Families last longer than regimes, says aristocrat
(Mlada Fronta Dnes 23.03.2002. Translated from the Czech language)
Lobkovice, Roudnice nad Labem -
Alexandre de Ridder and his many barking dogs welcome me under the Ginko-Biloba tree in front of the Lobkovice Castle.
“If you have been in a castle which remained open to the public, such as Melnik or Nelahozeves, some might have been wondering why would the state return such treasures. So now you are going to see a different aspect of restitution, which is more the norm for the less prestigious objects and explains why restitution is not necessarily a fairy tale come true“ smiles de Ridder, a member of the Roudnice branch of the family while inviting me into the door of Lobkovice castle just next to the Labe River. It looks quite nice from the outside but inside one can find just empty walls without plaster on them, and gravel instead of floors. Its owner visits his estate on weekends and stays in a small house in the area that belonged to the servants before.
“In 2009, the castle will celebrate 600 years since is has been acquired by Mikulas Chudy z Ujezda, who eventually took the name "z Lobkovic". Unlike my ancestor, I am truly “chudy” (meaning "poor" in Czech); in spite of that, my dearest goal is to have it reconstructed by then, so I can invite you in the wine-cellar for a drink or two”, promises the aristocrat who sparkles with humorous stories.
MY PARENTS WERE WONDERFUL DREAMERS
Why did yours parents return in the republic after February 1948 ?
“After the war, my parents were amongst the many young people believing, that all could not be bad in socialism. My mother wanted to be by her parent’s side during the crisis. My father, Albert de Ridder, thought he could compose with the communists a sort of compromise that would let them work as farmers at least, in one of the Lobkowicz confiscated estates. They realised later how much they were mistaken. Not only my father was not allowed to stay in Czechoslovakia, but my mother suffered increasing persecution,as all the rest of the family which stayed; even more so because she was suspected of being an agent for the West. We (my mother, my sister Magdalena born in Prague in 1949 and I) were nevertheless allowed to continue to live until 1951 in the Lobkowicz Palace in the Prague Castle with our grand-parents, until we were moved to a house in Hradcanske namesti. My mother died in 1952 at the age of 30. My distressed father succeeded in taking us out of the country. After a quest for a home which took us through most European countries, we ended in Switzerland, where my father, from then on, dedicated himself to education.
HAVE YOU STAYED IN TOUCH WITH CZECHOSLOVAKIA?
Yes, we kept living with the haunting souvenir of Prague and Bohemia. We were corresponding with our grandmother and aunts who stayed in the homeland. We realised (when reading their letters) then what was the miserable reality on the other side of the iron curtain.
After 1968, we received in our home (which by the way was a private school) Czech emigrants until they were integrated in Switzerland. My grandmother, who decided to stay in Munich following the death of our uncle Zdenek did the same there.
In 1973, we came to Prague on an invitation of the Belgium Embassy. Prague life appeared so sad compared to the one we enjoyed in Switzerland. There had been no visible progress since pre-war times. People avoided to be seen with us in public, although most friendly in private. Conversation was refrained, evidently. During that visit, we were offered the opportunity to see family properties such as Lobkovice, Lcovice, Bilina, and Roudnice and part of the Lobkowicz Collection in the National Galleries.
During all that time abroad, my father kept saying against all the odds, that because families last longer than regimes, we should always be prepared to take our responsibilities should the regime collapse. Although I appreciated that he would say that, I, as most, did not believe him, and consequently was not quite ready for what was to come!
Did your father come from an aristocrat family? IS there somewhere for example a castle Ridder?
“De Ridder” means “the knight” in Flemish, which does not necessarily make of you a noble; just as someone whose name is “Princ” is not a prince. And there is no castle “Ridder”. However, my father’s family -somewhat broken - tree makes me believe that we are of land gentry extraction. My parents union was nevertheless obviously a “misalliance”, which was, as it is always the case, dictated by love.
Would you remember what did you do on the17th of November 1989?
We came to Prague for a first visit in 1990. What a change in atmosphere from the one we had known in 1973! I immediately had a strong desire to return. I had started a computer company only three years earlier, and it was extremely difficult to leave it in its expansion phase. So I planned to return within 5 years, that would allow me the time to re-learn my mother tongue, which I had completely forgotten, and find a suitable activity. The restitution laws upset my plans and I had no more choice, but to take responsibility of what had been ours. The time limit imposed by the laws precipitated my return.
PROFESSION: RESTITUENT AND ALL THE JOBS THAT FOLLOWS
What has to be done first if you have restituted a property? Which authority you have to go to visit first?
The restitution process itself required the following:
-proof of residence and nationality
-proof of filiation or inheritance according to will from past owner; that means certificates of birth and death, last wills, inheritance acts of all persons concerned
-proof of past ownership in "pozemkove knihy", "zemske desky" (various Czech names for land books, etc…; establish lists of parcels according to the old books
-find the parcels according to newest cadaster evidence “srovanaci sestaveni”
-request to restitute to obliged persons "zadosti k vydani povinne osobe"
-request to restitute to land authorities "zadosti k vydani pozemkovemu uradu"
-if obliged persons did not sign agreement to return the objects "dohody o vydani veci" (that was mostly the case), wait for decision of relevant land authority
-if decision of land authority was negative, there was the possibility to recourse to court.
-for parcels not returned because owned by private persons, request compensation to land authorities
-for damaged buildings, request compensations to obliged persons (often obliged persons managed to liquidate their assets so that there was nothing left for compensation)
-same for agricultural live stock and inventory "zive a mrtve inventare"
-once the restitution claims are accepted by land authorities, then transfer of ownership protocol
-ask registration of ownership in cadaster
-hope that some newer decision will not overturn existing ones, or that a duplicity ownership will not appear on what you thought was your land.
For movables, there was a similar process.
The real process was actually a lot more complicated that the above list suggests.
The castles were confiscated together with land as a part of the Revision of The Land Reform in 1948. Even so the whole process took five years to complete and still we have some parcels waiting for restitution. As far as the Lobkovice castle is concerned, there is still a legal issue going on. The former socialist owner - the Faculty of Philosophy of Charles University - is trying to claim the investment it has put in the castle after it has acquired it in 1981. They are apparently not philosophical enough to understand that they should ask that lost money to the state, which had let the castle go into ruins after they took it over, and to the people who have “funnelled” the cash before it could get in the walls.
In the process of the restitution, I have had all sorts of problems, some of them quite funny.
During the time I was living abroad, I honestly never felt any bitterness about our past wealth and property being confiscated. It was the course of history. We even believed it was for the cause of a better justice. It was not bitterness, but justified anger I felt when I saw how the property for the greatest part, ours as well as others, had been cared after.
Have you got any problems with the Czech language? Did you learn Czech systematically?
I have no problem with a vocabulary related to restitution, to forestry, to fixing leaking canalisations, in one word every thing with which I deal every day. However I still need a translator in the occasional court case. When I returned, I was in the somewhat strange situation of having to learn my forgotten mother tongue.
Recently you came to Roudnice just because of one rare book about a local history. What have you looked for? How could you know that this book is there?
Naturally, I am interested in the history of the Lobkowicz family and I have knowledge about related publications. The study of the family made me interested in the various forms property, or private property took in the past, its origin, its legitimacy, and how it compares today with that of other cultures or continents.
Why don’t your relatives sign themselves as Lobkovic, that is the Czech historical form, but Lobkowicz?
In the past, there were many spelling variations: z Lobkovic, von Lobkowitz, de Lobkowicz… I believe it was in 1919 that it was decided in a family council to adopt finally “Lobkowicz”.
The aristocracy and the hunting go together from time immemorial. The hunters don’t have a good image in Bohemia espacially for intellectuals because Czech hunters keep shooting people to death by mistake very often. Besides that hunting was a typical amusement of communist celebrities. What do you thing about this spitefulness?
Perhaps the hunters do not have a good image of the intellectuals! They will certainly be waving many good reasons to hunt, such as preventing the proliferation of animals harmful to the forest etc… As far as I am concerned, I might become a hunter if I had no other way to feed myself, but certainly not as leisure.
Your mentioning hunters shooting people reminds me a few lines I recently read in one of the Monologues of Ivan Svitak, which goes something like:
The intellect can win against the gun only in the following cases:
1)when the master of the intellect until he becomes an owner of a gun
2)when the master of the intellect knows that the opponent is master of the gun but plays badly
3)when he shoots first
Description under the photo:
Alexander de Ridder - born in Geneva in 1948, first four years of his life before his mother died, lived in Prague. He finished his secondary school studies in Switzerland. He studied for two years math and physics, then graduated in Great Britain in Naval engineering. He worked for Piccard where he designed and operated.submarines. Jacques Piccard, the son of Auguste, the inventor of the bathyscaph, and deepest man 11000 meters under the sea, is his godfather. One of his passions is computers. He founded a computer and software company, which he had to sell when he decided to come live in Bohemia in the beginning of ninetieth. Now he can write into the past occupation column “restituee” because moving around all archives and courts to get back his property took him five years.
Families last longer than regimes
Kde domov muj?
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