Government plans to slash communist security officers’ pensions, increase those of dissidents

The Czech government wants to correct some of the injustices inherited from the communist regime. Twenty years after the fall of communism, coalition leaders agreed to a plan to slash the retirement benefits of former communist security service officers and high ranking Communist party officials. The funds should be used to increase the pensions of opponents of the former regime.

Thousands of Czechs who stood up against the communist regime faced persecution ranging from imprisonment to harassment on a daily basis. Those who voiced their disagreement with the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia, were often fired from their positions, and struggled to find even the lowest paying jobs. These people now often get very modest retirement benefits that reflect their low earnings in the past.

Former high-ranking and well-paid communist officials, along with ex-police and military officer as well as agents of the secret police landed nice pensions, given that they pay packets were well above average.

Czech politicians have been talking about repairing this historical injustice. But in 2009, a bill put forth by a group of Civic Democrat MPs was rejected by the lower house of Parliament. In August 2010, Prime Minister Petr Nečas was sceptical about such a move, saying it would be repealed by the Constitutional Court. But he’s changed his mind; inspired by similar Polish legislation, coalition leaders now say they would like to go ahead with the plan.

Former dissident Jan Urban appreciates the effort but says it’s taken too long to table the proposal.

“It took more than 20 years for this proposal to get resonance in Czech politics. I think it’s near insulting when you realize that those who suffered most under communism, those hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in the 1950s, are already dead. It’s definitely a good move, a symbolic move more than anything else, to re-define justice. But it’s really too little too late.”

The bill is sure to meet with fierce opposition from those affected possible pension cuts, and from the current Communist Party. Social Democrats, however, are more likely to find common ground with the coalition, once all the details are cleared. Lubomír Zaorálek is a senior Social Democrat MP.

“This concrete proposal goes against the constitution because I cannot imagine we will now track down former Communist Party members, and cut their pensions to create funds for dissidents. I’m sure it would contradict the constitution. But I’d like to look for a different solution, and find another way of compensation dissidents.”

A group of coalition MPs will now work out the details of the new legislation. A bill on anti-communist resistance, which will be debated in the lower house later this week, should determine who qualifies as an opponent of the regime. It’s not clear, however, how to decide whose pensions should be slashed, and how.