Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Pragmatism and Reconciliation: Czech-German Political Relations, 1989 – 1997

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posted on 2021-11-22, 23:58 authored by Bracey, Sarah M.C.

This thesis charts the process of Czech-German political reconciliation between the years 1989 and 1997 asking, broadly, how Czech and German government representatives arrived at the 1997 Declaration on Mutual Relations and their Future Development. The argument focuses on two failed approaches to reconciliation. First, the search for historical truth in the belief that a shared normative assessment would itself dictate the necessary political and legal action, and second, the resort to legal argumentation in the context of international law. In 1989-1990, the foreign policy agendas of both Czechoslovak and German governments prioritised the speedy harmonisation of relations in a spirit of goodwill and optimism. However, a series of seemingly intractable legal disputes arose. Firstly, concerning calls for German compensation for Czech victims of Nazism, and secondly, calls from within the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, an organisation of German expellees, for the restitution of property and the right of return, supported by the German federal government. Both the Czechoslovak (later Czech) and German governments simultaneously utilised two competing legal paradigms reflecting the jurisprudential schools of legal positivism and natural law theory to both support their own arguments and refute those of the other, exhibiting a striking symmetry of selfinterested bias. Czech and German representatives disputed the legal status of the Munich Agreement of 1938 (by which the Third Reich partitioned Czechoslovakia), and of the Beneš Decrees of 1945 (collectively sanctioning the deprivation of citizenship and expropriation of Sudeten German property). Their differing interpretations had implications either strengthening or undermining the Sudeten German restitution claim in the 1990s. Neither government sufficiently abided by the intellectual ground rules of a necessarily rational process of inter-state negotiation, preventing a legal resolution. Analysing Czech-German relations through the lens of ‘failed approaches’ highlights the triumph of pragmatism, with surprisingly durable results.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Maxwell, Alexander