Liechtenstein demanded that the Czech Republic return the land and property confiscated following the Second World War, including a couple of princely castles. The authorities of the dwarf state sent a corresponding complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, where they expect to prove the illegality of the decrees of the President of Czechoslovakia, Edward Benes. In Prague, they are not going to return the territory, the area of which is 10 times larger than the principality itself within its current borders, but at the same time they hope that relations between the two countries will not suffer. Details of the territorial dispute in the heart of Europe – in the material of Izvestia.
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Big plans for a small country
The Czech Republic must return to Liechtenstein the territories that the principality lost as a result of the Second World War and on which, in particular, two castles belonging to the ruling dynasty are located – Lednice Castle and Valtice’s residence. Such a requirement of one of the dwarf states of Europe is set out in an interstate complaint sent to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The petition challenges the legality of the confiscation of property from the population of Czechoslovakia (among whom there were many representatives of the Liechtenstein aristocracy in the pre-war period and during the Second World War) on the basis of the so-called Beneš decrees – acts adopted by the President of Czechoslovakia Edward Beneš in 1945 and ratified a year later. Vaduz’s complaint alleges that the respondent government “classified Liechtenstein citizens as persons with German citizenship for the purpose of applying to them the decrees of the President of the Republic”, which allowed the “confiscation of property belonging to all ethnic Germans and Hungarians”.
Photo: Global Look Press / CTK / Marketa Hofmanova
According to the plaintiff, such expropriation of property violates several paragraphs of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, including provisions regarding a fair trial, respect for private and family life, and the prohibition of discrimination. The complaint also states that in two cases, which also concerned the property of the Liechtenstein dynasty and 33 other citizens of the principality, Czech courts, including the constitutional court of the republic, sided with the state.
“For us, the illegal application of the Czechoslovak decrees and its consequences have become an unresolved problem,” Liechtenstein Foreign Minister Katrin Eggenberger said in an interview with The Financial Times. “Expropriation without compensation is not acceptable.” According to the minister, we are talking about “fundamental issues of sovereignty,” and with his complaint, Vaduz protects the interests of not only the princely family, but also all 39 citizens who suffered as a result of the confiscation of assets – this is like an area of about 2 thousand square meters. km, and the objects located on it. “The smaller the country, the more important it is for it to defend its rights,” added Eggenberger.
“Interests of one person”
The Czech Foreign Ministry promptly made it clear that they were not going to follow Vaduz’s lead and generally hoped that the court in Strasbourg would refuse to consider the complaint. The deputy head of the diplomatic department Martin Smolek, in particular, said that the ECHR could not consider this case, since the human rights convention was adopted after the events in question. “We also find it odd to use this document in a case that concerns a limited number of people – and in fact one person – whose rights have been allegedly infringed upon,” added Smolek.
– We do not consider this a standard decision, however, the Liechtenstein side informed us in advance about its actions. So it didn’t come as a surprise to us. We have no feeling that this should somehow inflame our relations. Rather, we hope that after the final decision of the court, our relationship could be cleared of these historical problems, ”Zuzana Shtikhova, press secretary of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Izvestia.
Judges of the European Court of Human Rights
Photo: REUTERS / Vincent Kessler
By the way, diplomatic relations between the Czech Republic and Liechtenstein were established only in 2009. The normalization of the situation, as it is easy to understand, was hampered by the same issue of property restitution, which ceded to Prague after 1945. Including because of the territorial dispute, Liechtenstein has not yet become a member of the European Union and NATO – Prague insists that first the principality must abandon its land claims.
Recorded in the Germans
Between World War I and World War II, the Liechtenstein dynasty lived mainly in Vienna and spoke German. This factor, perhaps, became fatal – during the census of the population in Czechoslovakia in 1930, family members were counted precisely as Germans based on the language they used. It was the property of the inhabitants of Germany, according to the Benesh decrees, that was subject to confiscation.
After the Anschluss, the reigning prince Franz Josef II fled Vienna and settled in the “family” state. The principality remained neutral until the end of the war (largely thanks to the far-sighted, although, as some historians say, not at all the sinless policy of its ruler).
Prince of Liechtenstein Franz Josef II
Photo: commons.wikimedia.org/Presse- und Informationsamt, Vaduz
It is noteworthy that the prince even helped with money the very Beneš, who, just a few years later, will himself replenish the state pocket at the expense of the Liechtenstein family – they were recognized as allies of the Nazis, and their property, confiscated by Prague, was later nationalized. In total, the land holdings of Liechtenstein decreased from 1.6 thousand square meters. km up to 240 sq. km.
However, even in spite of the confiscation of property, the dynasty still remains a major landowner in Europe and now, it seems, expects to expand its territory. By the way, the Baroque residence of Valtice and the Neo-Gothic castle of Lednice are not only of material value. Both of these sites are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List; now they are significant attractions for the country’s tourism industry.
The prospects for Liechtenstein’s complaint – even if the court in Strasbourg accepts it for consideration – is at least vague. For example, in 2001, Germany began a trial over a painting by the Dutch artist Peter van Lahr, which the authorities of Czechoslovakia confiscated after World War II. The case eventually reached the International Court of Justice, but the latter ultimately refused.
Pessimism for the principality can be added by the fact that the ECHR previously refused to deal with those cases that relate to the period preceding the adoption of the convention on human rights in 1950. However, the centuries-old and difficult history of the Liechtenstein proves that representatives of this family have more than once found a way out of the most difficult international troubles.
Now in Vaduz they say that the rights of Liechtensteiners are clearly being infringed. “With regard to other countries that remain neutral, for example Switzerland, the Czech Republic has in recent decades demonstrated its readiness to negotiate to find bilateral solutions to similar legal issues in the field of property rights,” the Liechtenstein Foreign Ministry said when announcing an appeal to the ECHR. “However, there were no discussions with Liechtenstein regarding unresolved problems in the field of property rights.”
For such a refusal to negotiate, the legal successors of Liechtenstein citizens are paying the price, “who were illegally deprived of their property and did not receive compensation for (confiscation) of the territories that are now part of the Czech Republic,” the department noted.
According to the writer and publicist Dmitry Lekukh, “the story of Liechtenstein’s claims is a very good marker of the state of European, including economic, minds: how far this story can go and what to expect from it.” According to him, “even the very fact of submitting such an application to the supranational structure is remarkable,” which clearly indicates “the readiness of a part of the European elites to further revise the borders, and precisely through the institutions of the European Union,” which are now “not in the best condition” …
The whole story with Vaduz’s complaint, although it looks “rather anecdotal”, is built into a solid row, which includes “both Catalonia and Scotland, strategically important for continental Europe (which by no means has played its entire history under the British coat of arms, but almost its entire history the power of the haughty English was decisively weighed down), ”notes Lekuch in a column for RT.
Revision of the borders that have developed to date and any other significant parameters of statehood is an extremely protracted and multi-stage process. An example is the dispute over geographical names that lasted for almost 30 years, in which Greece and Macedonia were participants for several years (the latter eventually officially became North Macedonia in February last year). Another thing is when it comes to the return of property that was unfairly confiscated from individuals during and after the Second World War. The topic of restitution in recent decades has been raised more and more often, and there are not so few examples of the return to descendants of what their ancestors acquired.
President Stevo Pendarovski delivers a speech to parliament at the official ceremony of North Macedonia joining NATO, February 2020
Photo: TASS / AP / Boris Grdanoski
Alexei Kupriyanov, senior researcher at IMEMO RAS, recalls that according to Benes’s decrees, “the lands of the Germans and Hungarians, who were believed to be loyal to the Nazis, were seized without compensation.”
– The Liechtenstein claim that they are not Germans, but Liechtensteiners; at the same time, the Czech side says that in the 1930 census, the prince of Liechtenstein indicated himself as a German, the historian notes.
According to the decrees, citizens of Germany and Hungary and ethnic Germans and Hungarians were deprived of citizenship and property simply by the fact that they indicated themselves as such in the census. An exception was made for those who continued to insist on their Czechoslovak identity after the German occupation, fought in the ranks of the Resistance, or suffered at the hands of the Nazis. In addition, at that time, ethnicity and language were interrelated things:
– The implication was that if you speak German, then German.
In general, Kupriyanov believes, the prospects for Liechtenstein’s complaint to the ECHR are not very bright, but the positions of Prague are quite strong, primarily due to the fact that the human rights convention was adopted after the events indicated in the petition, and, therefore, the appeal in court the order then made decisions are not subject.
“This is a very reasonable rule,” the historian noted in an interview with Izvestia. – Otherwise, it is possible that the court will have to consider a lot of cases on the restitution of property, for example, in Burgundy, selected as a result of the French occupation in the 15th century.