Prague Post, Wednesday, September 9, 1998
Dual citizenship duel
By Alex Friedrich
Immigration gadfly Jirina Fuchsova is stepping up her campaign to win dual citizenship for Czech-born Americans now that dual-citizenship holders have reached two of the Czech administration's highest posts.
Czech law prohibits Czech-born Americans from obtaining Czech citizenship, although newly installed Foreign Minister Jan Kavan is allowed to hold British citizenship and Deputy Prime Minister Egon Lansky holds a Swedish passport.
Lansky said he sees no connection between their cases and his and Kavan did not answer requests for an interview.
But Fuchsova says that their ascension was "like pouring salt into the wounds of 30,000 Czechs living in the United States with U.S. citizenship."
The Los Angeles-based poet, originally from Plzen (Pilsen), is fighting to change legislation by Dec. 31 to allow her fellow Czech-Americans to gain citizenship and have property restituted.
Although the Czech and American governments have annulled a 1928 treaty that prohibited Czech-born American citizens from obtaining Czech citizenship as well, the Czechs refuse to make the change retroactive to cover those who fled the communist regime and were naturalized after May 7, 1957.
Past governments have barred such people because they feared a tidal wave of Czech-American restitution claims, said Fuchsova. She referred to a comment she says parliamentary deputy Jaroslav Ortman made in a February 1996 television interview: "We have closed those restitution laws as tightly as we possibly could so that those restitution mice won't be running here to and fro."
Fuchsova said, however, that the government has nothing to fear; the deadlines for reclaiming real estate is already past, although 700-1,000 restitution claims remain unsettled. Czech-Americans can only have "moveable property" restituted, and such claims would range from only $200 to $1,500 (approximately 6,600-49,500 Kc) per person.
"No one can say that the Czech government couldn't settle these," she said.
But time is running out even for those cases. U.S. citizens such as Fuchsova must obtain citizenship and file by Dec. 31.
Now her lobbying group, the Advisory Committee for the Czech Government Abroad, is informing the U.S. Senate, Helsinki Committee and NATO. Though she doesn't want those organizations to prevent the country from becoming a NATO member, she wants to see resolution of the problem as a condition for entry.
Former U.S. Ambassador Jenonne Walker told reporters Aug. 25 that Czech officials had informed her they were working on a solution, but Fuchsova sounded skeptical.
"We have been fed this line since 1993," she said. "We have been told by the Czech government, ministers of interior, foreign affairs, etc., that the matter is indeed urgent."
If the Czech government fails to act, Fuchsova said her organization is prepared to file a $100 million class-action lawsuit for compensation. She said she wasn't sure, however, where she could file the suit, as Czech courts so far have turned down her requests to file.
While on a recent trip to this country in August, she said that Lansky invited her to send a delegation of Czech-born Americans to discuss the matter. But now "that's not sufficient," she said. Such an offer is "three or four years too late."
Her organization now has three main demands drawn up in the form of a new law on Czech citizenship:
Lansky told The Prague Post that he's open to a discussion, but said it would be impossible to change the law before the Dec. 31 deadline "even if that were our first priority." He said he "could imagine" extending the deadline but made no guarantee.
"Unlike other governments, we're prepared to grant former Czechoslovak citizens citizenship. ... They just have to be a bit patient."