Priest charged for warning parish not to vote Communist
Father Vojtech Protivinsky, a Catholic priest in Rakvice, a village in Southern Moravia, was recently charged under a law prohibiting the defamation of race, nation or belief. The law was introduced to prosecute hate crimes usually committed by members of militant extremist groups. But Father Protivinsky does not belong to any of these - his alleged crime was calling on members of his parish not to vote for the Communist candidate in the Senate elections. Olga Szantova has the story.
Father Vojtech Protivinsky is 32 years old and, according to members of his parish, a very good priest. He had the church bells repaired, a thing his predecessor hadn't been able to get done. But he sees his role as much wider than just fulfilling his responsibilities within the church.
Father Protivinsky felt it was his duty to warn people not to vote for the Communist candidate in the Senate elections in November 2000. He had pre-election posters printed, and even appeared on a local radio station to warn people not to trust the Communists. He stressed that if different parties had been involved, he would not have taken part in the pre-election campaign. But this being a by-election, with only two candidates standing and one of them a Communist, he considered it his duty to speak up.
Needless to say, the local Communist Party district organisation did not like the young priest's activities. Chairman Jaroslav Spacek told Radio Prague they had asked the police to file charges against Father Protivinsky.
"His statements were untrue. He attacked Communist Party members and the party itself, telling people not to trust us. Don't believe them, he said, when they claim they want freedom. It was them who sent millions of people to concentration camps and to their deaths, just because they had their own opinion, different from the opinion of the Central Committee of the Party. His statements were full of lies."
Mr Spacek even confided to me that one of his own family members was sentenced to death by the Communist regime. Yet he still considered Father Protivinsky's accusations outright lies.
The police are now investigating the case, which has caught the attention of the whole nation. The spokesperson of the Brno bishopric, Martina Jandlova, says that they had not been aware of Father Protivinsky's activities, but
"It is the duty of a priest to fight evil, and while this may not be a usual step, Father Protivinsky obviously considered it the right thing to do and he can count on the full backing of the Brno bishopric."
Vojtech Protivinsky also has the backing of his parish and the people of the surrounding villages. Now, with the media taking up the case, he is gaining backing throughout the country. And, he says, he is convinced he was right in doing what he did and would not hesitate to take the same stand over again.