Reconciliation Plan Has Havel's Support

The Christian Century, April 10, 1996 | Go to article overview

Reconciliation Plan Has Havel's Support


Czech President Vaclav Havel has given his backing to efforts by churches in Germany and the Czech Republic to resolve one of the thorniest issues plaguing the relationship between the two countries--the mass expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. On March 6 Havel met Pavel Smetana, the leader of one of the Czech Republic's main Protestant churches--the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren--which last year tried, with a statement on the expulsions, to promote reconciliation between Germans and Czechs.

Up to 3.5 million ethnic Germans were expelled from the Sudetenland--which as a predominantly ethnic-German region of Czechoslovakia--between 1945 and 1946, after the defeat of Germany. Germany. has now asked the Czechs to distance themselves morally from the decrees, signed by Czech President Eduard Benes, under which the Sudeten Germans were expelled. The Czechs are reluctant to do so, partly for psychological reasons, since Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland--which had' the support of many Sudeten Germans--marked the start of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.

But according to some observers, the Czechs also fear that to distance themselves "morally" from the decrees will be to admit that they were illegal--thus opening the door to demands for compensation. Organizations representing the Sudeten Germans say that up to 25,000 German civilians died during the expulsions; however, a joint Czech-German historical commission last year put the figure at 40,000.

According to Smetana, last year's church declaration broke new ground by encouraging Czechs to see themselves not only as "perpetual victims of climes and acts of oppression committed by others, especially Germans and Russians," but also as being responsible for misdeeds of their own. …

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Reconciliation Plan Has Havel's Support
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