The Czech Republic's government made its first public statement of regret regarding the treatment and expulsion of anti-Nazi Czechoslovaks of German ethnicity after World War II on Wednesday.
Many ethnic Germans who fought fascism were wrongly expelled
The apology in reference to those who were expelled from the country or were not treated as equal citizens, is the first concession from the Czechs after recent months of increasing tension between Berlin and Prague regarding the post-war expulsions of the so-called Sudeten Germans.
The Czech government unanimously passed a resolution apologizing to all those who "actively fought fascism or suffered under Nazi rule'' in World War II.
"The government of the Czech Republic expresses deep recognition to all people from among the former Czechoslovak citizens, mainly those of German origin, who lived on the territory of the current Czech Republic before World War II, who remained loyal to the Czechoslovak Republic and actively participated in fighting for its liberation or suffered under the Nazi terror, " the statement from Prague read.
About 3.5 million ethnic Germans were deported from the border regions of Czechoslovakia after the war and about 200,000 temporarily lost Czechoslovak citizenship.
Be n es decrees led to expulsio n s a n d co n fiscatio n s
Decrees issued by Edvard Benes, the Czechoslovak president in1945, allowed the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians and the confiscation of their property. In 1946, further legislation was passed that exempted those who had committed crimes against the two minorities from prosecution.
The Benes decrees also stated that ethnic Germans who fought against fascism could stay in the country. Czech ministers admitted on Wednesday that some were expelled by mistake and that those allowed to stay were ethnically discriminated against.
"We are correcting an injustice committed against our German co-citizens,'' Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said. The apology is for "the opponents of Nazism who were affected by measures taken by former Czechoslovakia against its so-called enemy citizens after WWII.''
"We are documenting that the Benes decrees did not refer to anti-fascists,'' Paroubek continued. "We are expressing our admiration, appreciation and apology to the significant minority of those Czechoslovak citizens of German descent,'' who "had remained faithful.''
Several German, Austrian and Hungarian politicians have maintained that the Benes decrees were discriminatory and shouldn't still be considered valid by a European Union member. The European Commission has repeatedly said that the Benes decrees are in line with EU legislation.
Preside n t war n s resolutio n 's effect
Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a vociferous opponent of any concessions, called the resolution "a conceptually wrong, useless and empty gesture, which can hurt the Czech Republic and its interests.''
Many Czech politicians have expressed concerns that rendering the decrees invalid could prompt a wave of lawsuits and property claims. Paroubek has rejected such speculation.
The Czech government also announced that it would be donating 30 million koruna (1.01 million euros, $1.2 million) to a foundation that will help locate anti-Nazi ethnic Germans and record their personal histories.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda revealed that the government would be calling on those directly affected or their relatives to come forward.