Klement Gottwald loses keys to town of Kladno

The town of Kladno lies about 20 kilometres west of Prague. Its claim to fame is the huge Poldi steelworks, which employed thousands of people during the communist regime, but went bankrupt in the mid-1990s. But Kladno also has another claim to fame: like many towns and cities before 1989, one of its honorary citizens was Czechoslovakia's first Communist President Klement Gottwald. Unlike many towns and cities, however, Gottwald still holds the keys to the town of Kladno. But not for long. Rob Cameron reports:

Klement Gottwald, Communist Czechoslovakia's first 'Working Class President', under whose paranoid rule hundreds were executed and thousands sent to labour camps. Gottwald died in 1953, some claim after catching pneumonia at Stalin's funeral. He was showered with many accolades during his five-year reign, including the keys to the town of Kladno. Most towns chose to rid themselves of their more controversial honorary citizens after the collapse of communism in 1989, but somehow Kladno never got around to striking him off the list.

Until this week, that is. Kladno town council voted this week to revoke Gottwald's honorary citizenship. The mostly right-wing councillors said the decision was a tribute to the thousands of people who suffered during his hard-line regime. But not everyone's happy: the handful of Communist councillors said Klement Gottwald had done a fat lot more for Kladno than the sportsmen who are today's honorary citizens, a reference to Kladno-born ice-hockey star Jaromir Jagr.

Local people are divided on the decision. Some say it smacks of the sort of re-writing of history that the communists were themselves so good at. Others are glad to be rid of a man despised as a cruel dictator. But then again, in some ways Kladno was lucky. Until recently the list of honorary citizens in the wine-making town of Znojmo included one Adolf Hitler...