The LRC Blog publishes Ralph Raico’s appraisal of Vaclav Klaus:
Sorry to have to disagree with a couple of my LRC pals, but as far as I’m concerned Vaclav Klaus was no hero of freedom. In the mid-1940s, the Wehrmacht withdrew from Bohemia and Moravia, and the Czechs, who hadn’t uttered a peep (some resistance fighters had to be flown in from Britain), suddenly found their virility. Led by Edvard Benes, all Germans were expelled from their ancestral lands in the Sudetenland, from Prague, and elsewhere. “Czechoslovakia” from the beginning was a fraud cooked up at Versailles; it contained more Germans than Slovaks, and the Slovaks were discriminated against to the advantage of the Czechs, as was the Hungarian minority (expelled with the Germans). Probably around one and a half million Germans–almost all women, children, and old men–died in the brutal expulsion. Some years ago, the Czech president, Vaclav Havel, apologized for the crime, defying public opinion. Vaclav Klaus ostentatiously refused to do so. So, no, Klaus was no freedom fighter, just another amoral center-right politico.
Raico posits Klaus is an amoral figure because, unlike Vaclav Havel he refused to apologize for the expulsion of the Germans from Czechoslovakia when Klaus was 4-years old. I must admit I am not entirely clear on the details of this apology business. Why was it expected Klaus would apologize when his predecessor, Havel had already done so? Is one time enough, or are these apologies something the Czechs are obliged to issue periodically, every so-and-so years?
More to the point, absent actual discontinuation of injustice, what difference does an apology make? How come the amoral Klaus may be contrasted to Havel when neither did anything to enable the expelled Germans to reclaim their property? Suppose you were driven from your home. Suppose that after a while the people who drove you away apologized to you, but still did not allow you to return. (“We’re sorry for continuing to keep you from your home. Please forgive us.”) Would you feel the apology had partially corrected the injustice you were suffering, or would it just increase your anger? Would you even consider it an apology at all? Since it is clear you would not, it follows the only real difference between Klaus and Havel was that Klaus did not insult the intelligence of expellee-Germans with apologizing for something he was obviously not sorry about.
In fact such apologies by heads of states are problematic in themselves. In his apology Havel stated he was apologizing on the behalf of the Czech people. This reeks of a ridiculous level of pretentiousness and self-importance. The only valid apology a stateperson may make is one on the behalf of the state itself. But they should never be encouraged to appoint themselves the spokesperson for an entire people, least of all by libertarians such as Raico. Havel could not speak for the Czechs as a whole and it was outrageous of him to claim otherwise. Furthermore, the ultimate logic of such an apology, made in the name of an entire people, implies the guilt of the people as a whole (regardless of any caveats and disclaimers to the contrary in the statement itself). It implies the notion of collective responsibility, which is something that Raico has (correctly) argued against in the context of the crimes of Nazi Germany and the German people.
Raico writes that the Czechs “hadn’t uttered a peep” during German occupation, but when “in the mid-1940s, the Wehrmacht withdrew” then “suddenly found their virility” and went about expelling the Germans. It is safe to say stating the Czechs “hadn’t uttered a peep” is a very uncharitable characterization of the level of Czech resistance to the German occupation. The Czechs offered less resistance to the forces of the occupation than some occupied nations, but more than others. On May 5th 1945 the Czech resistance launched an effort to eject the Wehrmacht from Prague and fought it on its own for four days until the Red Army rolled in on May 9th.* Altogether some 5,700 Czechs were killed in Bohemia in May 1945.** Some of these were killed in German reprisals, as civilian victims of German artillery or bombs, or were executed as alleged collaborators, but many of them perished in combat as members of the Czech resistance fighting the armed forces of Nazi Germany. If one is so inclined, one may cavalierly dismiss this level of resistance as not arising to a level of a “peep”, but if so, it seems to me such a severe judge of the Czechs better be certain that in similar circumstances he would have done more. Failing such conviction a measure of caution, and even respect, would seem to be more appropriate.
Corrections, Just in Case
Rico writes that “all Germans were expelled” and later adds “the Hungarian minority” was “expelled with the Germans”. This could easily lead a reader who was not fully informed on the history of the topic to believe the Hungarians were also expelled wholesale. Actually no more than 70 thousand were expelled, or about one in six Hungarians in Czechoslovakia. In other words the Hungarian minority in Czechoslovakia survived the expulsions and did not cease to exist as Raico’s words imply. (Today there are 450,000.)
Raico states about one and a half million Germans died “in the brutal expulsion”. Since he only ever mentions the expulsion of Germans by the Czechs this could easily lead a reader, who did not have sufficient prior knowledge of history, to believe this is the number of deaths among Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia. In fact this is a (high-end) estimate of deaths from all the expulsions of the Germans in the wake of the Second World War, from Czechoslovakia, Poland, USSR, Yugoslavia, etc combined. The number of deaths from among the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia specifically is probably between 19 and 30 thousand.***
* To be precise on the first two days of the Prague Rising the Czechs had the help of the 1st Division of Vlasov’s Army, an army in German service raised from the Soviet prisoners of war, which ultimately turned its guns on the Germans. The Vlasovtsi suffered 300 dead and wounded in Prague.
** Chad Carl Bryant, Prague in Black: Nazi Rule and Czech Nationalism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009), 239.
***ibid, 235. This figure has been arrived at by a joint German-Czech commission in the 1990s.