Schroeder rules out SudetenGermans' claims

4th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

4 October 2004 , PRAGUE - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has ruled out Sudeten Germans' claims ahead of his visit to Prague Monday.

4 October 2004

PRAGUE - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has ruled out Sudeten Germans' claims ahead of his visit to Prague Monday. 

Schroeder and Czech Republic leaders met last year in Prague to bury the hatchet of World War II resentment.

This week Schroeder plans another rare visit to the Czech capital framed by a more recent historic event: the European Union's enlargement in spring.

During the one-day trip, Schroeder was expected to focus on economics, social affairs and politics now that many of the barriers dividing Czechs and Germans for 50 years have been dismantled by enlargement.

Schroeder has planned separate talks with Prime Minister Stanislav Gross and President Vaclav Klaus. He's also slated to speak on "Modernization of the Social State in Europe" at a conference with former Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who is now a European commissioner-designate.

Unlike Schroeder's Prague visit in September 2003, during which he apologised for the Nazi occupation and dedicated a plaque to Czech victims, the latest trip will be more pragmatic than symbolic.

Instead of dealing with war ghosts, Schroeder and Gross were expected to discuss ways of maintaining their strong economic ties and supporting each other in the political sphere.

The two countries are enormous trading partners, with Germany accounting for one-third of all Czech imports and exports, according to Czech government figures. German companies such as Volkswagen and Siemens have invested more than EUR nine billion in the Czech Republic, and EU enlargement opened the door for more.

New highways in western and northern Czech Republic are being built to streamline links between factories, consumers and travellers in the two countries. Faster rail and budget airline services are also bringing them closer.

On another level, the German and Czech leaders will have a chance to bolster their political friendship at their meeting in Prague.

Schroeder and Gross are both centre-left Social Democrats. Despite cultural differences, their parties face similar struggles including the challenges of leading coalition governments and fighting opposition from the conservative right and far left.

The Schroeder and Gross governments are each trying to balance their parties' commitments to support social services with the money- crunching realities of budget deficits, tax pressures and unemployment.

Coincidentally, last week the Gross government launched a programme aimed at forcing the long-term unemployed to accept low- paying jobs - a programme modelled on a German project that has led to ongoing street protests against Schroeder.

For the first time, the German and Czech leaders can also spend time meeting as EU partners, covering Brussels topics such as relations with Russia and whether Turkey should be allowed to join the bloc.

But barring a sudden change in the agenda, neither side is expected to touch the old, sensitive issues that dominated last year's historic talks between Schroeder and Spidla in Prague.

Neither side was expected to discuss victim compensation or apologizing for events surrounding World War II, including the Czech expulsion of 2.5 million Sudeten Germans after the war, even though bitter memories persist on both sides of the border. 

Indeed ahead of the talks Schroeder said that Germany will not get involved in legal disputes between the Czech Republic and so-called Sudeten Germans.

"Five years ago we stated jointly that Germany and the Czech Republic will neither today nor in the future raise property settlement questions," he told the paper.

"We don't want our relations burdened with political and legal issues from the past," Schroeder said. "We want to move on."

Schroeder's view contrasts with that of some German leaders, notably Bavaria's premier Edmund Stoiber, who support the legal efforts of surviving expellees to seek remuneration from the Czech government.

Scores of Sudeten Germans, whose property was seized after the war, have filed lawsuits against the Czech Republic in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Schroeder said his government was helping Poland fight against war-era compensation claims filed by German expellees, but that there were no plans for similar legal cooperation with the Czechs.

The Czech government has apologizsd for the Sudeten expulsions of the ethnic Germans from border regions, but has refused to retract the formal decrees that laid the legal foundation for property seizures.


Subject: German news


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