Beneš decrees
Decrees of the President of the Republic , more commonly known as the Beneš decrees, were a series of law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

s that were drafted by the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile
Czechoslovak government-in-exile
The Czechoslovak government-in-exile was an informal title conferred upon the Czechoslovak National Liberation Committee, initially by British diplomatic recognition. The name came to be used by other World War II Allies as they subsequently recognized it...

 in the absence of the Czechoslovak parliament during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia
German occupation of Czechoslovakia
German occupation of Czechoslovakia began with the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's pretext for this effort was the alleged privations suffered by...

 in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and issued by President Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš was a leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the second President of Czechoslovakia. He was known to be a skilled diplomat.- Youth :...


The historical significance of the decrees, currently the subject of debate are best known for the parts that dealt with the status of ethnic Germans and Hungarians in postwar Czechoslovakia. Some historians believe that they laid the ground for the forced deportation
Deportation means the expulsion of a person or group of people from a place or country. Today it often refers to the expulsion of foreign nationals whereas the expulsion of nationals is called banishment, exile, or penal transportation...

 of approximately three million Germans
Expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia
The expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II was part of a series of evacuations and expulsions of Germans from Central and Eastern Europe during and after World War II....

 and Hungarians
Hungarians in Slovakia
Hungarians in Slovakia are the largest ethnic minority of the country, numbering 520,528 people or 9.7% of population . They are concentrated mostly in the southern part of the country, near the border with Hungary...

 from lands held by their ancestors for centuries.


The decrees were issued by President Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš was a leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the second President of Czechoslovakia. He was known to be a skilled diplomat.- Youth :...

. The decrees can be divided into three parts:
  1. 1940–1944
    These decrees were issued during the government's London
    London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

     exile. They were mainly related to the creation of a Czechoslovak exile government (including its army) and its organization.
  2. 1943–1945
    Issued in exile. The main theme was the transition of control of the liberated area of Czechoslovakia from Allied armies and the organization of a post-war Czechoslovak government.
  3. 1945 (ending October 26)
    A new post-war government was created in Košice
    Košice is a city in eastern Slovakia. It is situated on the river Hornád at the eastern reaches of the Slovak Ore Mountains, near the border with Hungary...

    , Slovakia, consisting of parties united in the National Front
    National Front (Czechoslovakia)
    The National Front was the coalition of parties which headed the re-established Czechoslovakian government from 1945 to 1948. During the Communist era in Czechoslovakia it was the vehicle for control of all political and social activity by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia...

    , with a strong influence of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
    Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
    The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in Czech and in Slovak: Komunistická strana Československa was a Communist and Marxist-Leninist political party in Czechoslovakia that existed between 1921 and 1992....

    . As a new parliament had not been organized, the will of the government was implemented by decrees of president. Beneš signed decrees created by the executive government. The decrees included controversial laws connected with the nationalisation without compensation of businesses with more than 500 employees, and confiscation of property of ethnic Germans
    The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

     and Hungarians.

All of the decrees were retroactively ratified by the Provisional National Assembly on March 5, 1946 by constitutional act No. 57/1946 Sb.

List of decrees related to the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians

  • Decree of the President of the Republic of May 19, 1945 concerning the invalidity of some transactions involving property rights from the time of lack of freedom and concerning the National Administration of property assets of Germans, Hungarians, traitors and collaborators and of certain organizations and associations
  • Decree of the President of the Republic on June 21, 1945 concerning the confiscation and expedited allotment of agricultural property of Germans, Hungarians, as well as traitors and enemies of the Czech and Slovak nation
  • Decree of the President of the Republic of July 17, 1945 concerning unified management of domestic settlement
  • Decree of the President of the Republic of July 20, 1945 concerning the settlement of Czech, Slovak or other Slavic farmers on the agricultural land of Germans, Hungarians and other enemies of the state
  • Constitutional decree of the President of the Republic on August 2, 1945 concerning modification of Czechoslovak citizenship of persons of German and Hungarian ethnicity
  • Decree of the President of the Republic on October 25, 1945 concerning confiscation of enemy property and concerning Funds of national recovery

Deportation of Germans and Hungarians after World War II

The Beneš decrees are most often associated with the deportation
Deportation means the expulsion of a person or group of people from a place or country. Today it often refers to the expulsion of foreign nationals whereas the expulsion of nationals is called banishment, exile, or penal transportation...

 in 1945-47 of about 3 million ethnic Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia. Although the decrees do not directly refer to the planned deportation, they laid the ground for it.

Among the four Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

, the Soviet Union urged their British and US allies to agree to the expulsions of ethnic German citizens and of allegedly German-speaking Poles, Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Yugoslavs and Romanians into their zones of occupation. France was no party to the Potsdam Agreement and never accepted exiles arriving after July 1945 into its Zone of Occupation.

In the Potsdam Agreement, the other three Allies agreed that they would accept the exiled persons, expelled from a number of eastern Central European countries, in their zones of occupation in Germany.

Some Germans had supported the Nazis, through the Sudeten German Party – a political party led by Konrad Henlein
Konrad Henlein
Konrad Ernst Eduard Henlein was a leading pro-Nazi ethnic German politician in Czechoslovakia and leader of Sudeten German separatists...

 – and the Third Reich
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

's annexation of the German-populated Czech borderland in 1938. Almost every decree explicitly stated that the sanctions did not apply to anti-fascists, though the term anti-fascist was not explicitly defined. Some 250,000 Germans, some anti-fascists and others judged people crucial for industries, remained in Czechoslovakia. Many of the anti-fascists of German native language emigrated under a special agreement stipulated by Alois Ullmann.

Revocation of Decree No. 33/1945

On April 13, 1948, the Czechoslovak government issued decree No. 76/1948 allowing those Germans and Hungarians still living in Czechoslovakia, to reinstate Czechoslovak citizenship that had been revoked by decree No. 33/1945. The Slovakian Commissioner of the Interior also revoked the latter decree by issuing decree No. 287/1948.

Status today

With two exceptions, 89 of the Beneš decrees, edicts, laws and statutes, along with extensive pages of instruction for their enforcement, are kept valid by their continued existence in the statutes of the Czech Republic (1993) and the Slovak Republic (1993). These two successor states of the restored Czechoslovakia remain unwilling to revoke the edicts and laws so as not to contradict the results of World War II.

Impact on today's political relations

Since the decrees have not been repealed, they have affected the political relations between the Czech Republic
Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest....

 and Slovak Republic
The Slovak Republic is a landlocked state in Central Europe. It has a population of over five million and an area of about . Slovakia is bordered by the Czech Republic and Austria to the west, Poland to the north, Ukraine to the east and Hungary to the south...

 and their neighbours Austria, Germany and Hungary.

Those expellees organised within the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft
Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft
The Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft is an organization representing Sudeten German refugees from the Sudetenland. Most of them fled to West Germany from Czechoslovakia during the Expulsion of Germans after World War II....

 (part of the Federation of Expellees
Federation of Expellees
The Federation of Expellees or Bund der Vertriebenen is a non-profit organization formed to represent the interests of Germans who either fled their homes in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, or were expelled following World War II....

) and associated political groups call for the abolition of the Beneš decrees as based on the principle of collective guilt
Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that...

. European and international courts have refused to rule on cases concerning the decrees, as most international treaties on human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 took effect after 1945/46.

On 28 December 1989, Václav Havel
Václav Havel
Václav Havel is a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician. He was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic . He has written over twenty plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally...

, at that time a candidate for President of Czechoslovakia (he was elected one day later), suggested that Czechoslovakia should apologize for the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians after World War II. In March 1990, President Havel stated that the expulsions were "the mistakes and sins of our fathers" and apologized for massacres of Germans during the expulsion on behalf of his people. He also suggested that former inhabitants of the Sudetenland might apply for Czech nationality to reclaim their lost properties. However, the Czech government never followed through on Havel's suggestion. The governments of Germany and the Czech Republic signed a declaration of mutual apology for wartime misdeeds in 1997.

In the early 2000s, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
Viktor Orbán
Viktor Orbán is a Hungarian populist and conservative politician and current Prime Minister of Hungary...

, the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel
Wolfgang Schüssel
Wolfgang Schüssel is an Austrian People's Party politician. He was Chancellor of Austria for two consecutive terms from February 2000 to January 2007...

 and the Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber
Edmund Stoiber
Edmund Rüdiger Stoiber is a German politician, former minister-president of the state of Bavaria and former chairman of the Christian Social Union...

 have demanded that the Beneš decrees be repealed, as a precondition for the entry of both countries into the European Union. Hungarian Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy
Péter Medgyessy
Péter Medgyessy is a Hungarian politician and was the fifth Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary from May 27, 2002 until September 29, 2004...

 eventually decided not to push the issue further.

In current terms, the expulsions are also described as "ethnic cleansing
Ethnic cleansing
Ethnic cleansing is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic orreligious group from certain geographic areas....

" (a term that entered usage in the early 1990s, referring to forced deportation/"population transfers"), as well as a crime against humanity
Crime against humanity
Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, "are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings...

 and a genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 by some scholars; for instance Felix Ermacora
Felix Ermacora
Felix Ermacora was the leading human rights expert of Austria and a member of the Austrian People's Party...

 concluded in an expert report commissioned by the Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

n government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

 in 1991 that the expulsion constituted a genocide and crime against humanity.

In 1993, Theo Waigel (chairman of the CSU
Christian Social Union of Bavaria
The Christian Social Union in Bavaria is a Christian democratic and conservative political party in Germany. It operates only in the state of Bavaria, while its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union , operates in the other 15 states of Germany...

 and Federal Minister), suggested that the Czechs were hypocrites for condemning ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia while not condemning the Beneš decrees.

Former Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman
Miloš Zeman
Miloš Zeman is a well-known Czech politician. He was a member and leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party, former speaker of the chamber of deputies from 1996 until 1998, and the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic from 1998 until 2002. He was a frequent rival of Václav Klaus...

 insists that the Czechs would not consider repealing the decrees because of an underlying fear that doing so would open the door to demands for restitution. According to Time Magazine, former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan
Jan Kavan
Jan Kavan is a Czech diplomat and politician.-Biography:Kavan was born in London, the son of a Czech diplomat, Pavel Kavan, and a British teacher, Rosemary Kavan. His father was arrested and tried in a Czech show trial in the 1950s; his mother later wrote a memoir, Love and Freedom.He is a member...

 argued, "Why should we single out the Beneš Decrees?... They belong to the past and should stay in the past. Many current members of the E.U. had similar laws."

On 20 September 2007, the Slovak parliament adopted a resolution proposed by Ján Slota
Ján Slota
Ján Slota is the co-founder and President of the Slovak National Party, an extremist nationalist party. Slota as the leader of SNS entered into a coalition with Robert Fico's Smer in 2006...

, the chairman of the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party, that confirmed the decrees. All ethnically Slovak members voted for the decision; only Hungarian minority leaders voted against it. This prompted a strong negative reaction in Hungary, and Hungarian President László Sólyom
László Sólyom
László Sólyom is a Hungarian political figure, lawyer, and librarian who was President of Hungary from 2005 to 2010. Previously he was President of the Constitutional Court of Hungary from 1990 to 1998....

 stated that it would put a strain on Hungarian-Slovak relations. Due to the decrees and postwar confiscation of property from the Prince of Liechtenstein, Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over , and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan...

 state did not recognise
Foreign relations of Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein's foreign economic policy has been dominated by its customs union with Switzerland . This union also led to its independent membership in the European Free Trade Association in 1991...

 Slovakia until 9 December 2009.

In 2009, the right-wing and eurosceptic
Euroscepticism is a general term used to describe criticism of the European Union , and opposition to the process of European integration, existing throughout the political spectrum. Traditionally, the main source of euroscepticism has been the notion that integration weakens the nation state...

 Czech President Václav Klaus
Václav Klaus
Václav Klaus is the second President of the Czech Republic and a former Prime Minister .An economist, he is co-founder of the Civic Democratic Party, the Czech Republic's largest center-right political party. Klaus is a eurosceptic, but he reluctantly endorsed the Lisbon treaty as president of...

 demanded an opt-out of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union enshrines certain political, social, and economic rights for European Union citizens and residents, into EU law. It was drafted by the European Convention and solemnly proclaimed on 7 December 2000 by the European Parliament, the Council of...

, as he feared the Charter would render the Beneš decrees illegal.

External links

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