Legendary Czech pop star disputes Constitutional Court ruling

Helena Vondrackova, photo: CTK

Images of Helena Vondrackova, a famous Czech pop star whose music dates back to the 1960s - splashed across Czech newspapers on Tuesday. The singer had taken a well known music critic to court and won, for public statements he made about her which she says are slanderous. But Monday the Czech Constitutional Court annulled the ruling. Kate Barrette has been following the story and has more on the case.

Helena Vondrackova,  photo: CTK
That's the voice of Helena Vondrackova. She first came to fame in the 1960s, when the beautiful blonde vocalist was just 17, and remained widely popular throughout the 1970s and '80s.

These were dark years in Czechoslovakia. The Communists had a paralyzing hold on the country - and if you wanted to be at the top, as a singer or any kind of performer who was in the public eye, you had to know the right people. These were people who could travel abroad, people who could arrange international concerts and people who profited financially from making these arrangements.

In the years after 1989, Vondrackova and other artists of her generation fell from the music scene. People associated them with the past because they had been a showcase of the Communists.

But this feeling did not last. Eight years later TV Nova began reintroducing artists like Vondrackova, playing to the public's wave of nostalgia for music of the past.

And so it happened five years ago, in an interview with the newspaper Lidove Noviny, a well known music critic called Jan Rejzek was responding to questions about Vondrackova. In the interview, Mr. Rejzek said:

Jan Rejzek,  photo: CTK
"Vondrackova apparently owes her comeback in the 1990s to her contacts with the Mafiosi of the Normalization period."

When the statement was published in the newspaper, Vondrackova was outraged, and took Rejzek to court on defamation charges. She won the case, and Rejzek was made to apologise to her publicly, in two major newspapers, and personally. All of which he did.

But after doing so, he decided to appeal to the Constitutional Court - which on Monday annulled the verdict and vindicated Rejzek. The court ruled that "Vondrackova is a well known media star, and that people in public positions, such as politicians, public officials and media stars, have to accept more public criticism, than other people."

The story has brought issues concerning freedom of speech and slander to the fore in this country.

Vondrackova says she is shocked. Tuesday morning's headlines read, "I won't leave it at this." She insists that Rejzek's use of the word "Mafiosi" implies that she was involved in criminal activities. Meanwhile the Constitutional Court ruled that the word has broader meanings. And that's precisely what Rejzek says. For her part, Vondrackova says she will take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.