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Moscow and Prague sued for post-WW2 nationalization

3. 7. 2008 16:15
Russian embassy estate claimed by owner´s daughter

Prague - This is yet another example of how history can be unfair and merciless with a slight prospect of justice in sight.

Lisbeth Popper, a daughter of a successful Czech banker Jiří Popper in pre-war Czechoslovakia, is asking for restitution of a house and property her family used to own before World War II.  

Former Poppers´ real estate in Bubeneč in Prague 6 is currently occupied by the embassy of the Russian Federation, which is actually the sole owner.

For that Ms. Popper sues the Czech and Russian states.  

Ms. Popper estimated the property at CZK 1 billion (EUR 42 million). If her claim is upheld by the court, the Czech government will have to pay the estimated value of CZK 1 billion to Lisbeth Popper and Russia will have to return the entire real estate to her.

The Popper family had owned the house and the surrounding land since 1927 but the war treated the family unfairly.

First Nazis, than Soviets

The Jewish family had its property confiscated by Nazi authorities on 16 March 1939, a day after Czechoslovakia was invaded by Hitler's Germany.

The property eventually became a main seat of the Nazi secret police - Gestapo. 

After the Second World War ended, the family claimed the property back. However, based on one of his decrees, then Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš decided to grant the real estate to the Soviet Union.

"Abuse of power"

"Edvard Beneš acted just as the German state police did - there is no difference in their property seizure practices. In both cases it was illegal and clearly abuse of power. It is all the more surprising when you consider that Beneš acted in the time of freedom," argues the text of the official charge against the Czech and Russian states, which Aktuálně.cz has available.

Read more: Baťa to demand compensation for lost family property

Irena Benešová, the Popper family´s lawyer, sees Beneš's decision against the law.

"President Beneš's decree appears to be more of a criminal than political act," argues Benešová, adding that there was no legal regulation enforced later on that would compensate Jiří Popper for the damage.

Read more: Count Kinský fails to get his case solved by EU Court

Beneš´s decision to grant Popper´s property to the Soviet Union is even more puzzling, for Beneš knew Popper in person. As the president was leaving the country occupied by Nazis in 1938, Popper was accompanying him.

KGB involved?

Besides, Beneš was allegedly well aware of Popper surviving the Nazi persecution. In spite of this, he decided to give away Popper´s property.

"We may see a link between Beneš´s decision and an allegation recently produced by media about possible cooperation between Edvard Beneš and [secret state police] KGB," states Popper´s charge.

According to available documents, Beneš gave the real estate to the Soviet Union as a gift for liberation of Czechoslovakia, having promised a respective regulation would compensate the Popper family. 

Benešová argues that the decree did take into account possible compensation. But with the unexpected Communist coup in 1948, no such compensation ever took place.

Restitution laws inapplicable

Shortly after the end of WWII, Jews that had their property confiscated by Nazis were allowed to claim it back.

"With Beneš's decision to declare Popper´s real estate state property, no restitution law can be applied in this case. No restitution law on earth would ever say President acted out of political persecution or violated human rights, which it is actually what it was. Because he gave away property he did not own. Beneš simply wanted to please the Soviets," explains Benešová.

Jiří Popper´s descendents failed to get their property back even after the Communist regime fell in 1989. They appealed to Czech Finance Ministry which rejected their restitution claim arguing it was state property.

autor: Kateřina Eliášová | 3. 7. 2008 16:15

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