Politicians argue over revocation of 'screening laws'

Photo: CTK

The Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek is once again at the centre of attention after giving his backing to a Communist Party proposal to scrap the so-called screening laws. The laws were adopted in the early 1990s to prevent high ranking officials of the old Communist regime from gaining influential government and civil service posts after the Velvet Revolution. But sixteen years later, are the screening laws redundant?

Jitka Horova was a successful Supreme Court judge until the Interior Ministry found her name in former Communist secret police (StB) archives. Judge Horova was immediately suspended from office; three months later a court ruled that she had never collaborated. Mrs Horova is one of numerous Czech citizens to have gone through a similar ordeal. But are such mistaken accusations a price that ordinary citizens should be willing to pay to prevent a return of old communist elites? Political commentator Vladimira Dvorakova:

"It is somehow understandable that the laws were passed in the revolutionary period when the system was new and everybody was afraid of the secret police and the agents and so on. But from the very beginning, it was a bad law because it was based on the principle of collective guilt. The law does not enable the punishment of the individuals who really committed some crimes [most files on high-ranking officials were destroyed by the StB], while many people who were innocent or were blackmailed by the Communist regime are in the files of the secret police and now face problems in their personal life after the files were published."

Vlastimil Tlusty
But the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats argue that a revocation of the screening laws would be a slap in the face of all victims of communism - the thousands who lost their jobs, homeland, and in some cases their lives. They have a different theory as to why Mr Paroubek supports the Communist Party's proposal. Results of opinion polls suggest that the Civic Democrats would win most votes in next year's elections, followed by Prime Minister Paroubek's Social Democratic Party and the Communists. With the tacit support of the Communists, Mr Paroubek could try to form a minority government. Civic Democrat Member of Parliament Vlastimil Tlusty:

"It's a clear declaration of the current collaboration between the Social Democrats and the Communists here in the Czech Parliament. We don't agree with this proposal and we think that this law against pre-1989 secret service agents is still necessary here in the Czech Republic."

Mr Paroubek's close party colleague and Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Zdenek Skromach, told Radio Prague:

Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach
"Since both the International Labour Organisation and the European Council deem the current screening laws as discriminatory, they should be revoked, especially because the new civil service law - which is expected to come into effect on January 1 2007 - already includes a similar screening process".

However, Mr Skromach did admit that the Social Democrats are divided over the issue. Political scientist Vladimira Dvorakova concludes that the most important thing is not just to punish the perpetrators, but also to try to find out what was really going on in the days of the old regime.

"What is more important is something like the Truth Commission in South Africa. It's also necessary to study what the Communist regime was about and for historians to work hard at it. The Institute of Contemporary History, for example, is doing a great job for us to understand what the Communist regime was like and what happened during its rule."