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Czech Republic faces legal action from Liechtenstein over decades-long property dispute

Prague, Czech Republic – The micro-state of Liechtenstein announced it had initiated legal action at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the Czech Republic over a long-standing property dispute.

“Liechtenstein citizens have again been denied their property rights in the Czech Republic based on the Presidential Decrees of 1945, which impermissibly classify them as persons with German nationality”, the principality’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement released last week. “This constitutes a manifest disregard for Liechtenstein’s sovereignty”.

Enforced in the aftermath of World War II, the so-called “Benes decrees” of 1945 – which remain a thorn in the side of Prague’s bilateral relations with some of its neighbours – allowed, among other things, the then-Czechoslovak state to expel and seize property owned by ethnic Germans and Hungarians, as well as people who collaborated with the Nazi regime.

Categorizing citizens as Germans, the decrees allowed Czech authorities to seize the property owned by Liechtenstein’s royal family in the Czech Republic, made up of castles, including the popular Lednice Castle in Moravia, and up to 50,000 hectares of land.

Liechtenstein’s official complaint to the European Court of Human Rights is only the latest development in a quarrel that has been drawing out for several decades between the two countries.

In February, the royal family of the tiny Alpine state lost a court case after a Czech court ruled that the property was seized legally by then-Czechoslovakia and that the Liechtenstein prince had no legal claim to it.

A German micro-state of only 160 square kilometers and less than 40,000 citizens lodged between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein was part of the German Confederation during the greater part of the 19th century, before becoming fully independent in 1866. The principality remained neutral during World War II.

“With other neutral states, such as Switzerland, the Czech Republic has been ready in the past decades to negotiate bilateral solutions on similar property issues”, Liechtenstein authorities argued in last week’s statement. “However, there were never any discussions with Liechtenstein about the outstanding property law issues. The refusal is at the expense of the legal successors of all 29 Liechtenstein citizens who have been legally deprived of property and refused compensation in what is now the Czech Republic”.

Due to the dispute, the two countries only established official diplomatic relations in 2009. At that time, both sides pledged to set up a joint commission of historians to examine the divisive issue and “look calmly at these past questions”. “We are not closing a chapter of our joint past, we are opening an important chapter for the future”, Liechtenstein’s Foreign Minister Aurelia Frick optimistically declared more than ten years ago.

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