Czech government apologizes to ethnic German fellow citizens

The Czech government issued an official apology Wednesday to ethnic Germans living on the Czech territory during the World War II who opposed Nazism but were still mistreated after the war.

"The government of the Czech Republic expresses its profound appreciation to ... German nationals living on the Czech territory before World War II who during the war remained faithful to the (then) Czechoslovak republic and actively participated in the struggle for its liberation," a declaration, adopted unanimously by the government at its session Wednesday, said.

The government also expressed its regrets that after the war, "some of these people did not receive the appreciation they deserved."

President Vaclav Klaus said he did not agree with the declaration, calling it a "wrong, needless and empty gesture" that could harm the country's interests, according to a statement from his office.

Some 3 million Germans were expelled from the Czech lands after WWII under decrees of Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes. The so-called Sudeten Germans were considered enemies of the Czechs and Slovaks because many supported Adolf Hitler and the wartime Nazi occupation of the Czech lands.

Although the decrees did not apply to ethnic Germans who remained loyal to Czechoslovakia and fought Nazism, some 200,000 Germans who were allowed to stay after the war were treated as second class citizens and many later decided to leave the country.

According to Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, the Czech government is planning to spend 30 million koruna (US$1.2 million; Ђ1 million) to document the fate of Sudeten German antifascists over the next couple of years.

Paroubek also dismissed fears that the gesture could encourage some of the exiles to demand financial compensation from the Czech government.

"It's a gesture of appreciation and apology and it does not mean any risk for us," Paroubek said.

Today, some Sudeten German organizations are demanding the return of confiscated property as compensation for what they consider an act of ethnic cleansing.

The Czech Republic is refusing to repeal the decrees, arguing they were issued as part of Europe's postwar settlement with the approval of the wartime allies. The government also fears such a move could strengthen restitution claims by those who were expelled and their heirs, the AP reports.

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