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Czech election candidate questions post-war expulsion of Germans
By Matthew Day, Warsaw

A candidate in the Czech presidential elections has found himself the target of fierce criticism after he stirred up a historical storm by questioning the morality of the post-war expulsion of millions of Germans.

Touching on one of the most sensitive subjects in Czech history Karel Schwarzenberg challenged the legitimacy of the Benes Decrees. Named after Edvard Benes, the first post-war president of Czechoslovakia, the decrees led to the forced deportation of some three million of ethnic Germans and Austrians from Czech lands in an effort to cleanse the country of a people regarded as a fifth column and responsible for the Czech's wartime suffering.

"What we committed in 1945 would today be considered a grave violation of human rights and the Czechoslovak government, along with President Benes, would have found themselves in The Hague," said Mr Schwarzenberg.

But to some Czechs, questioning the decrees is tantamount to undermining the Czech Republic's status as a Second World War victim.

Vaclav Klaus, the current Czech president who is stepping down after serving the maximum of two terms in office permitted under the Czech constitution, said Mr Schwarzenberg was "scornful of Czech history and as a Czech, I feel threatened by him".

Milos Zeman, who runs against Mr Schwarzenberg for president in the election later this week, said his rival was "speaking like a Sudeten German; not like a Czech" in a reference to the Sudetenland, the area where the majority of Germans were expelled from.

Mr Schwarzenberg's foray into history perhaps reflects his own background.

Actually a prince of one of Central Europe's great royal families with indelible links to Austria he himself was forced to flee Czechoslovakia for Vienna in 1948 as the communists cemented their grip on power, and his family's estates were confiscated.

Therese, Mr Schwarzenberg's Austrian wife who does not speak Czech, has also become a bone of contention in the election. In a statement affirming her support for Mr Zeman, Livia Klausova, the wife Mr Klaus, said she did not want the "first lady" of the Czech Republic to speak German.

the Telegraph Media Group Limited, 22 Jan 2013

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