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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Karel Des Fours Walderode, Part II

When we last left off, our protagonist Dr. Walderode was a citizen and permanent resident of the newly created Czech Republic.  [For those keeping score, his family estate in Bohemia had, by this time, been situated at different times in six different countries, and controlled at various points by an empire, a fascist dictatorship, a communist dictatorship, and -- on 3 occasions -- a republic].

In 1992, having met all the conditions for restitution of property seized under the Benes Decrees, Walderode filed his claim for restitution of his family estate, parts of which were now owned by 4 Czech state agencies, one town, and several private companies.  And that, believe it not, was when things started to get really complicated. 

Walderode's petition for restitution was a political hot potato, and then-Prime Minister, now President Vaclav Klaus, who is notoriously against restitution claims under the Benes Decrees, decided to enter the fray.  He sent a "legal opinion" to the relevant agencies, stating that Walderode's claim was "legal" but "unacceptable."  Nevertheless, for a time Walderode was successful: the Czech Central Land Office granted his petition, and he took possession of his lands in September 1993.

But opponents of the restitution did not give up.  For two years they kept up the political pressure, and finally in November 1995 the Central Land Office annulled its previous decision and the petition was re-opened.  In February 1996, the Czech parliament passed what was popularly known as "Lex Walderode," amending the restitution law to require that claimants could demonstrate uninterrupted Czech citizenship from the time their property was seized under the Benes Decrees.  Because Walderode's citizenship was revoked by the Communists when he went into exile, he could no longer meet the conditions for restitution.  At age 92, Walderode lost his property again.

That year, he took his case to the UN Human Rights Committee; by the time it issued its opinion in his favor in 2001, he was already dead.  The Czech government did not re-open the case. 

Walderode's surviving spouse, Dr. Johanna Kammerlander, is a lawyer and has continued to fight for restitution of the estate.  In September 2008, the Czech Supreme Court found in her favor -- with regard to about a half acre of forest.  But the precedent set in that case is expected to lead to the return of much of the estate.  

We'll have to see what happens: the extraordinary story isn't finished yet.   

Mark Edwards

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