The Czech-German relations represent a very important part of Central Europe events. They proceed in many interconnected dimensions – at the interstate level between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Czech Republic, within the European institutions, but also within the Czech Republic. After 1945-1946 resettlement, a small group of German citizens (mainly antifascists and mixed families’ members) stayed on the Czech territory. Its number was gradually decreasing, whether because of assimilation or emigration, which was permitted by the communistic regime at the end of the 1950s (Staněk 1993). According to the census results from 1930, 3 149 820 Germans lived in Czechoslovakia. In March 1947, there were registered 192 259 Germans in the Czech lands. During the census in 2001, 39 238 people proclaimed German nationality (0.4% CR citizens), which is less than in 1991 (48 556). Despite the decrease of German population, the activity of organizations, which represent German minority interest against authorities of the Czech Republic, was initiated in “after-November” period. The most important organizations is the Assembly of Germans in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia (SNČMS) (Landesversammlung der Deutschen in Böhmen, Mähren and Schlesien), which was founded on 7th November 1992 and registered on 19th January 1993.
Origin and development
The SNČMS’s roots are older. After destruction of the communistic regime in 1989, a group of Germans believed that Cultural Association of CSSR Citizens of German Nationality (Kulturverband der Bürger deutscher Nationalität der ČSSR), founded in 1969, had been discredited because of its cooperation with the Communists, involvement in the National Front and because of its narrow focus on cultural field (Kulturverband was renamed to Association of Germans – Cultural Association in CSFR in November 1990). That is why the Association of Germans in CSFR (Verband der Deutschen in der ČSFR) was founded at the beginning of 1990. It became a part of the Civic Forum (CF) and its chairman, Walter Piverka, was elected as a CF’s representative to the Czech National Council. In 1990-1991 there became to arise autonomous regional organizations of the German minority formed by individuals or the whole organizations, which had left the Kulturverband. They usually established a partnership with the expelled Germans from relevant regions, who live in FRG now. Probably the most important organizations were the Association of Germans – Cheb region (Bund der Deutschen – Landschaft Egereland) and the Silesia-German Union (Schlesisch-Deutscher Verband), which were founded in 1991. The dispersion of its own representation was not very advantageous for the Czech Germans, and both, the Sudeten Germans Compatriotic Association (Sudetendeutscher Landsmanschaft) (SL), which became engaged in the matter of German minority in CR, and the German government called attention to it. The status of German minority became a very important political theme for the Sudeten Germans representation and the German government policy, which was projected into the provisions of the Treaty between the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany on good neighborliness and friendly cooperation from 1992. The pressure put on the Czech Germans to unite them into one organization met with a response on the representatives of all associations’ meeting on 9th May 1992, which was followed by talks in Bad Kissingen in Bavaria, initiated by the SL. They agreed to create the SNČMS and the constituent congress took place on 7th November 1992. On the grounds of some arguments, the representatives of Kulturverband did not participated in it, which has led to a split of the Germans’ representation in CR. At that time, an autonomous attempt of several Germans to create the Sudeten Democratic Party ended in failure. Ministry of the Interior registered the SNČMS on 19th January 1993 as a civic association. As leaders there were Erwin Schulz (1992-1994)), Walter Piverka (1994-1998), Hans Korbel (1998-2001) and since 2001 the president is Irene Kunc. The Associations integrated in the Assembly consist of 7000 members. A competitive Cultural Association of CR Citizens of German Nationality (Kulturverband der Bürger deutscher Nationalität der ČR e.V.), which is the official name, consist of approx. 5000 members.
The SNČMS represents an umbrella organization for individual regional associations; during formation, the structure was adapted to the regions (Heimatlandschaften) in the SL’s organizational structure (Götze 1999: 112-113). So called Houses of Meetings (Begegnungzentren) are also important for the SNČMS’s activity, the houses are supported by the German government and they usually involve associations incorporated in the SNČMS.
By the middle of 2002 there were following Germans’ associations (event. relevant centers):
Table 1: Unions of Germans - the House of Meetings
|Schlesisch-Deutscher Verband im Hultschiner Ländchen||Silesian German Union in the Hlučín region Slezsko-německý svaz v hlučínské oblasti|
|Deutscher Kulturverband Region Brünn/Begegnugszentrum Brünn||German Cultural Association – region Brno / the Contact Center Brno / the House of Meetings Brno |
Německý kulturní svaz Region Brno – kontaktní středisko Brno / středisko vzájemného setkávání Brno
|Bund der Deutschen - Landschaft Egereland||Union of Germans – Cheb region |
Svaz Němců – oblast Cheb
|Begegnugszentrum Eger||the House of Meetings Cheb |
Středisko vzájemného setkávání Cheb
|Verband der Deutschen – Regionalverband des Teschner Schlesiens/ Begegnugszentrum Havířov||Union of Germans – Regional Association of Tesin Silesia / the House of Meetings Havířov |
Svaz Němců – Regionální svaz těšínské Slezsko/ Středisko vzájemného setkávání Havířov
|Deutscher Freundenkreis – Begegnugszentrum Hultschin||German friends club– the House of Meetings Hlučín |
Německý kruh přátel - Středisko vzájemného setkávání Hlučín
|Bund der Deutschen – Region Erzgebirge und sein Vorland/ Begegnugszentrum Komotau||Union of Germans – Krušné Hory region / the House of Meetings in Chomutov |
Svaz Němců – Region Krušné hory a okolí / Středisko vzájemného setkávání Chomutov
|Deutscher Freundenkreis Begegnugszentrum Krawarn||German Friends Club / the House of Meetings in Kravaře |
Německý kruh přátel / Středisko vzájemného setkávání Kravaře
|Böhmerwaldverein Krummau||Šumava Union - Český Krumlov |
Svaz Šumava – Český Krumlov
|Deutscher Freundschaftkreis in der Ortschaft Ludgerstahl||German Friends Club in Ludgeřovice |
Německý kruh přátel v Ludgeřovicích
|Verband der Deutschen Nordmähren und Adlergebirge/ Begegnugszentrum Walter Hensel Mährisch Trübau||Union of Germans of North Moravia – Orlice region / the House of Meetings in Mioravská Třebová |
Svaz Němců severní Moravy a Orlických hor/ Středisko vzájemného setkávání Moravská Třebová
|Verband der Deutschen im Bezirk Gablonz/ Begegnugszentrum Morcherstern||Union of Germans in Jablonec district / the House of Meetings in Smržovka |
Svaz Němců v okrese Jablonec/ Středisko vzájemného setkávání Smržovka
|Organisation der Deutschen in Westböhmen/ Begegnugszentrum Pilsen||German Organization of West Bohemia / the House of Meeting in Plzeň |
Organizace Němců v západních Čechách / Středisko vzájemného setkávání Plzeň
|Verband der Deutschen Region Reichenberg/ Begegnugszentrum Reichenberg||Union of Germans of the Liberec region / the House of Meetings in Liberec |
Svaz Němců region Liberec/ Středisko vzájemného setkávání Liberec
|Verband der Deutchen Region Prag und Mittelböhmen||Union of Germans of the Prague and Central Bohemia region |
Svaz Němců region Praha a střední Čechy
Egerländer Gmoi´ z Schlaggenwald
|Cheb (Eger) Community at Horní Slavkov |
Chebské společenství při Horním Slavkově
|Deutscher Freundenkreis||German Friends Club |
Německý kruh přátel
|Begegnugszentrum Trautenau||the House of Meetings in Trutnov |
Středisko vzájemného setkávání Trutnov
|Schlesisch-Deutscher Verband/ Begegnugszentrum Tropau||Silesia-German Union / the House of Meetings in Opava |
Slezsko-německý svaz/ Středisko vzájemného setkávání Opava
|Schlesisch-Deutscher Verband Jägerndorf||Silesia-German Union in Krnov |
Slezsko-německý svaz Krnov
Resource: Landeszeitung 18/2002, p. 8
The Assembly consists of 51 representatives of German nationality minority from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Only CR citizens, the representatives of German national minority, can become the members. The membership comes into being on the ground of election executed in individual registered associations (clubs), and the election must be valid according their statuses. Assembly session, a committee and a chairman are the Assembly’s bodies. The Assembly session is the supreme body. It accepts principal decisions in relation to activity of German national minority in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia and approves the Assembly’s activity plan. Out of its members it ballots a committee for the whole term of office and out of the committee – a chairman. The committee arranges the Assembly’s activity in period between two sessions. It consists of 11 members. The chairman is an official representative and a spokesperson of the Assembly. A working group (prepares and considers working materials and elaborates proposals for sessions) and expert boards (they can be established by the committee according to individual problems; they should consist of three members at least) are the Assembly’s auxiliary bodies. The other subjects can gain the observation status. The statutes take into consideration the position of an agent under the committee proposal. Martin Dzingel has held this function since 2001 and at the same time he is a chairman of the youth organization Jugendkonatkte – JUKON (only several tens of members). The Assembly raises property and finances thanks to subsidies and its own incomes.
Program and requirements
The basic aim of the SNČMS is, according to the statutes, the successful self-realization of German national minority. That is why the Assembly strives to achieve mainly:
a) satisfaction of German national minority’s cultural needs and development of its cultural values of all time, especially the German-writing authors from the Czech lands and a partnership in their works’ publishing,
b) partnership in publishing of newspapers, magazines and newsletters written in German language and publications dealing with German national minority traditions in our lands,
c) active care of German culture and language, but also of international culture, mainly from the region of German speaking countries,
d) support and cooperation with cultural institutions of other, mainly German speaking countries, support of cultural exchanges between individuals, organizations and associations on the basis of international agreements, treaties and private initiatives,
e) support at establishing and operation of the Houses of Meetings in the Czech Republic.
Their activity will be involved into its own cultural activity,
f) foundation of interests groups for regional culture,
g) cooperation with authorities and state institutions in terms of education, active assistance in establishing of grammar bilingual Czech-German schools and successive education at schools in German,
h) the Assembly’s acceptance into international organization of national minorities (e.g. FUEV) and active participation in it,
e) care of national group’s identity on the basis of full equalization to national majority,
f) pointed support of national minority’s members in the field of:
3. social area.
However, in this area, it does not take over the responsibility of the state (Statutes of the Assembly of Germans in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia)
Although most of the SNČMS’s activities are focused on cultural area (folk traditions preservation, development of German art, libraries etc.), recently there has occurred a very strong political need. It is connected with property restitution to CR citizens of German nationality, which was confiscated on the basis of the president’s decrees (so called Beneš’s decrees) after World War II. However only CR citizens are involved in it (so the Germans, who were expelled and their citizenship was removed, are not involved), the acceptation of this demand could mean the break of existing restitution limit, which is determined by February 1948.
The most significant SNČMS’s act in this respect is “The proposal for property restitution to CR citizens of German nationality”, which was handed in form of petition by the chairman of that time, Hans Korbel, to the petitionary committee of the Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic in August 2001. It contained demands for property restitution to German nationality persons, which was confiscated on the basis of president’s decrees no. 12/1945 and 108/1945 coll., eventually adequate financial compensation instead of it, next it contained demands for compensation for people who were forced to work according to decree no. 71/1945 coll. (100 CZK for every day spent in concentration, internment and working camp, and 15 CZK bonus for every month worked out there), restitution of blocked accounts in appropriate purchasing power on 1st January 2001, compensation for forced resettlement, closed down schools, forced changes of names, “criminalization” of German minority by the state and reestablishment of academic degrees, which were obtained at German, Hungarian or Slovak universities after 17th November 1939 (they were not accepted by the decree of the Ministry of Education and folk culture from 12th July 1945) and compensation amounting to 10 000 CZK for impossibility to do work according to gained qualification. On victim’s death, the property rights of all demands will be assigned to wife/husband and children, or if there are not any, to siblings and heritable persons.
The proposal was discussed by the petitionary committee on 10th January 2002 and was not approved, at the same time the committee refused to revise post-war legal development but compensation of individual injustice was found as acceptable under the Czechoslovak legal system. In connection with committee’s viewpoint, the SNČMS decided to rewrite the petition and to table it after 2002 elections. As Dzingel, the secretary, stated during the interview with the author on 27th June 2002, the Assembly expects a new Czech government to meet the requirements.
Strategy of action
Within the scope of SNČMS’s activity, it tries to integrate its membership and mobilize it to work in favor of German minority. There have been held regular and ceremonial meetings at the level of individual associations and at a higher level, including a statewide level, eventually in cooperation with Sudeten Germans in FRG. The SNČMS publishes weekly paper Landes-Zeitung (by 1999 Landes-Anzeiger), in many cases, an individual member associations or the Houses of Meetings own their own periodicals (e.g Troppauer Nachrichten is published in Opava).
The organization’s activity is supported by the Czech government under the terms of minority politics (e.g. it contributes to Landeszeitung publishing). The SNČMS’s representative sits on the Council for Nationalities, which is consultative body of the government. A member of the Cultural Association of CR Citizens of German Nationality represents the Germans here also. The official representatives of the German organizations appreciate the work of the Council for Nationalities, but they make reserves to not sufficient support of German minority in individual fields (Sura 1997: 78-79). In this context it is interesting to take a notice, that some Germans, at the local level, express their displeasure with excessive Romani prioritization within the CR minority policy.
The SNČMS is supported by the German government and its institutions - many projects are ensured by German embassy in Prague and, for example Goethe Institut Prag. At the beginning of 1990s there was established partnership with German Sudeten organizations in FRG. They are mainly the Sudeten Germans Compatriotic Association and smaller organizations (Ackermann Gemeinde, Seliger Gemeinde etc.) The SNČMS’s representatives took place in many SL§s events in FRG. The strength of mutual support between Sudeten Germans in CR and FRG is under threat because of arguments about enforcement strategy on above-mentioned petition dealing with property restitution to CR citizens of German nationality. Whereas a former chairman, Hans Korbel, had demanded a considerable support from the Sudeten German organizations in FRG, the present chairman, Irene Kunc was afraid, that such a support could do harm to Czech Germans image and could make it hard to gain the aims. In this context it is necessary to draw your attention to a fact, that SNČMS’s activity and activity of individual regional organizations is made difficult because of anti-actions of different left-wing national groups (mainly supported by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia) as the Czech Borderland Club, CR Slavic Council, Patriotic Antifascist Association etc. Their point of view on the problem of “German question politicalization” and efforts to reform the view of the post-war development are extremely negative, and with the purpose to make the work of German representatives more difficult (e.g. restoration of German war cemeteries or publishing the Sudeten Germans opinions on the problem of resettlement) they even bring a suit against them (so far with no response).
The SNČMS makes an effort to behave as a main representative of German minority in CR. At the same time it has to cope with negative aspects of Czech-German relations history. In spite of proclamations about the relations’ orientation to the future, “the history problems” are there present permanently. Although minority support is mentioned in Czech-German agreement from 1992 and in Czech-German declaration from 1997, on the basis of which a Czech-German Fund for the Future was founded (the SNČMS has its representatives there), the SNČMS’s fundamental demands exceed the limits of minority policy and are related to the whole post-war legal system (which make the policy of this organizations different from other CR national minorities). The break of the 1948-year’s limit in relation to CR citizens of German nationality would also strengthen the property and other demands of Sudeten Germans in Germany. The activity interconnection of the SNČMS and Sudeten German structures in FRG will probably grow stronger in the long term, even though the agent Dzingel refuses strictly the SNČMS’s position as “an extended arm of landsmanschaft”. The SNČMS shows rather lively activity, also thanks to broad support of German governmental and non-governmental institutions. The German population decrease in CR was a fiasco ( in spite of some regional associations’ campaign with the purpose to encourage the people to declare their German nationality before the census in 2001) but it is compensated by more visible entry to the general political events (e.g. negotiation with the council deputies of PS PČR for the European integration) in CR and in relations between CR and FRG.