Germany to challenge land-seizure ruling
26 February 2004
BERLIN – The German government said Thursday it would challenge a European Court of Human Rights ruling against state land seizures from eastern Germans following the 1990 reunification.
Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said an appeal would be lodged with the court before an 21 April deadline.
The European Court ruled last month that the German state had been wrong to seize property given to people in former East Germany by communist authorities after the Nazi German defeat in 1945.
Up to 10 hectares of farm and forest property was given to individual East Germans and refugees who fled eastern Europe after World War II.
In 1990, the final communist caretaker government of East Germany confirmed the legality of this move but after unity the government of then chancellor Helmut Kohl reclaimed most of the land as state property. No compensation was paid.
Under the court’s ruling up to 70,000 people are said to be eligible for compensation for the more than 100,000 hectares taken by the Kohl government.
Much of the land has since been sold off meaning the state would have to pay compensation if the ruling is upheld. This could cost Berlin well over EUR one billion, according to some estimates.
But a far more costly land issue may soon confront the German government.
A further decision by the same court is due in May on the seizure of 3.3 million hectares of property in eastern Germany by communist authorities between 1945 and 1949.
These include aristocratic estates, major industries and banks the total value of which could run up to EUR 50 billion.
The Kohl government refused to return these properties to former owners after unification and the state has since privatized most of them and kept the proceeds with only token compensation to former owners.
Kohl’s justification for this move was that the former Soviet Union had made non-return of these lands a condition for allowing German unification to go ahead.
But this was subsequently denied by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other top officials in Moscow and Washington.
Subject: German news