Showing posts with label restitution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label restitution. Show all posts

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Prince is a Pauper

Here is an interesting article from Boston Magazine about recovering from communism in the Czech Republic. "The Prince Is a Pauper" tells the tale of William Lobkowicz who left his Boston apartment and real estate career to reclaim his Czech title and castles, which had been confiscated from his family when the communists took over. Click the title for the link to the whole story.

"The adventure, he knew, would be rife with other challenges, as well. The restitution laws had a catch: A family could have its treasures back, but nothing could leave the country. That little detail had the effect of destroying the value of reclaimed Lobkowicz properties, since no antiques or art dealer is going to buy something he can't sell on the international market. Had they been able to auction, say, their original painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (made in 1565, it's one of 45 surviving Brueghels in the world), the sale likely could have funded the entire restitution effort. Instead, these assets were, in a cruel sense, priceless. To the family, though, regaining control of their heritage was worth the expense. It was a way to circle back in time, to make this dark chapter of exile an interruption in their story instead of an ending.

Rather than targeting only the most meaningful properties, William and his lawyers made the decision to go after everything that had once belonged to the Lobkowiczes, pursuing every acre and building, every old rifle and violin. Proving such ownership might have been impossible were it not for the Communists' curiously meticulous note-keeping, which left behind a paper trail—a veritable treasure map—detailing every piece of property, where it had been seized, and where it ended up. Still, the process was extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming, spreading William's limited resources thin. But it was what the entire family wanted.

The small pieces came together first: a court declaring that William was the rightful owner of, say, a 17th-century sofa, at which point he and the lawyers would dash off to the proper castle and quite literally haul the furniture down the stairs, load it into the back of a van, and zoom off into the Czech sunset. During those early trips, William would reflect on his grandfather, who'd been forced to abandon the very property now being reclaimed. "I think he would have been happy that we were able to come back here, and his country was free again."
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