A Czech town is preparing to take on the country’s government to stop part of its district being handed over to Poland as part of a settlement intended to end a border dispute dating back to the 1950s.
The small town of Horni Vitkov, which lies just a stone’s throw from the Polish border, could lose 52 hectares of its forests if the plan to shrink the Czech Republic goes ahead.
Back in 1958 during the communist era, and under pressure from the Soviet Union, the border between Poland and the then Czechoslovak state was straightened to make it easier to guard. Cartographers ironed out awkward-to-patrol zigzagged areas of the frontier but in doing so they cut off around 368 Polish hectares.
Poland, which refused financial compensation, had been pressing for the land to be returned, and the Czech Republic has now agreed, earmarking pockets of territory along its 490 mile border with its northern neighbour that could be given back.
One of these pockets is found in tree-decked hills near Horni Vitkov.
“I can’t really agree to something like this. I do not understand why Vitkov is on the list,” wrote local mayor Michael Canov in an open letter to the Czech interior ministry. “At least since the 11th century this has been part of the Czech lands and now they want to hand it over to Poland. Never.”
All the land intended for Polish hands is uninhabited and owned by the state but while much of it is forested some has been rented out by local governments to farmers, and some has been earmarked for development.
This has prompted complaints from local authorities that they could lose revenue from lost rent and taxes, and in some cases they have wasted money installing amenities such as water and sewerage on land that could soon become part of Poland. Along with the emotional attachment to the land this has galvanised opposition to the national government’s plans.
Mr Canov has rallied local opposition to the plan, and fired off letters to the Czech government and parliament in the hope Vitkov will be spared.
He also claims to have the law on his side.
“I found an agreement between the Czech and Slovak republics and Poland on mutual relations from 1992 that says all territorial disputes are settled,” he said. “So we have an unprecedented scandal in which you have the state trying to get rid of its own land without any legal basis.”
He argues the 1992 agreement between the three states takes precedence over any subsequent agreement between Poland and the Czech Republic.