Communist secret police files to be open to the public

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Twelve years of discussion on what to do with the former communist StB secret police files is very close to an end. The lower house has passed a bill allowing for almost complete public access to the files. But the bill has met with mixed emotions. By Alena Skodova.

In order to overcome the past it first has to be faced - that was the thinking of a group of right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party senators who submitted a proposal to make almost all secret police files accessible. On Friday, MPs in the lower house passed the Senate-sponsored bill. Only the Communist Party and some Social Democrat MPs voted against the bill, which has to be discussed by the Senate again before being signed by the president.

While until now people could only see their own files, under the bill people would have the right to see almost all the files that the StB kept. The names of StB collaborators and agents would also be released.

The only files which would not be accessible concern the security of the country or could endanger people's lives.

The bill has met with mixed emotions, and I asked senator Edvard Outrata, why it took so long - nearly 12 years - to pass the bill, in the first place?

"It's always a big problem. I'm a big supporter of the bill, I think in this type of situation the least damage is done if all the information is known to everybody. And I think it was a mistake not to publish it right away, because keeping it under wraps allows a certain small group of people to have the information and does not allow anybody else, and I think it's worse than any of the problems that can arise from full airing of it all. Opponents will argue that many people will be hurt by a sort of collateral effect, a typical quoted things are - in a file there might be something about a third person, who might have been visiting a house on an amorous adventures, and this way everybody will know about it - and such. I believe that the damage done this way is much less than the damage done by having it under wraps."

Do you think that the bill has a chance to be signed by the president, because he opposed for instance the law on political screening?

"Yes, with the president I'm not sure. I genuinely don't know what his opinion is at this point. He was originally against a restricted political screening law, which really is a very extraordinary thing - the problem there was not making public of information but restrictions that applied to people who had been StB informers. But in any case - if the president sends it back to the House, the Lower House can still vote on it with a qualified majority and let is pass despite of his objections, so we will see."

A former dissident under the Communist regime and later on Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Jiri Dienstbier sees problems in the new bill:

"There are two problems: the first is that in all the files, and I spoke with many people who read their files, there is not only information. There are lots of lies, lots of inventions of people who collaborated with the secret police and because they had nothing to report on, they just invented their stories. So it is not the truth, and if it is accessible to everybody, people will not learn the truth, but they will learn nonsense, and it will be the final victory of the defeated secret police. Second, what I think is even worse, normal people will probably not go to read the files of the president or the prime minister, but tabloids will be the first to go there, they will just go through the documents trying to find some scandalous material no matter whether it is true or not, so instead of giving the society the truth about the past, there will be a lot of tension caused by this approach to the documents."