities, are out
of touch with the Czech people.
This makes an important statement about the whole course of the drive
to support the New Balance and the Declaration. It was a completely top-down
affair which started with little if any public support. Most Czechs did
not see a need for a declaration beforehand; most worried when rumours
emerged which seemed to be questioning the whole basis for their state,
their nation, their own self-image and even sometimes their personal property
if they lived in the border regions; and most could not see the purpose
of the declaration once it appeared. The intellectual Žlites may have been
trying to present the New Balance as rational, modern and cosmopolitan,
but most Czechs, with their national and personal self-images at stake,
remained highly suspicious of it.
The Political Parties:
All political parties relied on traditional Czech fears to support their
arguments. Each, however, had a slightly different strategy.
The Coalition Parties
As a government negotiated document, the Declaration was naturally supported
by the coalition parties. Interestingly, however, Prime Minister Václav
Klaus was never the strongest advocate of the Declaration. Perhaps sensing
public attitudes were set against it, perhaps not willing to start problems
in Czech-German relations which certainly seemed positive from Klaus' economic
standpoint or perhaps not wishing to draw attention to his tense personal
relationship with the leader of the Czech Republic's largest and most important
neighbour, Klaus was reluctant to create a formal declaration. In April
1996, Václav Klaus made an effort to play down the significance of the
Declaration (321). In autumn 1996, according to some sources, Klaus was
one of the strongest critics of the Declaration when it was discussed at
a multi-lateral meeting at Prague Castle (322). Some later said that his
willingness to strike a deal with opposition leader Miloš Zeman in February
1997 over an accompanying resolution which many felt would essentially
water down the Declaration's meaning, was another example of his "well-known
distaste" for the document (323). Recall that the spark for the Declaration
came not from the leader of government but from the head of state.
Státotvornost and Accusations of Extremism:
As in the pro-government press, the coalition parties, especially the
Civic Democratic Party (ODS), tried to turn the Declaration into a litmus
test for státotvornost (the quality of supporting the constitution and
the foundations of the post-1989 state) and confused the role of an opposition
in a democracy. Soon after the publication of the text, Klaus tried to
establish the argument that the Declaration would be a test of every party's
democratic "responsibility" (324). With this, the premier made
it known that whoever opposed the Declaration would be branded as undemocratic
In February, true to his threat, Klaus directly and bitterly attacked
Social Democratic resistance to the Declaration as nestátotvorná (anti-state)
(325), and associated Zeman's "irrationality" towards the text
with the nationalist extremism of the Republicans and Communists (326).
Josef Zieleniec even indirectly accused Czech Social Democrats opposed
to the Declaration that they were acting in harmony with Russia (327).
It is noteworthy that Christian Democratic leader Josef Lux, no doubt with
an eye on a possible future coalition with the Social Democrats, was less
willing to lump the Social Democrats with the extremists (328).
Again as witnessed in the pro-government press, the smooth German ratification
was presented by the coalition to the opposition as an enviable example.
Karel Ledvinka, an MP for ODA stated that the Czech Parliament should follow
the Bundestag and adopt the Declaration without an accompanying resolution
and by a large majority (329). Zieleniec (ODS) and Lux (KDU-ČSL) agreed
Both the coalition and each individual party within it experienced serious
crisis during the Declaration debates. The primary cause of splits was
the willingness of some coalition members to part with stated government
opinion and support the accompanying resolution.
After Kohl's speech at the signing, Zieleniec intimated that he might
support an accompanying resolution (331). This was certainly driven by
a desire to answer Bonn's interpretation of the Declaration with one from
Prague. Zieleniec was quickly reminded of coalition policy against any
additional resolution (332) and was corrected by his perplexed coalition
The strange battle over the accompanying resolution during the ratification
procedures of the Declaration saw Prime Minister Klaus himself break with
his party and his coalition to forge a deal with Social Democratic (ČSSD)
opposition leader Miloš Zeman not just once but twice. After the first
deal between the leaders of the two strongest parties, Klaus' party and
coalition colleagues blasted the deal. Even Zieleniec, who had just a few
weeks earlier broken ranks on the same issue, attacked the deal. Lux flatly
rejected the idea for an accompanying resolution, and the leader of the
ODA caucus accused Klaus of behaving as if his coalition partner was ČSSD
and not KDU-ČSL and ODA (334). The pro-government press branded the deal
"the greatest mistake in (Klaus') career" (335) but was relieved
to see that after the strong rejection by his party colleagues, "the
Prime Minister's mistake was corrected just in time" (336).
The second Klaus/Zeman compromise finally ended the filibustering and
brought the Declaration's ratification, but it left ODS "split to
atoms" (337). Some ODS ministers were so incensed that they openly
refused to vote for the resolution. Klaus' excuse that he was a "man
of improvisation" did not impress the leader of the ODS caucus Milan
Uhde who, upset that the caucus leadership was kept out of the back room
negotiations, quipped that next time he would probably just receive a fax
telling him how to vote (338). Deputy Parliamentary Speaker and ODS MP
Jiří Honajzer lashed out at Klaus, calling him a "legal nihilist"
KDU-ČSL also suffered a serious internal conflict as the Chairman of
the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Vilém Holáň was nearly thrown
out of his party by party leader Josef Lux (340). Again, the pro-government
press harshly criticised any compromise with the Social Democrats (341).
It was said that the political strife within the parties had not been so
serious since the debates over the split of Czechoslovakia (342).
Upon reflection, the fierce criticism of compromise from within the
coalition and from the pro-government press seems rather misplaced. It
is hardly strange that, due to the simple numbers in Parliament, a minority
coalition had to seek compromise with an opposition party in order to win
strong support for a proposal. It was unrealistic for coalition politicians
to believe that ČSSD support would come for free. Klaus sought compromise
with Zeman because he had to. His real mistake seems to have been keeping
his party and his coalition partners in the dark as to his intentions.
In any case, the debate over the Declaration was fierce and damaging
to all the coalition parties. Both individually and as a coalition, the
three parties suffered a crisis of confidence in the aftermath of the Declaration
debate. For a Declaration which very few Czechs wanted and which actually
solves none of the difficult Czech-German questions as the government had
originally hoped, bruised coalition politicians had to be questioning whether
the bitter struggle in Parliament was at all worth it.
Social Democrats: Ally and Opposition
The electoral platform of the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) was a hybrid:
We are convinced that the Agreement on Good Neighbourliness will form
a solid foundation for all possibilities of friendly co-operation with
Germany, including the formation of Euroregions, joint ecological projects
and youth exchanges. We categorically reject, however, any questioning
of the results of the Second World War and the revival of old conflicts
of the past. (343)
Issued in January 1996, this platform statement clearly emerged in the
troubled atmosphere of the Potsdam debates in January and February and
is primarily aimed at Kinkel's comments calling the Potsdam agreement only
a "political statement" (344). In any case, no platform could
hide the fact that the Social Democrats were completely split on the issue
of the Declaration from start to finish as they have been on so many other
issues in recent years.
Inside or Outside?
The Social Democratic Party was in conflict with the coalition over
the Declaration even before negotiations with Germany began. At the very
beginning party leader Miloš Zeman had hoped to be involved in those negotiations
and proposed that they be held on the inter-parliamentary level. The coalition
led by Klaus would not allow this and kept the negotiations with Germany
in the domain of the government. Still, Zeman, as the leader of the strongest
opposition party was promised he would be involved in the talks (345).
The question is: how involved were the Social Democrats in the negotiation
of the Declaration? Zeman was certainly shown early drafts of the highly
secret text at various times. After a meeting with Havel and coalition
party leaders regarding a draft of the Declaration, Zeman spoke of cross-party
co-operation in words which a few months later would be used against him:
What is important in this matter is the fact that the Czech side has
a unified position, that we put aside our party and personal conflicts
and that we agreed that the main priority is to defend the interests of
the Czech state. (346)
Others in the Social Democratic Party, like most in Parliament seem
to have been kept outside the loop (347).
If Zeman at least was kept informed about the secret negotiations (348),
one certainly would not guess it from his later statements. When the text
was mistakenly released, Zeman haughtily refused to comment on it until
Parliament was officially presented with a copy (349). He then delayed
comment until the January sitting of the party presidium (350). In January,
Zeman expressed reservations about the historical omissions in the Declaration
(351), and stated that he wanted an accompanying resolution to the Declaration
when it is ratified in Parliament. The resolution was to reconfirm the
importance of the Potsdam Agreement and the results of World War II (352).
He then stated that the Declaration in its final form had lost all of its
original intent (353). With so many reservations to the document and plans
for resolutions to fill in its gaps, Zeman appeared as if he had never
seen the earlier drafts.
For his silent denial of his earlier involvement with the drafts and
for his refusal to champion the Declaration to Social Democratic MPs, Zeman
and his party were threatened with political ostracism by Havel. In February,
Havel said that weak support from the Social Democrats on the Declaration
issue would negatively effect his relationship with that party (354). Falling
out of favour with the widely respected President would cost the party
dearly as they would be placed in the same category with the Republicans
and Communists with whom Havel refuses to meet. Havel's approval gives
parties authority and legitimacy (355). It was hardly an exaggeration that
Zeman's final judgement of the Declaration would be "one of the most
important decisions in his career" (356).
A Split Party:
Of course, the real cause for Zeman's retreat from his earlier defence
of the Declaration was the fact that his party was hopelessly split between
supporters and opponents of the final document. With his popularity falling
in favour of other members of his own party (357), Zeman was walking a
fine line. If he showed too much support for the text or if he opposed
it too strongly, large sections of his party would abandon him.
The split in ČSSD could not have been more wide open. On the one side,
many important figures within the party supported the Declaration. Zdeněk
Jičínský was one Social Democratic MP who openly supported the Declaration
at every opportunity (358). The popular MP and Deputy Party Chairwoman
Petra Buzková, a strong rival of Zeman's, came out uncompromisingly in
favour of the Declaration as did MPs František Spanbauer and Jaromír Schling,
Květoslava Kořínková and Pavel Dostál (359).
One week before the ratification, Dostál, well known for his verbal
attacks on Republicans (360), was assaulted by four men wielding straight
razors as he left the Parliament building. His face was slashed, and he
was hospitalised. Due to threats made during the attack, his children had
to be accompanied to school by the police for some time after. The attack
was certainly politically motivated, and most believed it was related to
his positions strongly in favour of the Declaration and against Republican
protests rejecting Czech-German reconciliation (361).
On the other side of the ČSSD split were scores opposed to the Declaration.
About a week after the Declaration was leaked, several leading members
of the Social Democratic Party expressed their opposition to it. The Deputy
Chairman of ČSSD Peter Morávek and the leader of the Parliamentary caucus
Stanislav Gross were among the early critics (362). For Morávek, the Germans
did not express enough regret in the Declaration (363). Gross later became
the main advocate of an accompanying resolution to make the Declaration
more acceptable to the doubters (364). Václav Grulich MP and Foreign Affairs
Spokesman and Senator Jan Kavan also sought a formula to make Social Democratic
support possible (365).
In words that condemned not only the Declaration but the New Balance
version of history behind it, Slavomír Klaban, the honorary chairman of
the party, rejected the "compromise with truth" that the Declaration
In conflict with the truth, praising "the long history of fruitful
and peaceful coexistence of Czechs and Germans, during which a rich cultural
heritage was formed and remains to this day" evokes only a bitter
smile at our foreign minister's erudition, which is able to associate the
beastly murders of our citizens in Lidice and Ležáky, the deaths of 400
thousand citizens of the former First Republic and the Nazi plans for the
physical liquidation of the nation with "a rich cultural heritage."
Klaban's advanced years led some to believe the ČSSD split was along
generational lines (367), but whole regional party centres were declaring
their dissatisfaction with the Declaration. In December 1996, the Prague
8 regional organisation expressed its "absolute disagreement"
with the document and especially condemned the revision of history they
felt it represented. Czech-German history was not a matter of peaceful
coexistence for these party members but rather a story of permanent confrontation
(368). This was a rejection of one of the fundamental tenets of the New
Balance. In February 1997, the regional party organisation for West Bohemia
followed suit by condemning the Declaration (369).
Several Social Democratic politicians stated that after realising the
attitudes of the Czech voters, they had little choice but to reject the
Declaration. Some MPs in the party said that the negative stand of their
voters had convinced them to oppose the Declaration (370). Senator for
ČSSD Jiří Vyvadil even claimed to have conducted a "small referendum"
on the issue and discovered highly negative attitudes towards the Declaration
in his border constituency (371). Social Democratic Senator Václav Reintinger
admitted that the voters were highly critical of the Declaration and the
party had to take that into consideration (372). After speaking with her
constituency, Hana Orgoniková MP-ČSSD believed that the people's critical
voices on the Declaration should be made known through a national referendum
on the issue (373).
In the weeks before the ratification crisis, Social Democratic support
for the Declaration was on the wane. The statements by Kohl at the signing
and fumbled attempts by Zieleniec to win the support of Social Democrats
only turned many away from the Declaration or convinced them of the need
for an accompanying resolution to re-emphasise the Czech interpretation
of the document (374).
It was, of course, clear by mid-January that at least four Social Democrats
would support the Declaration in Parliament, and thus it was also clear
that the Declaration would narrowly pass (375). The Social Democratic Central
Committee's decision at the end of that month to allow its MPs to vote
according to their own conscience (376) not only reconfirmed the fact that
the Declaration would be ratified by a thin margin but also reconfirmed
the party's split on this key issue. As a large opposition party facing
a minority government, ČSSD was theoretically in an excellent position
to upset the government, but as has happened on other issues, their failure
to be united completely undermined their political position.
With an eye on international prestige, however, the coalition parties
wanted to win the vote by more than just the thin margin that a handful
of independently minded Social Democrats would give them. The issue of
the accompanying resolution thus became critical for the support of a significant
group of Social Democrats and for a strongly supported ratification.
The coalition and the pro-government press stepped up their attack on
the apparently indecisive Zeman, but the leader of the strongest opposition
party, faced with a tortuous split in his party, was in a difficult position.
Despite the coalition charges that he was in league with the extremists,
Zeman, at certain times, was merely reiterating the public's grievances
against the Declaration. Certainly most Czechs agreed that if the document
failed to end the Sudeten German restitution claims once and for all, "what
real sense did the Declaration have?" (377)
Unable to block ratification but able to decide whether it passes by
a slim or strong majority, Zeman decided to attempt to win prestige from
the situation. He did this on the international level through eleventh
hour meetings with German President Herzog and leading German Social Democrats
(378). The latter supported Zeman's idea for an accompanying resolution
and promised to present it to the Bundestag during ratification. Given
the numbers in the German Parliament, of course, this can only be seen
as a superficial gesture of international support for Zeman.
At home Zeman also sought to avoid his hopeless political position and
gain prestige instead. For Zeman the whole issue of the accompanying resolution
could earn him prestige in the eyes of his countrymen in that by forcing
the coalition to compromise, both he and his party would be seen to be
Interestingly, Zeman made the same mistake as Klaus in their compromise
over the accompanying resolution that brought about the Declaration's final
ratification by a strong margin. By keeping his party colleagues out of
the discussions, Zeman's party also became "split to atoms" by
the Declaration end-game (379). The party was filled with more tension
and internal strife than even before the ratification (380). Opposition
Social Democrats, like coalition politicians, must have been questioning
whether the whole affair was worth the enormous trouble and huge political
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia
Since at least 1945, Czech Communists have always had a strongly nationalist
and anti-German message (381). This nationalist legacy continued to be
seen throughout the two year period of the Declaration debates as the Communist
Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) uncompromisingly appealed to ethnic
fears. The fact that they are ostracised from normal political life, especially
by a president who refuses to meet with the leaders of this party which
consistently represents 10% of Czech voters, forces them to use unconventional
methods and propose radical measures to make their views heard.
An early example of their radical notions was the Communists' proposal
to the Parliament regarding language. In a effort to halt the "pressure
of Germanisation" in the Czech language, this measure would have eliminated
German signs from shops in the Czech Republic and made it illegal for foreign
firms to require Czech employees to speak a foreign language. Of course,
given the parliamentary numbers, the proposal had no chance of becoming
According to Party Spokeswoman Věra Žežulová, the measure was brought
about by popular feelings of discomfort with so many German signs in the
Republic especially in the border regions (382). Those public feelings
of disquiet certainly do exist and are by no means limited to Communist
voters. The Communists were trying to capitalise on traditional Czech fears
which they realised were prominent in Czech society.
There is some evidence to suggest that the Communists are better aware
of these traditional attitudes. Because they are usually omitted from the
pages of the largest national dailies, Communist politicians spend more
time in small face-to-face meetings with voters in cities, towns and villages
in the effort to get their message across (383). This fact means that the
Communists are in greater contact with ordinary Czechs with typical views
and traditional fears. Perhaps this makes the Communists more aware that
the nationalist card is worth playing in Czech politics.
Communists and the Declaration:
As would be expected given their strongly nationalist leanings, the
Communists have opposed the Declaration almost from the beginning. Some
of their objections to the document may have appeared more rational. For
example, in agreement with the overwhelming majority of Czechs, Communist
Party Chairman Miroslav Grebeníček labelled the transfers "an act
of justice and a factor eliminating instability" (384). He felt that
the Declaration inappropriately equated the post-war transfers with the
crimes of Nazism and that it thus presented a false interpretation of history
(385). Deputy Chairman Miloslav Ransdorf called it "a non-standard
document" which could have unforeseen consequences (386).
Other objections of the Communists were comparatively less rational,
but they still represented attempts to play to public fears and national
pride. Grebeníček labelled the Czech government "the government of
national treason" for its negotiation of the Declaration (387). He
also called the document "the victory of the revanchists" and
said that the Landsmannschaft's disappointment with the Declaration was
only a clever deception (388). Greben'Đek said that the document "cleared
the path for individual property claims of the citizens of the former Greater
German Reich and their descendants" (389) and accused the government
of working in the interests of "their foreign protectors" (390)
Utilising imagery from the Czech national revival, Ransdorf called it a
"national shame" (391). Communist MP Zdeněk Klanica continued
the barrage of slogans by warning of the "collaboration politics of
the Czech ruling élite and the pro-government wing of ČSSD" (392).
Perhaps, as some suggested, the Communists were trying to expand their
voter base by appealing to the more "patriotic" elements in ČSSD
with their softer tones and to potential Republican voters with their more
aggressive speech (393), but after some of their more irrational utterances,
escaping the "extremist" label would be very difficult for the
Continually shut out of normal political life by the President and the
major press, the Communists resorted to several acts of protest to make
their views known to a wider audience. Within a week of the Declaration's
leak, the Communist Party had decided to initiate a petition against it
(394). They had even hoped that other parties and individual politicians
would join the petition committee (395), and indeed the committee eventually
had representatives from the Czechoslovak Committee and from the Pensioners
for Life Security (DŽJ), a party which took just over three percent in
the 1996 Parliamentary elections (396). The petition they drafted warned
of the threat to sovereignty represented by the Declaration (397).
At a public meeting at Můstek in Prague on 18th December, 1996, the
petition organisers claimed to have collected 1500 signatures. Several
harsh arguments started between the Communists and passers-by at that meeting
(398), and though appearances of leading Communists on television were
strongly criticised by some (399), the party was finally getting the attention
More Communist inspired protests came in the new year. Public protest
meetings held by Grebeníček packed meeting halls in regions where Communist
support was strong (400). The day before Kohl's visit to Prague, the Communists
organised another meeting on Wenceslas Square to gain signatures for the
protest petition. Communist sources claimed to have gained 2000 signatures
this time (401). Other protests were held in other towns and cities. Communist
supporters also joined the raucous Republican protests during the visit
of Kohl (402). Many reporters described the crowds at these meetings as
mostly "old men" and "pensioners" (403) revealing that
the press would not treat the protests very seriously.
After the Communist proposal to delay the ratification procedures fell
through on 4th February, 1500 Communist protesters outside the Parliament
were able to make their disappointment heard in shouts of "No Declaration!"
and "White Mountain!" Symbolically, an ODS MP and Miloä Zeman
agreed to close the window so as to be able to ignore the protests (404).
Along with Republicans, Communist MPs boycotted the speech of visiting
German President Herzog in protest (405), and Greben'Đek kept up his attacks
on the Declaration at the Communist May Day meeting (406).
The Communists clearly played to national sentiments in their opposition
to the Declaration. Often out in the villages and towns and close to ordinary
Czechs, they have a good feeling for the typical fears that most Czechs
have towards the Sudeten Germans and Germany. They aimed at these attitudes
when trying to win public support. Of course, the relatively unreconstructed
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is still unable to escape its past,
and so even if they say the words many would like to hear, they will not
win greater support than they already have.
The nationalist nature of the Communist condemnations of the Declaration
were topped only by the Republicans.
The Republicans: Extreme Expression of Common Ideas
The Association for the Republic - Republican Party of Czechoslovakia,
led by Miroslav Sládek, never pulled any punches in its resistance to the
Declaration and the conceptual movement of reconciliation behind it. Their
electoral programme said it plainly enough:
We reject any and all negotiations with the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft,
and we regard those politicians who negotiated about a return of the Sudeten
Germans and about the cancellation of the Beneä decrees to be traitors
to their nation. (407)
The Republicans were vehemently opposed to both the Declaration and
the New Balance approach to Czech-German history, and they took a variety
of actions to protest what they saw as high treason.
Earlier actions and statements by the Republicans let it be known years
in advance that Sládek's party would resist any agreement with the Germans.
It would be impossible to list all the anti-German acts and speeches of
the members of this party since it came into existence just after the Revolution,
but a few points will be instructive. In July 1994, for example, a group
of Republicans including top figures Josef Krejsa MP, Rudolf Šmucr MP and
Sládek's personal assistant Lubom'r Votava physically attacked those taking
part in a commemoration service at the site of the former concentration
camp of Terezín (Teresienstadt). In a protest against the German representation
at that commemoration, the Republicans kicked wreaths and disrupted the
service as police stood by and perhaps even encouraged their actions (408).
In another example, when Czech police shot German tourist Thomas Rankel,
Miroslav Sládek infamously remarked: "That's all right, there are
too many Germans anyway" (409). About the only Germans the Republicans
seem to be able to accept are those connected to Franz Schonhuber, the
German Republican chief who sent congratulatory greetings to the first
congress of Czech Republicans and from whom the Czech Republicans adopted
their party's logo (410).
As other research has noted, Republican successes in the North Bohemian
regions, where they can poll fifteen to twenty percent in some towns, has
for years been based on their stoking public fear of a return of Sudeten
Germans and fear of German capital. In the world according to the Republicans
Havel is a lackey of the Germans (411).
Republican posters pasted all across the Czech Republic in the past
few years have been particularly revealing. One poster repeated the accusations
of high treason against the government for its negotiations with the Sudeten
Germans and added: "Of course, there is only one penalty for high
treason - the most severe!" A second showed the outline of the Czech
Republic in national colours held firmly in the clutches of an enormous
black eagle bedecked with swastikas. "No to the Sudeten Germans!"
read the caption (412).
It is not at all surprising that the Republicans would renounce the
Declaration when it became public. Given their past, their radical reaction
to the Declaration was to be expected.
The Declaration: "The Great National Tragedy"
The Republicans were disseminating false information about the Declaration
during its long period of secrecy. Jan Vik, a Republican MP, was one member
of the party who was allegedly involved in producing and circulating what
purported to be secret information about the Declaration negotiations which
demonstrated secret agreements between the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft
and the Czech coalition parties preparing the groundwork for a return of
the Sudeten Germans. The information was completely fabricated and only
Vik's re-election to Parliament and the renewal of his Parliamentary immunity
saved him from prosecution (413).
One would think that when the Declaration finally became public after
a year and a half of secrecy, its relative lack of content in comparison
to the Republican-imagined threats might just have calmed the party down
somewhat, but obviously any deal with Germany would be damnable in Republican
eyes. Members of the Republican Party wasted no time in condemning the
Declaration. Deputy Chairman of the Republican Caucus Vik labelled it "The
Great National Tragedy" and "yet another important step towards
the future domination of the Czech Republic by the Federal Republic of
Germany" (414). Sládek immediately claimed that once the document
was signed, there would be a flood of Sudeten Germans into the border regions
and a massive wave of Sudeten restitution claims (415). Just days after
the text was made public, national popular support for the Republican party
jumped from 5.1% to 7.0% (416).
The party soon announced it would draw up its own declaration which
would call on Germany to pay the Czech Republic 305 billion German marks
as compensation for war damages (417).
Kohl's visit to Prague to sign the Declaration was met with a wave of
Republican protests. The most significant of the protest actions took place
just outside the building where the Declaration was being signed, the Lichtenštejn
Palace in Prague. Behind a cordon of policemen and a line of busses, the
harsh chants of Republicans (and some Communists who joined them) were
heard: "SS ODS!" and "Klaus raus!" Banners proclaimed
that the treachery of the governing coalition would be remembered forever
and that "We will not betray Masaryk!"
After a brief presentation of the Republican declaration, Sládek rose
Enough of Havel, enough of Klaus.... the Declaration is the completion
of Hitler's plan... the new Munich... If we had just shot all the Sudeten
Germans (after the war), there would be peace today... The only thing we
have to regret from the war is that we killed too few Germans.
The crowd, numbering perhaps two hundred, cheered, and with Sládek's
encouragement, they burned a German flag. About the same number of police
and journalists looked on. Attempts by Police President Oldřich Tomášek
to wrestle the microphone away from Sládek proved fruitless (418). These
antics gained enormous amounts of media coverage for the Republican Party
which had taken just over 8% nationally in the last Parliamentary elections.
The Attack on Dostál:
Though concrete evidence is lacking, it seems that the Republican Party
may have been involved in the attack on Social Democratic MP Pavel Dostál
primarily due to his open support of the Declaration. Sládek had several
times publicly remarked on Dostál's "dark skin" (419). Dostál
had several times sharply criticised the Republican Party. Most notably,
just a few days before his attack, Dostál had lashed out at Sládek for
his antics at the protest described above and for Sládek's connections
to the German Republicans led by the former SS member Schonhuber (420).
At the end of January 1997, Republican MP Krejsa, writing in the pages
of the party newspaper Republika, declared:
I don't wish that journalistic pathological humanist with the non-white
inclinations anything good. It is thanks to him that I was labelled a racist
by Parliament. So that happy gypsy who constantly sues me for (my writings
in) Republika, can get his black ass kicked for all I care... (421).
A few days later, Dostál was brutally attacked as he left the Parliament.
Of course, Republican connections to violent skinhead groups are well documented
(422). However likely the connection may seem, though, direct evidence
of Republican involvement in the attack on Dostál is lacking.
Republican filibuster tactics during the ratification proceedings of
the Declaration were as much aimed at delaying immunity hearings for the
party's top members as they were about blocking the Declaration. As one
Republicans want to stretch out the discussion of the Declaration in
the Parliament as much as possible, and they clearly are not looking forward
to the end of this sitting when the Parliament will debate the proposals
of the Immunity Committee which call for the prosecution of four of their
One of the four in question was Sládek himself for his comments at the
protests during Kohl's visit (424). The police were later reluctant to
proceed against Sládek without first consulting a linguist to examine the
Republican leader's comments (425).
The Republican filibuster was notable for its outrageous and extremely
racist rhetoric. Republican MP Šmucr, for example, announced that:
The Czech government is comprised of members of other nations foreign
to us - that is Jews, Poles and former Sudeten Germans and other nations.
It is therefore completely understandable that such a government will hardly
assert the Czech interest of maintaining the sovereignty and identity of
the Czech nation in Europe (426).
..what the government is presenting today is nothing new in our history.
Even before the Second World War, many urged that we deal with Germany
carefully, that we act accommodatingly, that we don't irritate her and
in the end our soldiers even got the order not to shoot. The forces were
not allowed to provoke. And where did this policy of reconciliation and
non-irritation of our large neighbour lead? To the near genocide of our
nation. Now we are again in the same situation, and it won't take much
to disappear in the German sea like the Lusatian Serbs. (427)
Krejsa added his dislike for Alexandr Vondra, the Czechs' chief negotiator
of the Declaration:
I don't have anything against a dissident expressing thanks for the
flow of marks (he received) under the last régime, but that such an important
document was negotiated by a well-known anal-spelunker of the newly emerging
Greater German Reich under the guise of the European Union, a man who in
pro-German sentiment is more Catholic than the Pope - Saša Vondra. (428)
There were scores more offensive comments on the floor of the Parliament
and also several comparisons of Kohl to Hitler (429). Sládek later called
his party's behaviour during the Declaration ratification procedures: "in
no way unusual" (430).
The Use of Ethnic Fears in Czech Politics
Typical, Not Exceptional:
The Communists and Republicans were not the only ones to attempt to
capitalise on ethnic fears. It is important to realise that during the
two year period when the declaration was current, all political parties
played on Czech national sentiments and fear of a Sudeten German return
in order to win the support of the electorate. Nationalist rhetoric and
stoking ethnic fear were not the sole domain of extremist parties or the
opposition parties as some commentators tried to portray. Of course, the
Communists and Republicans were more crude in their use of ethnic fear
as a political tool, but all the major parties participated in such moves,
albeit in more subtle ways. Obviously, they were well aware of public opinion
as evidenced by poll results which showed that 86% of the Czech public
could not bring itself to vote for any party which supported an apology
to the Sudeten Germans (431)
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) demonstrated its willingness to play
on Czech fears of a Sudeten German return, for example, on a number of
occasions. While the Republicans claimed that the Declaration was a first
step of a plan to repatriate the Germans, leaders of ODS argued that the
return might happen if the Declaration was not ratified. Aware of the deeper
fears many have, Foreign Minister Zieleniec promised that the current Czech
government would never negotiate with the Sudeten Germans (432). According
to Zieleniec, the Declaration closed the door on the demands of the Sudeten
Germans and offered the Czechs a German guarantee that old claims would
not be pursued (433). Czech Ambassador to Germany Jiří Gruša stated that
the whole motive behind his party's and the government's support of the
Declaration was to "stabilise Czech statehood" (434). The message
from ODS was clear: without the Declaration, our nation will continue to
be threatened by the Sudeten Germans.
The Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), also played on public fears in
a similar manner in order to win support for the government's declaration.
The leader of the party Jan Kalvoda said that the only purpose of the Declaration
was to end once and for all the threat of Sudeten German restitution claims
(435). Another MP for ODA stated that if the Declaration was not ratified,
"we will be in a worse situation with Germany than we are today"
(436). Again, fear of the Sudeten Germans and fear of Germany were used.
The third coalition partner, the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) also
realised the political value of playing to the public's traditional fears
of Sudeten Germans. For example, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Jan Kasal,
a Christian Democrat, used the same logic as ODS and ODA above in his support
of the Declaration (437). In 1995, party leader and Agriculture Minister
Josef Lux announced that the Sudeten German threat could be reduced if
the state's half million hectares in the border regions were sold to individual
Czech citizens (438), and he re-supported this proposition as a way to
prevent Germans buying all the land during the 1996 election campaign (439).
Of course, it was pointless to make this proposal at all, because Sudeten
Germans (and all foreigners) are prevented by law from owning property
in the Czech Republic. Lux needlessly raised the issue of the Sudeten German
threat to score political points in the upcoming election.
The Social Democrats (ČSSD) were also no strangers to using ethnic fear
as a vote-winner. Social Democratic supporters of the Declaration such
as Zdeněk Jiíčnský MP, were prone to adopt the government's argument:
If the Declaration were rejected on the Czech side, that would strengthen
those forces in the Federal Republic of Germany which are opposed to it,
that is the extremists of the nationalist Landsmannschafts and their patrons,
especially the CSU. That is clearly not in the interest of the Czech Republic.
Party leader and Speaker of Parliament Miloš Zeman, in agreement with
the overwhelming majority of Czech citizens, labelled the post-war transfers
as "a legitimate act" and rejected any apology for them (441).
He also demanded that the Declaration end the Sudeten German claims once
and for all (442). When asked what would be unacceptable in a declaration,
Zeman showed he could also play to more extreme fears:
If, to give an example, part of this Declaration established a new Protectorate
of Bohemia and Moravia, clearly we would not vote for such a declaration.
During the ratification struggle, much of ČSSD's argument for attaching
an accompanying resolution to the Declaration in Parliament was that a
clear statement needed to be made that would finally end the claims of
Sudeten Germans (444).
Thus all political parties realised traditional public sentiments and
fears and tried to utilise them in their approach to the Declaration issue.
In this, one can say that pragmatic Czech politicians were closer to public
opinion than the idealistic intellectuals who created the New Balance and
sparked the drive for the Declaration.
A Final Note on the Extremists:
Sládek and the Republican Party did not create Czech fears of the Germans
and Germany. They simply play on existing traditional fears based on national
attitudes which can be observed across a wide spectrum of Czech society.
In a comparison of feelings of ethnic fear with their fellow countrymen
the excesses in Republican speeches represent differences of degree not
differences in kind. The 8% of Czechs who voted for the Republicans - or
the 20% which voted for the two extremist parties combined - are not from
a different world. The one in five adults who are attracted to these parties
and many of the other four who are not have similar beliefs and fears based
on national self-image. Those twenty percent are only more entranced by
those national myths. The Republicans simply represent the most zealous
end of the universal Czech spectrum of ethnic fear. Even after the Republicans'
February actions and words, 35% of Czechs still did not find Sládek and
his party to be extreme at all (445).
Sládek's Republicans, and the Communists to some extent, touch a nerve
in Czech society. Like the Communists, the Republicans find themselves
out amongst the people more often in smaller meetings (446), and thus they
have some understanding of the basic suspicions ordinary Czechs have towards
the New Balance. The extremists are acutely aware that 75% of Czechs support
the post-war transfers of Sudeten Germans, and they know that 86% of Czechs
would never support a party that wanted to apologise to the Sudeten Germans
Republicans did not invent Czech national sentiments. They play on them,
encourage them and exaggerate them, but they did not invent them. Those
feelings were there before the Declaration, and they are there now. Banning
extremist political parties, as some demanded in the winter and spring
of 1997, would not make those feelings disappear.
What is perhaps most disturbing, was a point made by Pavel Dostál a
couple of weeks after he was attacked:
Today, the statistics say that, in comparison with the world, there
is relatively low unemployment in the Czech Republic, but the support of
radical parties is high above the European average. (448)
Put bluntly, if twenty percent of the Czech population is willing to
support extremists when times are relatively good, what will happen when
the bad times come? Recall that The Economist recently forecast a doubling
of unemployment in the Czech Republic over the next year or two (449).
Even the idealistic Czech intellectuals behind the New Balance inspired
Declaration seem to have learned something about their country, though
reality came as a shock to them. As Václav Havel noted just after the ratification
debacle: "These people were elected by somebody" (450).
The end result of the Czech-German Declaration was a political fiasco
and very nearly a complete national disaster. First, the Declaration settled
none of the problems it was intended to solve. As Kohl's words at the signing
and as the words of the German ambassador to Prague at the end of March
make clear (451), all the old questions concerning Sudeten German restitution
remain open. The Czech victims of the Nazis remain (with the Slovaks) the
only Nazi victims without individual compensation from the German government.
The Czech press is still fascinated by the Sudeten German issue and the
musings of Neubauer (452). The Declaration has changed none of these things.
In fact, by dredging up old problems and reminding everyone of the traditional
animosities, the Declaration has actually hurt Czech-German relations more
than it has helped them. Harsh exchanges of accusations and frustrations
hardly represent a reconciliation.
The very sense of national apologies is questionable. The Declaration
contains an illogical mix of rejection of collective guilt on the one hand
and admission of collective guilt on the other. Collective national apologies
and regrets for the crimes committed by individuals more than half a century
ago do not seem to have much practical purpose for people today. Raising
old ghosts only raised old hatreds.
Second, the Declaration issue tore political parties to the breaking
point and thus damaged the young party system in the country. The political
cost of supporting the unpopular Declaration for the coalition was high.
People were beginning to lose faith in the whole reform process since the
Revolution, and the unpopular Declaration did nothing to stem the rising
feeling of discontent (453).
Finally, the Declaration debate, specifically the actions of extremist
parties and the efforts of those in power to try to stop them, threatened
several fundamentals of democracy in the Czech Republic. The farce that
political life had descended into certainly did nothing for the image of
democracy among the Czech people.
The Czech-German Declaration is a manifestation of a new approach to
history by Czech intellectuals. What Havel labelled "the New Balance"
in 1995 represents the culmination of years of Czech thought that stretches
back into the writings of Czech emigrants and dissidents of the 1970s and
1980s. The philosophical background of the movement was an attempt to redirect
Czech thought towards the Western traditions in Czech history and to reject
connections to the East, especially pan-Slavic ideas concerning the relationship
between the Czechs and Russia. Whether the New Balance is closer to historical
fact or not, the intellectual movement certainly has an agenda.
The New Balance intellectual movement seeks not only to re-evaluate
the Czech view of Germany and the Germans but also to change Czech opinions
about the Czech nation itself. It seeks to redefine the Czech national
myth to include negative factors so that the Czech nation loses its "provincial"
character and "becomes a member of the club of adult nations"
(454). The goal is not to eliminate the Czech national myth but to force
it to evolve in a more philosophically balanced, cosmopolitan direction.
The Declaration, as a manifestation of this movement, was even declared
by some to be "in the interest of the Czech nation" (455).
Throughout the entire two year period when the Declaration was current,
very little evidence ever emerged which could show that the wider Czech
public was convinced of the intellectuals' ideas. The Czech public consistently
rejected condemnations of the post-war transfers and apologies to the Sudeten
Germans, which have been central to the New Balance approach. Most Czechs
never supported the Declaration.
The entire episode demonstrated the deep rift between ordinary Czechs
and the core of Czech intellectuals, many of whom have spent decades isolated
from their fellow countrymen in necessarily exclusive dissident cliques
or in outright exile. The intellectuals behind the New Balance and the
Declaration often appeared simply out of touch with public fears and the
strength of traditional sentiments. Those sentiments not only form the
basis for Czech national identity but also form a part of Czechs' personal
identity, and therefore the attacks on national "provincialism"
which intellectuals like Tigrid and Pehe (two former exiles) made during
the course of the Declaration debates would be taken as personal insults
by many Czechs. Such attacks would hardly serve the intellectuals' cause
of enlisting support for the Declaration, but they failed to recognise
this fact. Havel's realisation that twenty percent of the Czech public
cast their votes for parties whose existence Havel consistently refused
to recognise came only at the end of the period.
Pragmatic politicians, in contrast to the idealistic intellectuals,
were at all times nearer to the public mood. All the parties recognised
the traditional fear of Germans and Germany which exists in Czech society,
and all parties played on the common fear of a Sudeten German return. Extremist
parties simply played the same game to an extreme degree. Many leading
politicians such as Klaus, no doubt aware of popular sentiment, were reluctant
to even embark on the Declaration process.
One can even say that the inability of leading intellectuals to identify
with ordinary Czechs and offer them acceptable intellectual pathways in
this era of transition leaves the Czech public without reasonable alternatives
and drives them towards the extremes. It is difficult enough for the average
Czech to identify with those who rebelled against the old régime, but when
those élites present ideas that are in direct conflict with his understanding
of his nation and elements of his own personality, it is little wonder
that he stops listening. Lacking a modern political and intellectual philosophy
they can relate to, the Czech public falls prey to the arguments of the
extremists, who often appear to be closer to the people than the almost
alien former exiles and dissidents.