Property Restitution

Ladislav Kahoun interviews the ruling Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein who demands that his family's former property in what is now the Czech Republic is returned to him.

Ladislav Kahoun: It is generally known in the Czech Republic that your family’s property was confis-cated after WWII on the basis of the President Benes’ decrees. It is less known that after the annexation of Austria by Hitler’s Germany your father moved from Vienna to Vaduz and it is practically unknown that, at least according to your suit filed in the International Court on 30 May 2001, during WWII Liechtenstein similarly to Switzer-land was a neutral country and your neutrality was accepted by all the fighting parties, i.e. even the Nazi Germany. Could you please comment on this and specify what facts or documents prove that the neutrality of your state was accepted by Hitler’s Germany?

Prince Hans-Adam II: The Principality of Liechtenstein declared its neutrality during World War I and World War II. In both cases the neutrality was respected by all the states involved in World War I and World War II. The proof that the neutrality was respected by all states in World War I and World War II was the fact that none of those states declared war against Liechtenstein or that Liechtenstein was occupied militarily dur-ing those wars.

Ladislav Kahoun: A piece of information that in the end of WWII several thousand Cossacks fighting on the side of the Germans escaped to Liechtenstein appeared recently in a discussion on the Neviditelny pes server. The allies then allegedly entered your country and handed them over to the Soviet Union. Did the allies violate your neutrality at that time?

Prince Hans-Adam II: The allies did not violate our neutrality at the end of World War II. The Russian troops fighting on the side of the Germans against the communists were disarmed when they crossed the border into Liechtenstein. Despite strong pres-sure from the Soviet Union Liechtenstein refused to hand over those people against their will and accepted them as refugees according to international law. Those who wanted to return were either executed or sent to the Gulag by the Soviet authorities. As far as I know Liechtenstein was the only country who refused to hand over Russian troops fighting on the German side to the Soviet authorities against their will.

Ladislav Kahoun: The information saying that Liechtenstein supported the Czech resistance (more exactly the Czech exile government) during WWII also appeared in the discussion. The information was not specified. If this is really true, could you please provide any details about it?

Prince Hans-Adam II: The Principality of Liechtenstein was one of the few European states which did not recognize the Munich Treaty and later the occupation of Czecho-slovakia by the Third Reich. We recognized the Czechoslovakian exile government as the legal government throughout World War II. I have been told that we have also sup-ported the Czechoslovakian exile government financially but no records have been kept on this, at least to my knowledge.

Ladislav Kahoun: Another information that appeared in the discussion says that on 21 November 1945 a Bratislava administrative court turned down the complaint of your father stating that the sued body had reached the conclusion that the petitioner is „of German nationality“ by §1 of article 1 of letter a) of the decree. This happened prior to stating that this had been a generally known fact. The reaction of those participating in the discussion on this sort of the justification of the verdict indicated that nowadays many people in the current Czech Republic would consider such a justification of the verdict at least absurd. Did the event described really take place and did the Bratislava court mention the argument contained in its verdict? If this was the case, what do you think about it?

Prince Hans-Adam II: Yes, the Bratislava court decided that the Prince of Liechten-stein is of German nationality and that this is a fact of common knowledge which has not to be proved anymore. Unfortunately, the authorities in the Czeck and the Slovak Republic still maintain this absurd justification of the verdict and refuse to recognize the Principality of Liechtenstein as a sovereign state which has been neutral in World War I and II.

Ladislav Kahoun: According to the information published by CIA on http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/print/ls.html , your royal dynasty claims the property rights to pieces of land confiscated in the Czech Republic after 1918, i.e. after WWI. According to a BBC article published on http://www.bbc.co.uk/czech/domesticnews/story/2003/10/031014_cz_lichtenstejn.shtml, you demand no property but financial compensation amounting to 1 billion francs for the property confiscated not after WWI but on the basis of President Benes’ decrees after WWII. So, could you please make clear what kind of property and/or compensa-tion your family requires in the Czech Republic?

Prince Hans-Adam II: This BBC article contains a lot of nonsense. I have always said that the compensation would be a financial burden to the Czech Republic which does not make any sense. In fact from a pure economical sense it would be very advan-tageous for the Czech Republic to give us our properties back. We are not only willing but also able to invest a substantial amount of money into those properties and into the historical buildings which are associated with those properties. In fact a restitution would put quite a financial burden on my family because forest and agricultural land is not very profitable anymore and the same has to be said about his-torical buildings, especially in the countryside.

Ladislav Kahoun: According to the above-mentioned article, published by the BBC Czech service, this means that each Czech citizen would have to pay CZK 2,000 if the claims concerning your financial compensation should be met. WWII took place nearly sixty years ago and most Czech citizens remember neither the war nor the confiscation based on President Benes’ decrees. And needless to say, they have not participated in confiscating the property. Do you con-sider it just that the current Czech citizens should settle such a huge amount of money even though they participated in no way on the events you base your claim on?

Prince Hans-Adam II: This question has already been answered by the answer to question 5.

Ladislav Kahoun: Speaking about your claims toward the Czech Republic, what is your attitude toward the EU principle that its legal system is not retroactive?

Prince Hans-Adam II: To answer this question you have to send me exactly what the EU has said concerning the EU principle that its legal system is not retroactive.

Ladislav Kahoun: After 1918, all of the property of the Habsburg dynasty was confiscated within the bor-ders of the then Czechoslovakia. However, no descendant of the dynasty has so far made any restitution claims. Do you admit that the Habsburgs accept moral justifica-tion of the confiscation or do you think that they acted so only because of the pressure of the Versaille and Postupim conference?

Prince Hans-Adam II: I cannot speak for the Habsburg family. You have to ask them what their position is.

Ladislav Kahoun: To what degree does your family feels spiritually akin to the Habsburg dynasty? Do you know that in the Czech and Moravian awareness you were always considered the house closest to the Habsburg dynasty?

Prince Hans-Adam II: My grandmother was a sister of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was killed in Sarajevo. This is perhaps the reason why in the Czech and Moravian awareness the Liechtenstein house is considered the closest to the Habsburg dynasty. Historically one has to say that the Liechtenstein family became a foreign dynasty with the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, as it was the case with the Bavarian, Würt-temberg and other dynasties who before had been part of the Holy Roman Empire and were therefore quite close to the Habsburg dynasty. A number of those foreign dynas-ties kept properties in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire after 1806 as the Liechtensteins did. They were also very often closer related to the Habsburg dynasty through mar-riage, just think about Empress Sissi, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph II.

Ladislav Kahoun: According to my information, your family owned 99 estates in Moravia and Silesia. Could you please name for our readers at least the most important of them?

Prince Hans-Adam II: The most important ones for the family were Feldsberg and Eisgrub which were more or less the official seat for the family from the 15th century on.

Ladislav Kahoun: As far as I know, so far you have not visited the Czech Republic so that you have seen none of your estates in person. However, I suppose you know them at least from pic-tures and photographs. If you were allowed to choose only one of them, which one would it be? Which one do you personally favor?

Prince Hans-Adam II: I visited most of our estates in the Czech Republic as a private person together with my family. Of course, I would choose Feldsberg and Eisgrub for historical reasons.

Ladislav Kahoun: If all your estates in Moravia are returned to you, will your family struggle for their sovereignty to be accepted and if this will be the case, can you imagine that the estates could work as a state with regards to the fact that they do not compose a continuous piece of land?

Prince Hans-Adam II: All our estates in Moravia were private estates, not only when they were part of Czechoslovakia but also before, when they were part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. We own property also in Austria and in other states and we would never think of to declare them sovereign and a part of the Principality of Liechtenstein. I do not know where this rather stupid idea originated from, but probably from some communist propaganda expert who never understood the nature of private property in a market economy. If President Bush or the Queen of England buy a farm in the Czech Republic, this farm does not become part of the United States or the United Kingdom.

Ladislav Kahoun: The first of your ancestors in this country, Henry of Liechtenstein, won Mikulov estate in 1249 as a reward for his loyal services from a Moravian margrave, the later Czech king Premysl Otakar II. Does your family consider itself to be obliged only to a legal Czech king or would you be ready to subdue to the civil principle - i.e. accept obliga-tions toward the state within whose borders your property is situated, regardless the form of government? [In the way for instance Karel Schwarzenberg acted after November 1989]?

Prince Hans-Adam II: Of course, we respect the obligations toward the state within whose borders we have our properties. On the other hand a state has the obligation to respect basic human rights. Expropriation without compensation for instance violates one of those basic human rights.

Ladislav Kahoun: Among your ancestors was also Karel of Liechtenstein [1569 - 1627], who from our perspective had ill reputation due to his acting as an imperial governor after the Battle of White Mountain. Among other things, he sent 27 Czech lords to death and he also made fortune by participating in a consortium, which brought about the biggest cur-rency breakdown in the history of the Czech lands and the following complete impov-erishment of the whole country? What do you think about him? Would you be ready to agree with the opinion that these historical events were, say, „unfortunate“?

Prince Hans-Adam II: I know that Czech nationalists and communists have drawn a very one-sided picture about my ancestor Karel of Liechtenstein. When he became imperial governor after the Battle of White Mountain the Emperor ordered him to exe-cute a large number of rebels who had fought against the Emperor. My ancestor refused to execute all those people and postponed the execution for over a year and asked the Emperor to pardon all of them. The Emperor finally gave in but insisted that at least 27 persons had to be executed.

Concerning the currency those charges were brought forward nearly 30 years after Karel of Liechtenstein died and there is some indication that it was a court intrigue against his son Karel Eusebius. As far as I know the investigation at that time did not show any wrongdoing and the whole thing was settled by a rather small payment. The impoverishment of the whole country was the result of the Turkish Wars which lasted at least in Moravia until the beginning of the 17th century, and then the 30 Years War which followed immediately.

Ladislav Kahoun: Through EFTA, your country is along with Norway and Island a member of the Euro-pean Economic Area, but is not an EU member country. The Czechs have voted for membership in the EU but almost nobody here knew about the theoretical chance to become a member of the European Economic Area but not directly the EU. The EU referendum was accompanied with a simplifying governmental advertising campaign. I criticized it in one of my articles even though I voted in favour of the membership. Could you explain what you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the status of your country, Norway and Island, i.e. the membership in the EEA but not in the EU?

Prince Hans-Adam II: I have always been in favour of our membership in the EEA despite the fact that this membership was rejected by Switzerland in fall 1992 in a popular vote and despite the opposition of influential groups here in Liechtenstein against our membership in the EEA. Nevertheless, in a popular vote the Liechtenstein people accepted our membership in the EEA by quite a large majority. Basically the membership in the EEA gives us all the economic benefits of a membership in the EU without the high costs involved. Of course, without being a member in the EU we do not have a political influence on the future of the EU, but then being the smallest mem-ber in a EU with 25 or more members will never give us much political influence. Therefore, I think it is in the best interest of the Liechtenstein people to stay outside of the EU at least for the foreseeable future.

Ladislav Kahoun: When Liechtenstein refused to sign the EEA enlargement agreement in Luxembourg on October 14th, neither Norway nor Island signed to demonstrate solidarity. Accord-ing to the information from Czech media, the two countries changed opinion soon afterwards. This happened after a meeting of the Czech, Norwegian and Icelandic Foreign Ministers where Liechtenstein was not present. One of the Czech major TV stations marked this „negotiating about Liechtenstein without Liechtenstein“ which was an allusion to the Munich Dictate which we Czechs call „about us without us“. Why do you think Norway and Island participated in the meeting and changed their opinion?

Prince Hans-Adam II: When Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein did not sign the EEA enlargement agreement in Luxembourg on October 14 it was clear between us three that we would finally sign it. An important fact for Liechtenstein was that in the enlargement agreement there was a document which recognized the long-standing sov-ereignty of Liechtenstein and its neutrality during World War I and World War II. This was accepted by all the member states and all the candidates with the exception of the Czech and the Slovak Republic. The government of Norway and Iceland very kindly offered to make a last effort to convince the Czech and Slovak government to accept historical facts. Unfortunately, neither the Czech nor the Slovak government are able even today to accept historical facts about the existence of the Principality of Liechten-stein. There were no negotiations by the Norwegian and Icelandic foreign ministers about Liechtenstein without Liechtenstein.

Ladislav Kahoun: According to information from the Czech media, also your country decided to sign the treaty in the end. Can this mean that you are ready to give up your claims toward the Czech Republic? And if this is not the case, how will you push through your claims?

Prince Hans-Adam II: We can only hope that the Czech and Slovak government will finally accept historical facts and give up their rather childish position towards the Principality of Liechtenstein. If they would carefully analyze the whole situation they would soon find out that to give us back our properties is in the best interest of their own people as I mentioned before. They are free to visit our properties in Austria or elsewhere and to convince themselves that they are well run and profitable.

Ladislav Kahoun: The Czech Republic does not acknowledge the sovereignty of Liechtenstein. Does Liechtenstein acknowledges the sovereignty of the Czech Republic, i.e. the state of things after the disintegration of the then Czechoslovakia and if it does not, are you ready to acknowledge reciprocally the sovereignty of the Czech Republic if the Czech Republic acknowledges yours?

Prince Hans-Adam II: We never had a problem to recognize the Czech Republic as a sovereign state, just as we never had a problem to recognize Czechoslovakia as a sovereign state. Czechoslovakia recognized us as a sovereign state immediately after World War I when it became a sovereign state. Soon afterwards Czechoslovakia decided that it will not recognize Liechtenstein anymore as a sovereign state until again it changed its mind in 1938. 1945 Czechoslovakia again changed its mind and decided not to recognize the Principality of Liechtenstein as a sovereign state and now the Czech and Slovak Republic are only willing to recognize us as a sovereign state, that has been created only a few years ago. This denial of historical facts reminds me of those Germans who still deny today that the Third Reich killed millions of Jews. Luckily the Liechtenstein citizens were not killed but all their properties were taken away without any compensation.

Ladislav Kahoun: Your country has one of world’s most developed banking systems. However, the CIA web page http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/print/ls.html says that short-comings in your banking regulatory oversight have resulted in concerns about the use of the financial institutions for money laundering. What measures have you taken to prevent the effort to misuse your banking system?

Prince Hans-Adam II: Everybody who knows a little bit about criminal organizations and money laundering also knows that well over 90 % of the money laundering takes place where the criminal organization is active. The transfer of money across borders just adds risks and expenses for the criminal organization. Those money laundering activities which have an international dimension usually go through large financial centres like New York or London where it is much easier to hide under this huge daily volume of transactions some small transactions which are illegal. Having said that there are of course some money laundering cases which also affect small financial centres like Liechtenstein. We had in the past not enough qualified personnel to handle all those cases in a satisfactory way. A few years ago we decided to hire judges, attor-neys and police investigators who are qualified to investigate and to judge even the most complicated international money laundering cases. As those people were not available in Liechtenstein we hired them from Austria, Switzerland and Germany which of course was not always popular here in Liechtenstein or also abroad. The problem we see now is that, although we are able to do our homework, other countries who should cooperate with us on specific cases do not have enough qualified personnel to investigate those com-plicated international money laundering cases.

Besides hiring qualified personnel at great cost we also changed some laws in order to make it easier not only to investigate money laundering but also to convict the crimi-nals who have in nearly every case their residence abroad and not in Liechtenstein.

Ladislav Kahoun: At the moment, Liechtenstein is one of the richest countries. However, this had not always been case and according to some information, your father even had to sell part of the family jewellery. You are frequently considered a brilliant businessman and the current richness of your country is associated with your personal skills. Do you agree with this opinion?

Prince Hans-Adam II: My father did not sell part of the family jewellery but part of the art collection and some land which we owned mostly in Austria. He told me that I have to study economics in order to rebuild the family business, and I tried to do this as good as possible. I was very lucky and was helped by very qualified people.

When my father asked me to take over as Head of State 20 years ago Liechtenstein already had one of the highest per capita income in the world. I just followed his policy and when I will retire next year as Head of State and my eldest son will take over I think he will follow the same policy too.

Ladislav Kahoun: Since the beginning of WWII, your family has lived in a Vaduz chateau. According to the information published on http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,910554,00.html , you men-tioned the possibility of moving to Vienna provided Liechtenstein voters do not approve an increase of your jurisdiction which was rather extended already in the past (e.g. it incorporated the right to dissolve Parliament). Can it really be that you move from your Vaduz chateau to Vienna?

Prince Hans-Adam II: Who ever takes the time to compare the old constitution with the new one will see that the Reigning Prince gave up some powers in order to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. The problem was that some politicians and parties wanted to have this additional power for themselves and not for the people. In the popular vote only 16 % of the people followed this party line, 20 % wanted to stay with the old constitution which gives the Reigning Prince more rights, and 64 % voted in favour of our proposition.

The constitutional quarrels had gone on over ten years and we in the princely family had the opinion that they have become more and more a burden for the whole state. Therefore, we decided that if our proposition would be rejected we would again live abroad as it was the case before 1938 when we lived in Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Ladislav Kahoun: I myself come from a country with a strong republican feeling rooted even in the pre-Munich „First Republic“. Almost nobody in the Czech Republic wishes or can imagine a monarchy. Could you say what in your opinion are the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy against republic?

Prince Hans-Adam II: If you look at human history world-wide you see that through-out human history usually monarchies dominated as the form of government and not republics. There have been of course republican periods but they were usually shorter. As an historian one has to ask oneself of course why this is the case. Monarchies can apparently offer some advantages which republics cannot. Probably it has to do with the fact that a monarchy usually offers more political stability over longer periods of time and that the monarch has the tendency to think in generations and not about win-ning the next elections. I think the combination which we have here in Liechtenstein with a strong monarch, a direct democracy which goes further even than in Switzer-land and political decentralization which gives our communities a lot of autonomy could be a model for future monarchies. For a little bit less than a hundred years we have lived now in a republican age, which is not very long if you look at human history, and I think sooner or later monarchies will come back.

Ladislav Kahoun: An opinion in the above mentioned Internet discussion on the „Neviditelny pes“ server saying that if the Moravian pieces of land were returned to you and you declared them sovereign, the author of the opinion would immediately move to southern Moravia so that he could be your subject. It might have been an exaggeration, but still - do you want to send a word to the guy?

Prince Hans-Adam II: I can only say there are many people who would love to move to Liechtenstein, but unfortunately we are much too small to take them all.

Liechtenstein Prince Hans Adam II: I want my property back
26.2.2004