Agency administering secret police files threatens to quit international network

Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, photo: Tomáš Adamec

The Czech agency that administers the files of the communist-era secret police has clashed with a European network of similar organisations. The latter has suspended the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, questioning the past of some of its advisors. However, the Czechs are fighting back – and say they will quit the network themselves if it does not back down.

Neela Winkelmann | Photo: archive of  Platform of European Memory and Conscience
“It’s like the institute is being devoured by its own child”, said one official of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, at a board meeting on Wednesday.

The session addressed an escalating conflict with the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, an international body bringing together similar institutions in 13 EU countries and elsewhere. The Czech agency played a crucial role in the founding of the platform in 2011, with both organisations sharing the same headquarters in Prague.

The European body has objected to the changing of the institute’s director last year, while it has also expressed doubts about several members of the institute’s scientific board.

Last week, the platform suspended the Czech institute’s membership. Neela Winkelmann is the platform’s managing director. She says there were two issues that prompted the move.

“The first concerns the past business activities of the institute’s director because there are published press reports according to which she might have committed money laundering in the 1990s.

Pavla Foglová,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“The second count is the unclear past of five members of the scientific council of the institute who in the past were members of the Communist Party. The reason why we are suspecting a breach of the Code is that the institute was unwilling to explain whether these former Communists also held paid political jobs in totalitarian structures in the past.”

Winkelmann is referring to director Pavla Foglová, who has been accused of helping her husband launder 20 million crowns for the Civic Democratic Party in the 1990s.

Foglová was appointed director amidst a heated public debate on the body’s mission and purpose. Some critics accused it of having a political agenda, saying its research of the country’s totalitarian past was not impartial. Shortly afterwards, new members of the scientific board were appointed whose past has now come into the spotlight.

On Wednesday, the board of the institute said the platform had no right to suspend its membership, and voted to demand an explanation. If the platform fails to comply by February 15, the Czech institute will leave. Political analyst Lukáš Jelínek is one of the board members.

Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes,  photo: Tomáš Adamec
“The institute’s director clearly said it did not employ anyone with such a shady past. As far as members of the scientific council are concerned, they work without pay and do a great job and there are such respectable people, such as Petr Pithart and Vilém Prečan. We find it embarrassing to dig in their CVs beyond the boundaries set by Czech law.”

Neela Winkelmann of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience says she cannot comment on the institute’s latest move, as they have not officially received written notification. However, neither side has shown much willingness to resolve the conflict.