Government backs plans for Institute of National Memory

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On Wednesday the government backed a plan long prepared by the ruling Civic Democrats to found a new Institute for National Memory - covering the legacy of Communism in Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1989. It is not the first time the creation of such an institute has been discussed, but not all are in favour. As the Czech Republic already has an Office for the Investigation of Crimes under Communism, some have questioned whether an additional institute would be needed at all.

The idea for an Institute for National Memory has been discussed in the Czech Republic in the past and no doubt numerous historians specialising in the years 1948 to 1989 would welcome an institute streamlining documentation often difficult to access. Under current conditions, historic files of the former secret police come under the jurisdiction of different bureaux: from the Interior Ministry to Defence to the intelligence services and the Justice Ministry: that prolongs protocol and the overall investigative process. Last year, the vice-chairman of the Senate, Jiri Liska, who spearheaded the plan for a new institute, said what was needed as an umbrella institution primarily for "education and research". In the new Civic Democrat government the idea now has full backing. Deputy Prime Minister Petr Necas:

"We consider it to be a good step: of course, there are all kinds of legislative and professional elements that will need to be discussed. But, in principle we consider it the right thing to do and the idea has the full backing of the government."

But, not all are convinced there is a need for the project. Oldrich Tuma, the head of the Institute of Contemporary History, says that the Czech Republic has already done a fairly good job of coming to terms with its past, and suggests a different solution could be found for improving data sharing and availability of information. He does not support the one proposed by the government.

"I have to say that I am rather sceptical about the rationality and necessity of creating such an institution at this time. There is access: according to the archival law there is full access to files of the former StB secret police. There are problems of course, accessing some files at the Interior Ministry isn't always that easy, but certainly such problems could be solved differently than founding a new institute.

"If, in the Czech Republic we should look for a model, I think we should turn to the German one: creating a special foundation devoted to research and caring for documents, and creating exhibitions. A foundation would be de-centralised, which I think would be preferable to a monopolising institution, and so on. That's my opinion."

Like Oldrich Tuma, some observers remain sceptical the new right-of-centre government will be able to find necessary backing for its planned Institute of National Memory. Since the election in June the Czech political scene has become highly polarised and convincing the opposition Social Democrats that a centre for national memory is needed could prove more than a little difficult.