Senate commission rejects Srp nomination over membership in Czechoslovakia’s communist party

Karel Srp, photo: Vojtěch Kouřimský

President Zeman’s nomination of Karel Srp to a board overseeing the country’s Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes hit a hurdle on Tuesday. Srp, a former dissident who headed the so-called Jazz Section in communist Czechoslovakia, was rejected by the Senate’s Commission on Election. It stressed that the nominee had been a member of Czechoslovakia’s communist party, which was disqualifying.

Karel Srp,  photo: Vojtěch Kouřimský
The reason for the commission’s decision to reject Karel Srp for a post on the board for the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes couldn’t be more clear-cut: past membership in Czechoslovakia’s communist party, the KSČ, which held power until 1989. Legislation forbids former members of the party from holding posts on the board, the head of the Senate Commission overseeing political nominations, Luděk Jeništa, made clear.

Mr Srp’s membership in the Party was also at the time of the Prague Spring, the period of democratisation and broad reforms under Alexander Dubček, also called “socialism with a human face”, which was crushed by the Soviet-led invasion of August 1968. Mr Srp said on Tuesday that he did not recall whether he was a member of the KSČ at the time. But he said if he was he was proud of it, adding that he was “too old” by now for Tuesday’s decision to get him in a huff:

“I am at an age when this kind of thing doesn’t get to me. I didn’t even know, and was informed by no one, that the senate commission would hold the hearing today. I don’t know a single senator and have never known one all my life. It was about me, without me.”

Prague Castle came to the nominee’s defence: the president’s spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček tweeted that Mr Srp had displayed bravery during a period when bravery had been in short order. As the head of the Jazz Section in the 1980s, Mr Srp was persecuted by the former Communist regime and sentenced to 16 months in jail.

Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes,  photo: Tomáš Adamec
Many, including Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, have recognised his contribution in the past for Czech culture but suggested that his connections to the communist party were problematic at best. Mr Srp has long also been dogged by allegations from members of the former so-called underground that he had been an informer for the StB, the former secret police, although a court in 2000 said his name had wrongfully been listed in StB files.

By appearances, the nomination is now dead in the water: the Senate Commission will present its findings to lawmakers in the upper house next week. The head of the Senate commission, Luděk Jeništa, said the nomination shouldn’t even come to a vote.

“At the start, I will inform senators about our findings that Karel Srp cannot be nominated because of the law. It shouldn’t even come to a vote, providing the Senate takes our resolution into account.”