Dispossessed Czechs win compensation battle for Subcarpathian Ruthenia property

03-07-2009

A small group of Czechs who have been seeking justice for almost 70 years have now been promised they will be compensated for property lost before and after WWII. The Czechs lost out when the Hungarians and then the Soviet Union took over Subcarpathian Ruthenia – formerly the most eastern tip of Czechoslovakia. After many setbacks, Czech lawmakers have now given the final go-ahead for compensation.

Most of the spotlight regarding restitution and justice was focussed this week on the recovery of Jewish property looted during WWII as an international conference concluded in Prague. So a decision by Czech President Václav Klaus to sign into law a proposal offering compensation to Czechs who lost property in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia - or Subcarpathian Rus - grabbed few headlines.

The move however marks a turnaround by the President – who earlier said he saw no reason for today’s taxpayers paying out for almost 70 year old injustices – and a final victory for the handful of surviving Czech who were sent packing.

Josef HavelJosef Havel After a staged occupation by Hungary in 1938 and 1939 - Subcarpathian Ruthenia was occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of WW11. It was then handed over to the Soviet occupiers by former President Edvard Beneš and is now part of Ukraine. Expectations that Czechs who lost property would be compensated quickly under international agreements never materialised with the subject closed under the Communist regime.

Josef Havel is now 76 and left Subcarpathian Ruthenia when the Hungarians marched in in 1938. He is the chairman of the main group which has fought over the last eight years for a change in the law that would allow compensation.

“It is eight years since we came up with this goal – from the time that we decided we must do something in order that this law would come into force and this situation would be resolved. So I feel it is a clear success”

He believes only a few hundred people – those who were dispossessed and their direct descendents – will be able to successfully file claims for compensation. Mr Havel again:

“It is 60 years since that time – many have died. The young are not at all aware they should be declaring themselves for this or do not know about it at all. When these people left Subcarpathian Ruthenia our parents were around 40. Sixty years on they would be around 100 now and many families did not talk about it much. I know how it was with us.”

He can put in a claim for the family house that was left behind with the 1938 value multiplied by 10. It is still not enough to build a modern house but represents some late and symbolic compensation at least.

03-07-2009