Eyewitness: Secret police allegations rock Czechs

June 22, 2001

A political scandal is brewing in Prague over revelations that more than 100 former Communist-era secret police and informers have used false documents to gain work in the defence and foreign ministries, according to Czech interior minister Stanislav Gross.

British and Czech political commentators say the findings expose the shortcomings of anti-Communist laws rushed through in the wake of 1989's Velvet revolution and the lack of progress in coming to terms with the country's troubled past.

Mr Gross said most of those employed under false documents were in the defence ministry, but there could be some in the foreign ministry.

According to George Schopflin, Jean Monnet professor of politics at University College London, the affair suggests that the country should have made more effort to draw a line under the past. "The Czechs would have done much better to have taken the South African path of a truth and reconciliation commission. They could still do this - Jbut the political continuity between pre-1989 and today means a lot of people would have to come to terms with what they did in the past and the advantages they have now."

The "lustration" law, which human rights advocates have challenged as poor politics and unjust legislation, allowed most Czechs to gloss over their past. Professor Schopflin said: "There will be some kind of rot in the Czech system for a generation. You cannot have an open and strong democracy when there is so much to hide, where so many from the old regime remain in public office."

Jiri Pehe, a former adviser to President Vaclav Havel and director of the New York University in Prague, said the scandal reflected the weakness of a law that relied on secret police registers for identifying those who should be barred from public service. "We don't know how the registers were put together, and to be held hostage by secret police files from years ago is ridiculous.

"The country will be living with ghosts of the past until we develop a transparent legal system and a good civil service with clear criteria on who is eligible to work in public service."

Vaclav Grulich quit his post as interior minister last year after claims that the office that investigates the crimes of the Communist regime had been supervised by a former instructor at a police academy that trained StB officers.

Foreign minister Jan Kavan had to fight claims that he had collaborated with the Communist secret police in 1969-70. He was cleared of all the allegations in January 1996.

Cardinal Tom sek and the famous writer Bohumil Hrabal are said to have appeared on a forged list of collaborators.

Czech interior minister Stanislav Gross has admitted that at least 117 members of the former secret police, the StB, had been issued with false documents in 1991-92. These cleared them of any wrongdoing in the Communist years. Officials checked just 20,000 certificates out of more than 150,000 issued.

Poet Miroslav Holub collaborated with the StB. Because of this, he received low-profile obituaries when he died in 1998.

President Vaclav Havel was forced to revoke an award to former Vienna mayor Helmut Zilk in 1998 amid unsubstantiated claims that the Austrian had links to the StB from 1953 to 1969.

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