On the Agenda
As Austrian President, Heinz Fischer, expressed in his letter to the organization of the resettled Danube Swabian Working Group, the Austrian Government is pressuring Croatia to compensate "Danube Swabians," who had been expropriated and resettled after the Second World War. "The issue of restitution" is being raised by the foreign minister "time and time again" explained the president. It will "remain an important issue on the bilateral agenda" in the future. Furthermore, Austria is demanding "an indiscriminate procedure" in the question of compensation and restitution, which refers to the fact that it is prohibited under EU law, to discriminate against foreigners. Since Zagreb overturned the Yugoslav government's expropriations of Croatian citizens, according to Vienna, it must now do the same for Austrian citizens, who at the time were living on today's Croatian territory. This has been confirmed by a decision handed down in February 2009 by the Croat Superior Administrative Court, according to the Austrian government.
The Austrian demand of an alleged "non-discrimination" is, in effect, including numerous Nazi profiteers and collaborators. Like the Beneš Decrees of Czechoslovakia, the laws of the Yugoslav Anti-fascist Council for the Popular Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOY), regulating the resettlement of the ethnic Germans ("Danube Swabians") from the re-established Yugoslavia, were limited to the expropriation and resettlement of former profiteers of the German occupation. Numerous members of the "Prinz Eugen" SS Division, responsible for serious war crimes, including those committed against the Yugoslav liberation fighters, had been among the Nazi-enthused German language minority in Yugoslavia, who had been expropriated and resettled. Equal treatment of the resettled "Danube Swabians" and the Croatian citizens would be tantamount to a rehabilitation of Nazi culprits and profiteers of the Nazi occupation, and would signify a revision of the post-war anti-Nazi order.
In the Last Minute
But an accord had already been reached four years ago providing for restitution or rather compensation for resettled "Danube Swabians." In late 2005, the governments of Austria and Croatia agreed on an accord providing for the equal treatment of the resettled with the Croatian citizens in the questions of restitution - without even checking whether they were among the profiteers of the Nazi occupation. Ratification of this accord was stopped in the last minute by the Croatian parliament, after it had already been passed by the Croatian president and all Austrian instances. "As far as Austria is concerned," explained President Fischer fours years after refusal by the parliament, "the contents of the signed treaty should take complete effect."
A Veto, if Necessary
At the time the signed treaty was first up for the ratification vote in the fall of 2005, experts were already calculating the scope of the pending restitutions and compensations. According to their calculations, it would be a matter of nearly 20,500 pieces of real estate, approx. 25,000 houses and 20,000 commercial buildings. According to these experts, the "Danube Swabians" must also be compensated for their loss of 50,000 head of livestock and 70,000 machines. The "Danube Swabian Working Group" in Austria is hoping to be able to achieve the necessary pressure through Croatian demands to join the EU. "If necessary Austria should also threaten to veto Croatia's joining the European Union" declared the chairman of the "Working Group."
Austria is seeking to achieve a similar restitution law with Serbia, from where numerous "Danube Swabians" had also been resettled after the Second World War. According to the president's letter to the "Danube Swabian Working Group," the resolution, which has already been transmitted to Belgrade, "has reached a deadlock, due to domestic policy discrepancies." In spite of this, Vienna will lend its support to "bi-lateral efforts to get the bill passed" and sees "good opportunities" in light of Serbia's inevitable cooperation with the EU. Fischer wrote that "it is to be hoped that on this issue, in the near future, concrete developments can be achieved."
The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" in a recent issue reported with great interest from Munich on the developments on the restitution issue. It is taken for granted that through a restitution treaty with Croatia, the restitution demands of "Sudeten Germans" to the Czech Republic will gain new impetus. The development in Zagreb is considered a precedent. Compensation demands to Poland will also benefit from a treaty with Croatia. In 2005, State Secretary in the German Foreign Ministry, Georg Boomgarden made known that "the German government had informed the Croatian government of the German citizens' compensation interests." Berlin has never thwarted similar demands to the Czech Republic or Poland by resettled Germans. Whereas Vienna is actively promoting these restitution demands, Berlin seems to be cautiously lying in wait - for the right moment to intervene, when the situation allows.