Now, I appreciate it doesn’t exactly rank alongside Willy Brandt’s remarkable fall to his knees in Warsaw, Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment in West Berlin, or Franz-Josef Strauss’ trip to the GDR in 1983. But Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer’s official visit to Prague is interesting for at least two reasons.
First, it’s a really promising sign that an utterly senseless conflict between traditional Christian Democratic politicians (exmplified by the Seehofer and some colleagues in the Bavarian CSU), and the Czech political elite, can perhaps be overcome. The background is conflict over the expulsion of Germans from the Czech lands after the Second World War, and in particular the notorious Benes decrees. Polemic is common on both sides of the argument, with some on the German side expressing discontent at the country’s modern-day boundaries, or not putting the expulsions in their historical context. Meanwhile, on the Czech side, the Benes decrees have not been repealed and have acquired an unwelcome political symbolism of their own (with the Slovak nationalist Jan Slota bringing a motion to endorse them as late as 2007).
I have no data on public attitudes on either side, but it seems that this is a conflict being promoted by political elites, rather than the wider population. German-Czech relations in the border regions work perfectly well, and for large sections of the German political elite, including much of the CDU and CSU, Erika Steinbach, the long-standing Chair of the Federation of German Expellees, seems something of an anachronism. Steinbach, in announcing her decision to stand down from the CDU’s Federal Executive, complained about the lack of support for her cause amongst parliamentary colleagues.
Secondly, it says something interesting about the CSU. Having lost its overall majority in the Bavarian state parliament 2008, the CSU’s leadership has presumably decided that it’s worth risking the wrath of expellees’ representatives in order to put to rest a conflict which the rest of Bavaria stopped fighting a long time ago.