The Czech-German or German-Czech relationship acquired its dramatic, sometimes almost excruciating character only in the fairly recent past, that is, during the last two centuries, when the national dimension began to carry an increasing weight in it. This modern experience has often concealed or overshadowed the much longer experience of our earlier history, which was characterized by a special type of creative coexistence of Czechs and Germans within one state.
Of course, that coexistence wasn’t always idyllic or easy, even back then, but the various confrontations that were later described as purely national ones didn’t really revolve around the issue of national affiliation. Those disputes were about religion, ideas or ideologies, power, social welfare or other matters, and while factors such as where people came from, or which language they spoke, sometimes played a role as well, differing national sentiments as we understand them today were not the driving force of the confrontations back then. For centuries, the two elements, and also the Jewish element, mingled here with each other in a variety of ways, inspiring and influencing one another; we can even say that they lived together in a kind of symbiosis. Their various encounters never posed a threat to this coexistence, nor did they augur its end; on the contrary, they helped shape its history and more than once had a stimulating effect on the political and cultural accomplishments of the entire population of our country. In reality, this specific community was the actual subject of Czech history, although the Czechs always made up the majority of the country's population. For that matter, the international status of the Kingdom of Bohemia differed for a long time from the status that would be accorded to a national state today: it was always a special, influential entity within a universalistic Holy Roman Empire, and the weight of that entity was not determined by the size of the people that formed the majority of its population but by completely different historical factors. Its multicultural character, to put it in present-day language, undoubtedly played a role among the latter; the prominent position held by the Kings of Bohemia among the Electors who chose the Emperors clearly attests to that.
The unique story of the nearly 2,000-year coexistence of Czechs and Germans in our country – although it became increasingly complicated in the last two centuries and ultimately came to an end – remains an integral part of our history, and thus also of our present identity as citizens of the Czech Republic, and is a value we must not forget. We must not forget it, among other reasons, because it is, if we allow ourselves a bit of overstatement, a very modern value that can also serve as an example as we build a new Czech-German relationship now.
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Those who were once expelled or transferred from our country, as well as their descendants, are now welcome here, just as all Germans are welcome here. They are welcome as guests who esteem the land where generations of their forefathers once lived, who tend to sites to which they feel bound and work together with our citizens as friends. Perhaps we are no longer far removed from the day when Czechs and Germans – after they have come together in the open, border-free territory of the European Union – will be free to settle anywhere in its territory and take part in building up their chosen homeland. A good relationship between nations, and thus also our reconciliation, can only emerge from the cooperation of free citizens who resist the temptation to rally under collectivist banners and conjure up the spirits of tribal feuds in the shadows thereof.