Former secret police files to be opened at last to the public
The Czech Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is aimed at granting all Czech citizens access to the files of the country's infamous Communist secret police, the StB. The Czech people already have limited access to their own StB files, but if the bill passes through the Lower House as expected, every Czech citizen over the age of 18 years will be able to browse through the files of their neighbours, friends, and colleagues. Helen Belmont has more.
The controversial bill passed through the Senate on Thursday, with a relatively large margin. Supporters of the bill say the secrecy that shrouds the archives of the StB needs to be removed. People have a right to know what others did during the 40 years of communist rule, they maintain. I asked the Chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance, Senator Michael Zantovsky, what impact this bill is likely to have on Czech society:
"It's another step in learning about our history, a shady part of our history. It will make accessible tens and tens of thousands of pages of StB, the secret police files, and their collaborators and agents. It was a hard-fought bill and we believe the House will see things our way and support the bill."
The question is, however, just how much public access should be granted. The information that the secret police gathered wasn't always correct, and it included surveillance on the personal lives of many public officials and former dissidents, as well as ordinary people. Is there such a thing as too much information? Mr. Zantovsky comments:
"We believe that the public has the right to such information, that everybody who may have been spied upon by his neighbours has the right to know. The risks associated with keeping the information secret or keeping it accessible to only a selected few are much larger than the risks of opening it up to the public at large."
Proponents of the bill say that it will help the Czech Republic build a freer, more open society after 40 years of Communist rule. Approving this bill, they say, would be a significant step in dealing with the secretive past of the Communist regime.