New institute should provide better access to communist secret police files


Almost sixteen years after the fall of communism, many people, including historians, still find it hard to get access to the files of the StB, the former communist secret police. A group of senators are now proposing that a special Institute of National Memory should be established to gather all the documents in one place, and provide researchers and the general public easier access to the files.

Documents of the former political police are currently stored in many places and administered by a number of institutions: the Interior Ministry, the Defence Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the intelligence services. Some historians complain that these institutions are often reluctant to provide them with archive documents. Senate vice-chairman Jiri Liska of the Civic Democrats is leading the initiative to establish an umbrella institution.

"The Institute of National Memory should administer all the archives which are scattered around different ministries. But more importantly, it should be an institution focusing on education and research."

The Czech Republic already has a body dealing with former secret police documents. The institution with the complicated title 'Office for the Documentation and the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism' is not an independent body, but part of the Interior Ministry. All its publications are printed in a limited number of copies and under Czech law cannot be sold for profit, i.e. in bookshops. Tomas Hornof is the Office's former spokesman.

"The Office has different duties - its primary goal is investigation and documentation. I think that the Institute of National Memory should concentrate on education, administration of the funds and publishing. The two institutions should work hand in hand and I think it would be very useful."

Institutes of national memory have been founded in Hungary, in neighbouring Poland and also in the Czech Republic's former federal partner Slovakia. Its head, the former Czechoslovak Interior Minister Jan Langos, says he would welcome a Czech counterpart to his institution.

"We think it is very important that the young generation not only here in the Czech Republic and Slovakia but also in Western Europe - which has lived in a democracy since the end of WW2 - learn about the communist totalitarian and criminal regime. I am very happy to see the Czech Republic taking the Slovak and Polish route of coming to terms with the communist regime."

While the Polish and Slovak institutes keep a record of the period between 1939 and 1990, the Czech Institute of National Memory would concentrate on the years after the communist takeover in 1948, a fact criticised by some historians who see the roots of the totalitarian regime already in the time of WW2. But it is still early days - Senator Jiri Liska is talking about submitting the bill to the lower house only after next year's general elections.