of post World War II
Slovak and Czech discriminatory decrees, laws,
court decisions and protocols, 1945-2002
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission on 26 February, 2002, requested that a panel of independent legal experts examine the legacy of the 1945-1948 "Beneš decrees" and determine what they represent today. The Commission also asked for a certified English and French translations of some of the decrees. It is a general view in legal circles, that if the examination will show that the decrees include discriminatory elements and they continue to affect the Slovak and Czech legal system, they should be abolished before the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic are allowed to join the European Union.
The following paper is
submitted in two parts:
I. Historical Background of the Beneš Decrees;
II. Current Implementation Legislation and Court Decisions, 1991-2002.
I. Historical Background
The expression "Beneš decrees" is a collective designation not only for the 143 decrees Edward Beneš signed in his political exile in London from 1940 and after his return to Prague until the formation of the Provisional National Assembly in 1945, but it includes also the laws passed by the Czechoslovak Parliament in Prague and the Slovak National Council (provincial legislation) in Bratislava, the decrees of the Czechoslovak government and different ministries in Prague, and the decrees of the Board of Slovak Commissioners (provincial government, an appendage of the Czechoslovak government), and the different commissioners in Bratislava. Hundreds of decrees and laws, and hundreds of pages were written for their implementation. The overall goal was the destruction of national minorities.
The aim of the government was to deprive the citizens of German and Hungarian origin of their Czechoslovak citizenship, to exclude them from political life, and from public administration, to abolish their associations, schools, independent church organizations, to freeze their bank deposits, to restrict their personal freedom, to exclude them from public and private employment, to confiscate their movable and immovable properties, including stocks bank deposits, and to hold them in concentration camps. The Slovak provincial legislation in Bratislava duplicated the anti-Hungarian decrees and laws issued in Prague. In August, 1944, the illegal Slovak National Council hiding in the mountains of Eastern Slovakia in opposition to the fascist, Nazi-ally first Slovak Republic (1939-1945), supported by the approaching Soviet army, began to issue anti-Hungarian decrees.
In 1918, the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic, a mosaic state of nationalities with 43% of Czechs, was entirely carved out of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy by a unilateral decision of the victorious Entente powers,without the consent of the population involved. Even the ruling Slovak partners were dissatisfied with the Czech domination in the partnership, and in 1938 they established contacts with the Sudeten Germans, with a population of 3.5 million, the Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian minorities by forming an autonomous bloc against the Czechs. The radicalization of the internal political situation in Czechoslovakia worried the founders of the country, the British and the French governments, leading to the emergence of the recommendation to appoint a British mediator to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the minority problem. This lead , at the request of the Czech government, to the convocation of the four-power, British- French- German- Italian, Munich conference culminating in the Munich agreement of September 29, 1938, and the cession of the Sudeten German districts to Germany. These events forced President Edward Beneš (1935-1938) to resign from office on October 5, 1938.
Immediately after the resignation of Beneš at the meeting in Zilina, the Slovak Populist Party under the leadership of Jozef Tiso, together with the Slovak National Party and the Agrarians demanded autonomy for Slovakia from Prague. The Slovaks introduced a one-party system in their new autonomous province.
The declaration attached
to the Munich agreement was of vital importance to the Hungarian minority. The
heads of government represented in Munich, namely: Britain, France, Germany
and Italy, declared that they would reconvene if the problems of the Polish
and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia were not settled within three months
time. Poland, on its part, decided not to wait for any further negotiations
and immediately occupied the Polish-inhabited areas of Czechoslovakia.
At the request of the four powers, the Hungarian government started to negotiate with the Czechoslovak government on the fate of the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia. The Prague government was represented by ministers of the autonomous Slovakia, and only by one advisor from the Czechoslovak government. The sublime idea of national self-determination evaporated, and political interests superseded them. After an impasse in the negotiations, the Prague government asked for an international arbitration of Germany and Italy. On 2 November 1938, in Vienna, a two-power arbitration returned to Hungary from the rump Czechoslovakia a segment of territory along the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border in southern Slovakia.
It is noteworthy that Article XIX of the covenant of the League of Nations anticipated the peaceful reconsideration of the peace treaties pursued by the Assembly of the League of Nations which had become inapplicable and whose pursuit could endanger world peace.
The Slovak provincial government
gave the coup de grace to the rump Czechoslovakia. With the diplomatic support
of Berlin, the Province of Slovakia declared its independence as a souvereign
state on March 14, 1939.
The first Slovak Republic in history (1939-1945) than became a faithful satellite state of Germany. A barely six month old independent Slovakia became a German ally on 4 September 1939, three days after the German attack on Poland, and remained a German ally during World War II. Berlin regarded Slovakia as a German sphere of interest.
The Ministry of National Defense of the first Slovak Republic in 1942 published an illustrated compendium of the Slovak army battles against the Soviet Union, entitled: OD TATIER PO KAUKAZ" (From the Tatra Mountains to the Caucasus), Obrázkové Dokumenty o Bojoch Slovenskej Armády v Rokoch 1941-1942. (Illustrated documents of the battles of the Slovak Army in 1941-1942), published by the Ministry of National Defense in Bratislava, 1942. This book has a German and Italian summary, and is available on interlibrary loan by interested persons.
On 15 March 1939, another
aftermath of Munich occurred as Hitler ordered the German occupation of three
Czech provinces: Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia which remained under German rule
until the end of WW II.
Then the Hungarian army reoccupied Ruthenia from the rump Czechoslovakia which for the previous 1,000 years had been part of Hungary.
Exiled in Britain, ex-president
Beneš established a Czechoslovak National Committee immediately after the outbreak
of World War II in September 1939 which was recognized by the British and French
When France fell under German occupation in 1940, the British recognized Beneš' group as a provisional Czechoslovak government in exile, with Beneš as president. This government in exile was on the payroll of the British government for the remainder of the war years. Until the end of war, the Czechoslovak government in exile received 40.5 million pound sterling of aid from Britain.
The outbreak of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union ended Beneš' isolation from the Moscow-based Czech refugees. Soviet Russia concluded a treaty of mutual aid against Germany with the Czechoslovak government in exile and gave diplomatic recognition to the London-based Beneš political agents. The Soviet Union in 1941 recognized the pre-Munich Czechoslovak boundaries at that time while the British government denied the idea of legal existence of and continuity of the pre-1938 Czechoslovak Republic. The Munich agreement was declared null and void by the British on 5 August 1942 and by the French national committee in London on 29 September 1942. Both countries had been signatories to the 1938 agreement.
As the fortunes of war
started to favor the Soviet Union, Beneš began to scheme his political future
on Russian assistance. He concluded two treaties with Moscow for mutual assistance
and postwar cooperation: one in 1943 and the other in 1944. The Soviet Union
along with some other governments, including the USA, also exchanged ambassadors
with Beneš' London-based exile government. The former president or ex-president
appointed himself president with the tacit consent of the British government,
and started his decree-writing activity.
The Beneš plan for the expulsion of the German and Hungarian population from their homes in former Czechoslovak territory came closer to being a reality when the Sudeten-German population and the Hungarian minority came within his grasp due to Russian advancement into Central Europe.
From London and Moscow, Czech and Slovak political agents in exile followed an advancing Soviet army pursuing German forces westward to reach the territory of the first, former Czechoslovak Republic. Beneš proclaimed the program of the newly appointed Czechoslovak government on 5 April 1945 in the northeastern city of Košice which included oppression and persecution of the German and Hungarian population. After the proclamation of the Košice program, the German and Hungarian population living in the reborn Czechoslovak state was subjected to various forms of persecution, including: expulsions, deportations, internment camps, peoples courts procedures, citizenship revocations, property confiscations, condemnation to forced labor camps, involuntary changes of nationality or reslovakization, and appointment of government supervisors to German and Hungarian owned businesses and farms.
The decrees of the self-appointed president of the republic - Beneš was reelected only on 11 May 1946 - gave a semblance of legitimacy for the total oppression by the Czechs and Slovaks of the three and a half million Germans and 860,000 Hungarians. (The losses of Hungarians by expulsion from their homes in detail: 76,616 were forcibly taken in boxcars to Hungary; 39,000 were ordered to leave Czechoslovakia with a parcel of 50 kg personal belongings; roughly 10,000 persons escaped to Hungary to avoid Slovak and Czech persecutions, and - according to a Slovak source- 73,000 Hungarians were taken to slave labor camps to the Czech provinces from Slovakia. Their movable and immovable properties were confiscated in favor of the state. Furthermore, by December 1947, the so-called Reslovakization Commissions labeled 326,679 Hungarians as Slovak nationals) The remaining Hungarians in Czechoslovakia lived in constant fear and misery.
The two successor states of the restored Czechoslovakia , the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic, remain unwilling to revoke the discriminatory edicts and laws and to restore human and property rights to the proscribed population. As candidates for membership in the European Union, they even want to take the discriminatory edicts and laws with them in the EU legal system.
Until today, only presidential edict 33/1945 of 2 August 1945, has been revoked in 1948 on a direct order from Moscow, but not by a decision of Prague or Bratislava. On 25 February 1948, by a coup d'état of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia removed Beneš from office and kept him under house arrest on his country estate where he died four months later. The Czech-Slovak-Hungarian antagonism became an embarrassment for the Soviet Union over the years. The dilemma for Moscow was that the newly founded regimes in the "peoples democracies" had to build socialism in common partnership. With the disappearance of Beneš from the political scene, the Czechoslovak government issued decree # 76/1948 on 13 April 1948, allowing those German and Hungarians still living in Czechoslovakia, to reinstate the Czechoslovak citizenship that had been revoked by decree 33/1945. The Slovakian Commissioner of the Interior also revoked the latter decree by issuing decree # 287/1948. A year later, Hungarians were allowed to send their children to Hungarian schools in Slovakia which had been reopened for the first time since 1945. There was no protest in Prague or Bratislava against the Soviet demand, although decree 33/1945 was the basis of all discriminatory decrees. It deprived Germans and Hungarians of their citizenship and civil rights.
There is little doubt that
the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic would immediately revoke those edicts
and laws if the EU or NATO declared them incompatible with the laws of the EU
and the NATO alliance and mandated their repeal as a condition to entry into
Another injustice against those of Hungarian origin was the forced labor deportation to the Czech provinces, called labor recruitment, ordered by presidential decree 71/1945 of 19 September 1945, and executed during the winter of 1946-1947. This deportation to forced labor was carried out officially on the basis of decree No. 88/1945 on the General Obligation to Work. Today, in 2002, there are still more than 19,000 of them in the Czech provinces. Under the supervision of the armed forces and the police, whole families were deported, including women, children, ill and old people. Their movable and immovable properties were promptly confiscated. Over 545,000 hectares of land have been confiscated from Hungarians during this wave of cleansing. During the first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938), as a consequence of confiscations, the Hungarians suffered serious losses: 1,836,137.05 cadastral yokes ( 1 cadastral yoke = 1.412 acres). Until today no compensation was paid by the successor states of the two Czechoslovakias to Hungarians for their confiscated land and other immovable properties: furniture, livestock, farm implements, bank deposits or stocks, and financial assets.
A selected list of 89 Czechoslovak and Slovak discriminatory decrees of 1945-1948 from the Collection of Laws is enclosed for an examination by legal experts. The decrees had been prepared by the cabinet for signature of the President, and depending on their character and territorial range of their effect, they were discussed also in the Slovak National Council. The decrees and discriminatory laws issued since 1945, the year of restoration of Czechoslovakia , are still part of the legal order of the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. The Provisional National Assembly in 1946 gave the power of law to the 1940-1945 Beneš decrees (Law No. 57/1946). According to media news, the Foreign Affairs Commission of the EP has already dealt with the amnesty law No. 46/1945 of May 8, 1945, and condemned it. This law gives amnesty to those who committed act of violence or murder against the enemies of the Czech or Slovak nation.
Former Czechoslovak state
and Slovak provincial decrees and laws still valid in the Czech Republic and
Slovak Republic in 2002, both of them candidates for admission to EU and Slovakia
also to NATO.
See enclosed list.
Czechoslovak and Slovak decrees and laws in force in 2002:
5/1945, 12/1945, 16/1945, 27/1945, 28/145, 71/1945, 81/1945, 81/1945, 88/1945, 91/1945, 108/1945, 128/1946, 252/1946, 90/1947, 30/1948, 114/1948, 115/1948, 118/1948, 120/1948, 121/1948, 12/1948, 123/1948, 124/1948, 125/1948;
Government decree (Prague):
of the Slovak National Council, Bratislava, 1945-2002, prolonging the Beneš
(Between August 1944 and April 1945, the Slovak National Council was hiding in illegality in the mountains of Eastern Slovakia with the help of soviet army officers seeking protection from the German-allied forces of the government of the first Slovak Republic).4/1945, 16/1945, 50/1945, 51/1945, 52/1945, 62/1945, 104/1945, 64/1946, 69/1946, 20000/1946, laws: 229/1991, 330/1991, 93/1992, 180/1995; Supreme Court decisions: 361/1994, 15/1997, 126/1999, 110/2000, 31/2001; protocol of 6 June 1996; letter of the Minister of Agriculture, No. 1866/2001-100 of 14 June 2001.
The websites of these decrees: http://www.hungary.com/corvinus (Section: History, Czecho-Slovak-Hungarian Affairs), http://www.intergate.ca/personal/huffist
New decrees, laws, regulations,
court decisions and protocols have been added to the enclosed
list of the 1945-1948 legislation to give a pretext for the prolongation
of the validity and effect of the discriminatory decrees and laws which denounced
the Hungarian and German minorities collectively as war criminals who should
be exterminated, and their properties left behind should be distributed free
of charge among Slovaks and Czechs.
The validity of the above decrees and laws was renewed and prolonged by laws 229/1991 and 330/1991.
They exclude the Hungarians of Slovakia from restitution of landed property, confiscated by presidential decree 108/1945 and 104/1945 of the Slovak National Council, to their former proprietors or their legal heirs. They are not abrogated, and still effect and extend the legal continuity of the Beneš decrees.
Law 229/1991 of the Czechoslovak Parliament allowed citizens having permanent residence in Czechoslovakia under certain conditions to reclaim their landed properties confiscated by the state after the 25 February 1948 communist coup d'état. This law did not nullify the confiscations between 1945-1948 from Hungarians and Germans based on the Beneš decrees. The exclusions in this law were confirmed by the circular letter No. 126/1999 of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic on 19 March 1999, after the separation from Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993.
To support the legal continuity of the so called Beneš decrees, a decision of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic No. c.k. 13 CO 36l/ 1994 of 22 June 1994, (Rozsudok v Mene Slovenskej Republiky - Decision on behalf of the Slovak Republic) states that the property registered in the Registry Office of the City of Nové Zámky under No: 89/2786 ( house), No. 809 (courtyard) and No. 2787 (garden) in the name of Margaret Kanoszay, née Pusztay, of Hungarian nationality, was confiscated according to presidential decree 108/1945 concerning the confiscation of enemy property, and it cannot be restituted. The objective was to insure that the confiscated property would devolve to those who were considered by the government to be politically reliable.
The properties of those Hungarians who were carried off to Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia to forced labor according to decree 71/1945 were confiscated immediately by the confiscation commissions. Between 1945 and 1948, 4538 cases occurred.
The Parliament of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic modified the 229/1991 Land Act with the 93/1992 modification act. It canceled the limit of 250 hectares of reclaim and introduced the status of "presumed proprietor" in the legal regulation. In reality, this regulation provided legal force to the claims of Slovak colonists in Hungarian inhabited Southern Slovakia and assigned them land which has never been registered in their name in the Land Registry Offices. The title for property is registered in the cadastral registry and later it causes a legal impediment for the restitution of the originally confiscated land.
Currently, state authorities obstruct claims of citizens belonging to the Hungarian minority. The Slovak National Council adopted law No. 180/1995 of the "presumed property title". By this law, Slovak colonists to whom confiscated land from Hungarians was assigned by decrees 108/1945 or 104/1945 became the proprietors of the confiscated lands.
In these procedures, the
local administrative offices receive a continuous support from the central ministries.
The most noticeable example from the Ministry of Agriculture is the "p r o t o c o l" drafted on 6 June 1996, on a legal position regarding land restitution, at a joint meeting of the representatives of the Slovak government's cabinet office, the District Court of Bratislava, the Bratislava Regional Cadastral Registry Office and the Ministry of Agriculture. Although the "protocol" adopted has no legal force, as it never been published in the Official Gazette, it often appears as a reference in the procedure of some cadastral registry offices. In a democratic state, legally valid annulments belong only to the competence of a judiciary forum.
Furthermore, Pavel Koncos,
the Minister of Agriculture, having only a procedural (and non discretional)
competence, issued different circular letters (e.g., the letter issued on June
14, 2001, under No. 1866/2001-100) instructing district office managers how
to refuse restitution claims for confiscated properties from Hungarians.
This also shows that ethnic discrimination in Slovakia is also the policy of the government. In 2002, the number of restitution claims before the courts in the Slovak Republic for confiscated properties under litigation is considerably high. The courts must take into consideration the existing and valid decrees, laws, protocols and previous court judgments.
To this day, neither the
Slovaks nor the Czechs, as candidates for membership in the EU and Slovakia
also a candidate for NATO membership, want to consider the revocation of the
discriminatory 1945-2002 edicts, laws, court decisions and administrative regulations.
The restoration of Czechoslovakia after World War II was a political mistake of colossal proportion. In 1918 and 1945, the Slovaks were opportunistic beneficiaries as a result of their political alliance with the Czechs.
However, in 1939, they jumped at the opportunity provided by the expansionist policy of the national socialist German government for the establishment of the first Slovak Republic in history, with German assistance.
This wartime alliance was forgiven by peacemakers at the conclusion of World War II, as demanded by the fiction of a Czechoslovak Republic. In 1945, to avoid punishment for the wartime alliance with Hitler's Germany, the Slovaks hid behind the political cloak of "czechoslovakism".
In 1993, the Slovaks abandoned the Czechs for a second time in history. The incessant harassment of Hungarians in Slovakia must stop. Time has come for the peaceful revision of the Slovak-Hungarian border along the centuries-old ethnic lines, in accordance with international law and the right of national self-determination.
The 1975 Helsinki Final Act recognized peaceful border changes. It remains an absurdity that a territorially enlarged second Slovak Republic (1993- ) has been allowed to emerge as an incidental winner of World War II by replacing the Nazi satellite first Slovak Republic (1939-1945) and to continue ethnic cleansing of Hungarians with impunity.
The European Union and NATO could stop the systematic liquidation of the Hungarian population condemned to live by two peace treaties, Trianon, 1920 and Paris, 1947, in the Slovak Republic, a candidate state for membership in both institutions. The persecution of the Hungarian minority by economic, cultural, social and political means in Slovakia should not be tolerated in democratic societies. The problem exist and it cannot be swept under the carpet by looking in the other direction. Later it could emerge and cause serious difficulties to both institutions in the coming years. Statistical data show a phenomenal growth of the Slovak population since the foundation of the first Czechoslovak Republic in 1918. In 1910, the year of the last census in the Kingdom of Hungary, on the territory of present-day Slovakia there lived 1,703,000 Slovaks and 1,070,614 Hungarians; in 2001, in the same area there were 4,614,854 Slovaks and 520,528 Hungarians.
Today, the European Union
and NATO representing legitimate authority should have the political will for
securing equal rights for the Hungarian population in Slovakia and guarantee
their right to self-determination.
A necessary condition to meet these goals is the revocation of the Czechoslovak and Slovak discriminatory edicts and laws of 1945-2002, to make it legally binding by their publication in the Official Gazette.
Enclosure: Addendum: Anti-German and anti-Hungarian discriminatory edicts, decrees, statutes, in Czechoslovakia, 1945-1948, and their extension in the second Slovak Republic (1993 - ).
Respectfully submitted by the:
HUMAN RIGHTS FOR MINORITIES IN CENTRAL EUROPE -
606-1640 Esquimalt Avenue
West Vancouver, B.C. V7V 1R6
Canada 21 June 2002
I, 1945-1948 legislation
(Anti-German and Anti-Hungarian Discriminatory Edicts,
Decrees and Statutes, Czechoslovakia, 1945-1948 )
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