Hundreds of former Communist secret police agents in Czech police force

One of the steps taken by the Czech Republic to come to terms with its communist past were so-called 'lustrace', or screening laws. They were meant to prevent former communist secret agents and other people associated with the former regime from taking government and senior civil service posts. But it appears that some former secret police, or StB, agents have managed to slip through the net. It has just emerged there are far more former agents in the police than previously believed - 800 rather than a few dozen. Dita Asiedu reports:

Frantisek Bublan and Ivan Langer,  photo: CTK
The new interior minister, Ivan Langer, has a new goal. With a Civil Service Law that is expected to come into effect as of January 1, he wants to make the vetting process tighter. In order to hold any kind of post that allows anyone to come into contact with classified information at the police force, they will have to undergo a screening and get the green light from the National Security Office. But Minister Langer's predecessor, Frantisek Bublan, says this is unjust. Those StB members who were influential, he says, already left the force a long time ago and the new plan would only hurt those who have been faithful to a democratic state for many years:

"The agents left in about three waves and today, after 17 years, those who remain would be punished far too hard."

The first wave that Mr Bublan is referring to was in the early 1990s. Some 8,500 members of the former Communist police, most of them from the secret police, had to leave their posts at national institutions and the interior ministry. The second wave occurred in 1993. With the new screening laws, up to 5,000 former StB agents are estimated to have left the force. Then, in 1998, a new law tightened conditions for working with classified information.

But historians say many StB agents have managed to return to the police force. The interior ministry has not revealed who the eight hundred agents are. It is prohibited by law to make public their names or functions. While some say effective measures should have been taken years ago, others like Senator Jaromir Stetina, welcome Minister Langer's plan:

"I think this is the right time to finish what we started with the Velvet Revolution, using the means that we have at our disposal now. I'm talking about non-violent means - legal, judicial, and parliamentary ways. Just like Germany dealt with its Gestapo during its 'deNazification' process, we need to finish the 'decommunisation' process by dealing with our StB agents."

Political analysts and historians have been sceptical. They say those who held influential posts under the old regime will always manage to slip through the screening procedures. But the anticipation of tougher restrictions could result in many of the 800 police officers leaving before the Civil Service law comes into effect. Some are close to retirement age and could leave with a healthy severance pay if they left voluntarily.