Former Communist agents slipped through security screening net

By Daniela Lazarova.

Ten years ago the new democratically-elected parliament passed a law demanding that all senior civil servants must undergo security screening to prove they didn't collaborate with the Communist secret police - the StB, and didn't hold senior positions in the Communist Party. Ten years on, the screening process is back in the news, amid revelations that almost 100 former StB agents - moreover senior and very active agents - were given the all-clear. The revelations have evoked a storm of controversy, and a lot of mutual finger-pointing among politicians in office at the time.

The law has come under repeated criticism on the grounds that the screening process is based on information gathered by the StB itself, which shredded many of its files and may have doctored others before relinquishing power. Political commentator and former dissident Jan Urban told Daniela Lazarova that although such a law is vitally necessary, it should have been based on more trustworthy investigative methods.

"Many of us were warning about this back in 1990-1991 because you cannot judge people's guilt or innocence on the grounds of a piece of paper that was moreover prepared by a criminal organisation. It means giving our lives back to the Communist secret police and letting the Communist secret police decide who does what. I think that the major mistake is that we haven't been able to prepare a law or a procedure based on a case-by-case investigation, such as we have now in connection with NATO and EU enlargement - a special institution that screens every person individually to ascertain whether or not they are eligible to see confidential documents on an international level. I think we should have done this ten years ago."

Was that possible? Who would be the judge of that? The materials used by the secret service were incomplete so who would you actually set up to judge this and on what grounds?

"I think there are many examples elsewhere in the world. I think the Gauck commission in the former East Germany would be a very good example. There is a special institution called the National Security Officee and they have the right to go back in your life, talk to former employees or employers, go through police records and really sift through your past. I think we took the easy way out and believed that we could get off the hook easily. This is the price we have to pay and I feel that we are losing credit on international scale as a result."