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Dispossession of Eastern German Land Illegal, Court Rules

The German government could face a flood of lawsuits and billions in reparation claims after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the dispossession of land in eastern Germany after reunification was illegal.


A lot of farmland became public property after reunification.

Up to 70,000 heirs of farm land in eastern Germany could claim compensation after Thursday’s ruling. The lawsuit wasn filed by five Germans, who had inherited land in eastern Germany but were forced to hand it over to the state without compensation after reunification. Their families had been given the land following East Germany’s 1945 agrarian reform.

Later on, these so-called new farmers were forced to join large-scale agricultural cooperatives. But in 1990, East Germany’s first and only democratically elected parliament gave back full ownership rights to them.

After reunification, the German parliament passed legislation limiting ownership rights to those families that had actually worked in the agricultural sector. All others had to hand over titles to the land without compensation.

No dispossession without compensation

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg acknowledged that Germany found itself in an extraordinary position after reunification and even recognized the new united German parliament’s right to throw out the 1990 East German law that granted ownership to the land.

“However, a fair balance had to be struck between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights,” the court’s decision read. Germany should have compensated the owners, the judges continued. By not doing so, it violated an amendment to the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects private property. Germany has signed the convention and is therefore required to accept decisions by the court. The court’s unanimous decision was handed down by a chamber of seven judges. Both sides have the option to appeal to the court’s grand chamber, which includes 17 judges. Germany's Constitutional Court had ruled in favor of the dispossession in 2000.

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