Czech court upholds validity of anti-Communist screening law

The Constitutional Court has upheld the validity of the so called "screening law" approved in 1992 to ensure that former top Communist officials and secret service agents and collaborators could not obtain senior government and civil service posts. But the law is controversial, as Daniela Lazarova explains -

While the court's ruling was a blow to the communists and social democrats, right wing politicians heaved a sigh of relief. Independent Senator Eduard Outrata describes it as a victory of common sense:

"I am happy about the decision because while the act itself is clearly something that has to do with a transition and should disappear at one point - this is not the moment yet."

The screening law has been an issue of controversy ever since it went into effect ten years ago. Even its proponents admit the law is far from perfect, since the screening process is mostly based on information gathered by the Communist secret service - the StB - which shredded many of its files and may have doctored others before relinquishing power. The opposition Communists have long used this argument to bring the law into question, and earlier this year the ruling Social Democrats, who were always lukewarm about the legislation, decided to challenge it in court on the grounds that eleven years after the fall of Communism the democratization process in the country was irreversible and the former top brass no longer presented a threat. The Constitutional Court rejected this argument and said that until the Czech Republic had a law on the civil service it had a right to protect itself against the danger of compromised individuals creeping back to power. So it all boils down to why the Czech Republic still lacks that all important civil service law .

"Well, that's the big shame. That's the one aspect of our transition where there's hardly been any movement at all. Actually, not quite, because during the past year the idea has been revived and it looks like there's a reasonable possibility that the Lower House will pass the present civil service bill into law and we can start the process of getting out of this bind. However as things stand now, without proper personnel management within the civil service and a law that protects it, it is virtually impossible to ensure that elements of the old regime don't creep back into the system, because people who are compromised by their cooperation with the former regime are very close to these posts. They are often the most experienced."

Although the screening law is to remain in place for the time being, opponents are deeply unhappy with the Constitutional Court's verdict - and are determined to take the matter to an international court. I asked Senator Outrata to assess their chances of success .

"That depends on how the court sees the whole thing. Certainly as a permanent feature - if it were so considered - there should be strong objections from the human rights point of view. As a transition feature I think it would be hard not to see its merits. Whether we are in the first stage or the second is the choice that has to be made -and I am not sure how the court will view this matter. I feel that the correct way would be to abolish it with some time limit into the future."