The organization for German former residents of the Sudetenland displaced after World War II has made some key changes to its charter - most importantly to remove references to reparations and reclaiming land.
Bernd Posselt, a Bavarian CSU politician and spokesman for the "Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft," welcomed the changes to the group's charter at its annual general meeting in Munich on Sunday.
Posselt said that the changes would make the organization "future-proof," and would also strengthen the group's "role as a go-between in the German-Czech dialogue."
Posselt had advocated changes to the charter for years, seeking to remove some references to the Czech territory perceived by many as problematic in the post-war era.
Paragraphs were removed which declared the goal of "reclaiming the homeland" ("Wiedergewinnung der Heimat," in the original German) and raising the prospect of "restitution or reparations of an equal value" for anybody driven from the region, including Germans leaving at the end of the war.
Instead, the organization has adopted language calling for the global implementation of basic human rights, including the right to self-determination for peoples and ethnic groups. The new charter also officially recognizes cross-border cooperation and partnership with Czech authorities as a central goal of the organization.
The group still refers to the expulsion and persecution of Germans in the Sudetenland after the war as an injustice. But it also accepts a shared responsibility "for the persecution and murder of both Sudetenland-Germans and Czechs who were unpopular with the National Socialist regime, and for the Holocaust against the Jews in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia," referring to the three main border regions inhabited in large part by German speakers.
Once a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Sudetenland became a part of Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the First World War.
In the run-up to the outbreak of WWII, immediately after the annexation of Austria, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to the territory. By September of 1938, the British and French governments had agreed - as part of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement - to cede the territory to Germany again, in a bid to prevent open war between Germany and Czechoslovakia.
At the Potsdam Conference of 1945, the allies decided that Sudeten Germans should leave Czechoslovakia, returning the territory to Czech control. An estimated 500,000 people left in the first half of 1945; with the region's German-speaking population shrinking to an estimated 160,000 - compared to more than 3 million in a 1921 census - by 1950.
msh/bk (AFP, dpa, KNA)