The outcome of the Czech Republic’s first direct presidential election on January 25th was tipped by base appeals to ethnic loyalty, but the Main Stream Media (MSM) outside the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria has almost completely ignored this fact. The reason: The ethnic hatred was directed not against a group that “matters”—like Jews or Gypsies—but against Germans.
A wrong done to Germans matters as little internationally as a wrong done to the historic American nation matters in U.S. public debate.
It should surprise no one that ethnicity is a powerful factor in Czech politics. The Czech Republic has a dismal record regarding its treatment of Gypsies (called Roma by Czechs and human rights NGOs) maintaining separate schools for Roma children and even having built a wall in one town to segregate the Roma ghetto from the majority population. The Czech Republic’s record on property restitution for Holocaust survivors is also nothing to be proud of—always a cheerful willingness to do so, but seldom any concrete action.
But Germans are a specialty of the Czech Republic: it expelled around 3,500,000 (in words: three and one half million) Czech citizens of German ethnicity in 1945-48. About 240,000 Germans died or were killed during what Germans around the world refer to as “die Vertreibung” (The Expulsion).
The legal bases for The Expulsion and seizure of all personal and real property without payment were the “Benes Decrees,”—which also amnestied anyone who committed any violent or non-violent illegal act, including murder or rape, against the Germans. The Expulsion depopulated the Sudetenland, the Czech border areas next to Germany and Austria, and offered ethnic Czechs free, fully-furnished real estate just for the taking.
After the first round of the 2013 Presidential election, the field of candidates was whittled down to two: former Prime Minister Milos Zeman, a Socialist with good anti-Communist Czech credentials, and Foreign Minister Karl (or Karel) Schwarzenberg, a conservative member of an old, ethnic-German (but anti-Nazi) noble family and an early ally of former president Vaclav Havel. Zeman was favored due to economic conditions and various scandals in the government, but the race was expected to be tight.
In the course of a January 17th debate between the two men, the Benes Decrees came up. Schwarzenberg, a prominent supporter of human rights and himself an exile for 40 years, remarked that “from today’s point of view” the Benes decrees and the expulsion of the Germans were a human rights violation that, had they taken place today, would have landed then-President Benes in front of the Hague Tribunal for crimes against humanity. [Beneš Decrees become campaign weapon, January 22, 2013]
Zeman wasted no time beginning what Czech, Austrian, German and Swiss papers have described as a dirty and dishonest campaign. He was no stranger to using the German issue to his political benefit, having referred to the Germans as a “fifth column” during his time as Prime Minister—a comment that so outraged Chancellor Schroeder of Germany that he cancelled a visit to Prague in retaliation, a rare event in European Union politics. While in Israel, Zeman shocked the international community by viewing The Expulsion as an export product and advising the Israelis that they should use Czech methods to solve the Palestinian issue— just expel the Palestinians from Israel! More recently, Zeman was involved in a controversy over a monument for massacred ethnic Germans in a Czech village. Filmmaker Jan Gebert in his Czech-language film Hra O Kamen (Stone Games), documented Zeman’s support for local Germanophobes.
The Zeman camp received unexpected support from incumbent President Vaclav Klaus—much-celebrated in the West as the Czech Margaret Thatcher—and his family. Klaus alleged that Schwarzenberg was not a “real Czech,” while his son and wife repeated lies linking the families of both Schwarzenberg and his wife to fascist or Nazi groups.
The day voting began, a former Czech secret policeman put an untruthful advertisement in the mass-circulation Blesk newspaper claiming that Schwarzenberg wanted to return to the Germans the property that had been stolen from them in 1945. On the next day, the voters rewarded Zeman with 55% of the vote. [Experts blame gaffes and gov't for 'Prince's' defea t, By Andrew Greene, the Prague Post, January 30, 2013]
As the Prager Zeitung put it, “honesty was not rewarded in this campaign.” Austria’s Die Presse referred to the result as the “wages of infamy.” Many German, Czech and Austrian papers stressed how the nationalist, anti-German campaign had decided the election.
Analysis of the election shows that, in exactly those regions where the voters were in fear that they might have to return their stolen real estate to the Germans, the vote swung from Schwarzenberg to Zeman. Playing the German card had won the election for Zeman. Schwarzenberg carried urban areas outside the borderlands, plus intellectuals, Prague and the youth vote, getting 45%.
Germany’s influential conservative Die Welt newspaper editorialized that Zeman should not be invited to Berlin, as is normally the case after an election in the EU. It went on to say that “we cannot passively accept that Germanophobia becomes the new normal in Europe.”
While this was going on in the Czech Republic, a state adored by liberals, the German issue was handled much differently in Hungary. The international Left never tires of attacking Hungary for its alleged xenophobia and nationalism, but on January 17th the first annual Day of Remembrance for the expelled Hungarian Germans—about 250,000—was commemorated.
Still, neither Zeman’s excesses nor the Hungarian attempt at reconciliation was considered newsworthy by the MSM in the US. News about Germans, like news about European-Americans, just don’t seem to matter much to them.
Anthony Boehm [Email him] is a federal civil servant.