Czech Republic has some catching up to do, says director of new body examining communist past

After years of debate, the Czech Republic has finally got an official body dedicated to examining the country’s communist past. Entitled the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, it will give both the public and historians access to tens of kilometres – and millions of pages – of secret police and military intelligence files. I spoke to director Pavel Žáček at the new institute’s official opening on Friday morning.

“We can definitely start to search our past, we can definitely answer some questions about our past, about how it was in the ‘50s, how it was in 1989. We can definitely say there are no secrets any more. And for example now we can finish text books for our schools.”

The archives are tens of kilometres long, there are millions of pages – how long will it take historians to process this information?

“We can’t give some date, it will never be finished…I don’t know – one hundred years? Even more? Who knows?”

How does the extent of files that were…kept in Czechoslovakia compare to that in other post-communist states?

“If we compare numbers of files and the kilometres of archive materials in Germany or Romania, we have about one quarter of the amount kept by the Stasi or the Securitate.”

Is it the case that all other post-communist countries have already an institution such as this? And did you take any inspiration from those other countries?

“Of course, we are almost the last post-communist state in central and eastern Europe…and we were inspired, that’s for sure, because for example the Romanian and Hungarian archive started their activities ten years ago, Poland started in 1997, Germany in 1992. We need to run very fast to get to the same point as our friends from abroad.”