Annual Conference of the Czech-German Discussion Forum: The Czech-German Neighborhood: A Culture of Remembrance for the Future

November 22, 2014, Litoměřice Castle

The annual Czech-German Discussion Forum conference was held in Litoměřice on Saturday, November 22, 2014, this time with the title of “The Czech-German Neighborhood: A Culture of Remembrance for the Future.” Politicians, writers, experts, representatives of civic society and other invited guests considered different, up-to-date nuances of the historical memory, something which has extraordinary significance in relations between Czechs and Germans even now. The conference culminated in a Sunday gathering at the Terezín Memorial, with the issue of peeling away the politically-applied layers from recollections following the fall of communism also featuring significantly.

The chairmen of the Council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum – former senator Luděk Sefzig and Federal Minister Christian Schmidt – praised the condition of Czech-German relations: mutual trust had grown and Czechs and Germans had overcome differences in their view of the past and reached a situation in which they could understand each other as partners. The chairmen of the Council agreed that the events of 1989, thousands of East-German refugees at the German embassy in Prague and the Velvet Revolution are key events in relation to the two societies and must necessarily be part of common recollections aimed at the future.   

Among other, it emerged from the debate that there are still certain taboos between Czechs and Germans, certain points of friction. Stereotypes and selective memory naturally hinder perceptions of the past, meaning that the approach to this must be common and open.

However, delegates did not talk of the past as if talking about a dead process, a process having come to an end, but as something that can still be touched. There was even a theory that the past and the experiences we bring with us condition the present and the future. Representatives of civic initiatives that are trying to revitalize areas formerly inhabited by Germans, perhaps by restoring religious monuments, also spoke at the conference. Miroslav Pröller, representing the Small Monuments of North Bohemia civic initiative, thinks it important for the locals to consider such monuments as their own. Jan Školník, meanwhile, organizes a range of cultural events at the Broumov Monastery Education and Culture Centre. “We organized a major exhibition this year “Play Broumovsko” which we staged in an old factory over some 4,500 square meters and which attracted around 35 thousand visitors to Broumov, mostly from schools,” he said. 

Those involved in the discussions mentioned the Czech-German Declaration of 1997 on more than one occasion, something that in large part contributed towards the excellent relations that now exist between the countries. A number of panelists are of the opinion that it is clear from the unstable relations on the Old Continent right now that cooperation between the Czech Republic and Germany must be built on European foundations. “We have managed to build the foundations for recollections of the past. Now we have to think about how we will promote common interests in Europe more effectively,” said the German chairman of the Council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum, Federal Minister Christian Schmidt. Former President of the Senate of the Czech Republic Petr Pithart, former State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and negotiator of the Czech-German Declaration Peter Hartmann and former Deputy Prime Minister and main negotiator of the Czech-German Declaration for the Czech Republic Alexandr Vondra all spoke about aspects of the European future of Czechs and Germans. Among other, Mr Pithart said that the main concerns among Europeans were now moving eastwards, towards Russia.

“I am pleased that this important conference was held in Litoměřice and Terezín at my instigation. Not forgetting places that hold painful common memories allows us to overcome the traumas of the past and be better partners for what is a complicated present,” continued Alexandr Vondra, member of the Council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum on the choice of the host city.

Czech Chairman of the Council of the Czech-German Discussion Forum Luděk Sefzig brought the conference to a close with the following words, which referred to heightened international tension: “It is important to deal with bilateral problems between Czechs and Germans. It was also clear from the discussions, however, that we no longer have much time at a multinational level. This is why we rush. We may have to deal with far bigger problems.”

In light of the security situation in Europe at present, in particular considering the conflict in Ukraine, both chairmen agreed on a bilateral meeting on the subject in the spring, to be attended by high-ranking politicians, experts and the media.

The annual Czech-German Discussion Forum conference was prepared by the Forum 2000 Foundation and the Czech-German Fund for the Future as part of long-term cooperation projects in support of Czech-German relations.