Kinsky wants residence in Palace - Nobleman outlines plans for 40 billion Kc of claimed assets.
By Kevin Livingston
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
(July 17, 2003)
Franz Ulrich Kinsky's efforts to get his property back started in 1975.
Franz Ulrich Kinsky wants to move to Prague and is making plans to remodel a residence within the Kinsky Palace on Old Town Square.
"I might ask for some rooms and put in a bedroom and a kitchen," Kinsky said of the building bearing his family name. "It is a good address."
Kinsky, a nobleman whose efforts to reclaim 40 billion Kc ($1.45 billion) of assets seized by the government in 1945 have sparked a political uproar, said he does not intend to boot the National Gallery from the building if he wins his battle with the government.
"Not if they pay rent," he said.
In a lengthy telephone interview from his home in Argentina July 14, Kinsky discussed his life, his property disputes, his surprise at the controversies his claims have sparked and his plans for the future. In the Czech press, Kinsky has been called an aristocrat, a fake and even a Nazi.
"There has been an overreaction and claims that are not true," Kinsky said. "They are trying to make me look like I eat children."
He fired back at politicians such as Cultural Minister Pavel Dostal, who Kinsky said was trying to bend the law to serve political purposes.
Since Kinsky won his first property dispute in June, Dostal has led a campaign to preclude property owners from using the courts to regain land, a reaction that could include an amendment to the constitution. Judges have also complained of government pressure to rule against Kinsky.
"I never dreamed there would be a political upheaval," Kinsky said. "All I want is my property."
Kinsky, who has never lived in the country and does not speak Czech, said his battle to regain his property began almost as soon as he inherited it in 1942 through a trust fund set up by his great-grandfather.
That same year, he said, pressure from the Gestapo forced his family to flee from Austria to Argentina, where his grandmother had citizenship. His property was seized by the government after World War II under the Benes Decrees, laws that targeted ethnic Germans with expulsion and property seizures.
Kinsky is seeking the return of the Kinsky Palace in Prague's Old Town Square, five castles, breweries, factories, art collections, forestland, trunks full of silver and other assets later confiscated by the communist government when it took power in 1948.
"I never got an answer to why it was confiscated," said Kinsky, a former executive with The Gillette Company and a Boston University dropout. "The communists came and that was it."
Kinsky's efforts to get his property back began in 1975 when he asked the Argentine government for help in the matter.
After years of gathering evidence and lengthy correspondence between the Czechoslovak and Argentine governments, Kinsky was finally told that his property had been taken by mistake. Still, he could not have it back.
Following the fall of communism in 1989, Kinsky wrote to then-President Vaclav Havel. He said Havel responded and advised him to go through the courts.
After hiring -- and firing -- several attorneys who failed to make progress with his cases, he finally found his current lawyer, Jaroslav Capek, in 2001.
Kinsky said his cases hinge on convincing the courts that the government made a mistake when it took the property from a minor in 1945. "There has been a lot of talk about restitution," Kinsky said. "I have nothing to do with restitution. I was left out."
He said the authorities thought they were taking the property from his father, but the elder Kinsky, who died in 1938, had never owned the property. "It was confiscated from a dead person," Kinsky said.
He said the government also failed to honor the Benes Decrees, which stated that if a property is owned by a minor the state must appoint an attorney to represent that child. "That wasn't complied with," he said. "The confiscation is null and void."
"All I am doing is asking the judge to check who the owner of the property is," he added. "The judge will have to decide if the property is mine."
When and if he gets his properties back, Kinsky, who uses the title of prince, said he plans to keep them.
"It has been in the family for hundreds of years," he said of the properties. "It is not up to me to sell them. It is up to me to pass them on."
He plans to visit the country soon, but he did not want to say when given the political and press reactions to his cases -- a situation he described as worrisome.
"It is a question of law in what I hope is a state of law," Kinsky said. He added that it was time for the country's leaders to prove they were not running a system based on political whims. "If they want to be a democracy, there has to be a clear separation of powers," Kinsky said. "They cannot bend the law when it does not suit their purposes."
Kinsky, who runs a hunting, fishing and tourist service in Argentina, said he is not a rich nobleman trying to steal the country's land.
"I didn't start this," he said.