German Presence in Czechoslovakia Sparks Concern over Dominance

Article excerpt

WHEN German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visits Prague this week, he must tread lightly. He comes bringing a good-neighbor treaty, but even so, the Czechoslovakians have very ambivalent feelings about reunited Germany.

On the one hand, they welcome the recent flood of German investment as a source of jobs and a guarantee of quality manufacturing. On the other hand, they worry about the "Germanization" of the Czechoslovak economy.

German companies account for a third of the joint ventures here, and a remarkable 80 percent of pledged foreign investment is from Germans. A senior government official in Prague said he is convinced Germany has a coordinated plan to economically dominate his country.

Politically, the Czechoslovakians have appreciated the Germans "putting in a word" for Prague in the European Community, says Egon Lansky, spokesman for Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier. Bonn supports EC membership for the Central European states, and it helped negotiate associate membership for Czechoslovakia in the EC, Mr. Lansky says.

"Of course," Lansky adds, "when you make political or economic deliberations, you need the help of a powerful neighbor."

Germany, he says, is Europe's most powerful nation, and its might - both economic and political - is increasing. However, the flip side to having an influential ally, adds Lansky, is that "you are a little bit scared by his power." Considering Czechoslovak-German history, he says, "this is a natural attitude."

History was the biggest stumbling block in negotiating the German-Czechoslovak friendship treaty, which Chancellor Kohl and President Vaclav Havel will sign Feb. 27.

Sudeten Germans, whose families lived on the perimeter of Czechoslovakia but were expelled from the region at the end of World War II, exerted tremendous pressure on Bonn, demanding that the treaty guarantee their claims to lost property in Czechoslovakia.

Left-wing Czechoslovakians, meanwhile, insisted that the treaty address war reparations stemming from the German occupation, as well as certain wording in the treaty.

"There is a good deal of resentment" in Czechoslovakia regarding the German past, Lansky says. "These feelings may be impossible to overcome."

In the end, negotiators chose to omit war-related claims from either side. "We believe that digging into the past and into all those horrible things that our forefathers have done to one another is not of much help for the present or for the future," Lansky explains. …