Castle refuses apology in Peroutka case citing fear of flood of lawsuits

Ferdinand Peroutka, photo: Czech Radio / archive of Slávka Peroutková

A saga involving President Miloš Zeman and legendary Czech journalist Ferdinand Peroutka has taken another twist. The president’s office had faced a court order to apologise to Peroutka’s granddaughter over false accusations that he admired Hitler. However, Prague Castle has made a last-minute appeal, arguing an apology could spark a flood of lawsuits.

Ferdinand Peroutka,  photo: Czech Radio / archive of Slávka Peroutková
Ferdinand Peroutka is seen as one of the greatest ever Czech journalists and a top journalism award bears his name.

Recently, however, he is most often referred to in connection with a perhaps unlikely sounding legal battle.

It was sparked by President Miloš Zeman claiming that Peroutka had succumbed to Nazi ideology – and penned an article entitled “Hitler is a gentleman.”

However, neither Prague Castle staff nor historians ever managed to find the alleged piece and following a lawsuit taken by Peroutka’s granddaughter Terezie Kaslová, the President’s Office was ordered to apologise.

A final appeal last week failed and the apology was to have been delivered by today. But at the last minute the Castle announced it was taking the matter to the Supreme Court. Jiří Ovčáček is Mr. Zeman’s spokesman.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: archive of the Office of the President
“In no sense are we in this way disputing the verdict itself or the issue of the apology. But we want the court to deal with the issue of indemnity. Meaning, who should apologise? Should it be the president, the Office of the President, or the Czech Republic? Because in the latter case it could lead to a major intervention in the rights of the Czech Republic, and could lead to an avalanche of law suits.”

For her part Peroutka’s granddaughter says Mr. Ovčáček’s reasoning doesn’t hold water. Terezie Kaslová:

“I don’t understand the Castle’s argument. Because according to the verdict of the appeals court, the Castle has seven days to apologise. And that apology has no suspensive effect. So the President’s Office could appeal the decision or the outcome of the trial – but that changes nothing as regards the fact it has to apologise within seven days.”

Given that Peroutka was not previously a contentious figure, his granddaughter says she doesn’t understand why Mr. Zeman cast aspersions on him in the first place.

Terezie Kaslová,  photo: Czech Television
“The president often mentions how much he respects Peroutka. But if he really thinks about him what he said at a conference on the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust, and he believes that Peroutka was fascinated by Nazism, then I don’t understand what he would admire about him. I’d never admire somebody who was fascinated by other perverse doctrines, like communism.”

Mrs. Kaslová says her lawyer is preparing legal action over the failure of the President’s Office to respect the court order to proffer an apology.