Half of Czechs favor preserving Beneš Decrees

Growing number of Czechs favor abolishment of decrees that led to post-war expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia

Society|Foreign Affairs
Tom Jones | 10.01.2012
Cyechoslovakia§s second president, Edvard Beneš, signs the decrees for the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians

A new opinion poll indicates more Czechs are now in favor of abolishing decrees issued by post-war Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš, which provided the legal basis after WWII for the expulsion and confiscation of property of Sudeten Germans who could not prove they did not support the Nazis. More respondents have no clear opinion on the issue.

According to the poll conducted by Czech Academy of Science’s public research center (CVVM) at the end of 2011, 49% of Czechs are in favor of preserving the Beneš Decrees. The previous poll conducted in 2009 showed 65% were in favor of preserving the decrees, which are fiercely opposed by movements in Germany and Austria representing Sudeten Germans and their descendents.

The latest CVVM poll thus suggests Czech public opinion is swaying back towards abolishing the decrees: in 2006 and 2007 polls, just over 50% of respondents were in favor. Now 17% of respondents said the decrees should be abolished, whereas in 2009, the figure was 8%.

Respondents were also asked about their attitude towards the expulsions. 42% said they consider the expulsions were fair; 25% said they were unfair but that it’s necessary to draw a line under the past; 7% said they were unfair and an apology is due; and 4% said they were unfair and compensation should be paid or property restituted. 18% said they did not have a clear opinion or are not interested.

The poll is the sixth to be conducted since 2003 since when the number of respondents who consider the expulsions to be fair or justified has decreased gradually. In 2003, 60% said they considered the measures to be justified.

A joint German–Czech commission on the expulsion — and the word chosen to describe the movement of peoples is itself a point of contention — concluded that between 19,000 and 30,000 ethnic Germans were killed during the expulsions.

Just under half of correspondents said they consider the preservation of the decrees to be a negative influence on the Czech Republic’s relations with Germany, while 23 percent said they have a negative influence on relations with Austria.

Expulsion of Germans

According to Czech historian Václav Houživička, who has drawn on a number of sources, between the capitulation of Nazi Germany in May 1945 and the Potsdam Agreement in August 1945, around 600,000 ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, expulsions and voluntary relocation of ethnic Germans to Austria and Germany continued thereafter with some German commissions putting the overall figure above two million.

The decrees also provided for Hungarians who could not prove they opposed the Nazi regime to be stripped of Czechoslovak citizenship. Under an agreement between Hungary and Czechoslovakia, as many as 90,000 ethnic Hungarians were relocated to Hungary from Slovakia, though figures as to how many moved voluntarily and how many were forced to leave Slovakia. Under the same agreement up to 75,000 Slovaks relocated to Slovakia from Hungary. 

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