Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Czechs Keep Check on Ex-Communists

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Czechs Keep Check on Ex-Communists

Article excerpt

CZECH lawmakers are not quite ready to forgive and forget their former Communist oppressors.

They extended the country's so-called lustration (screening) law last week, which bars former Communist officials, members of the party-sponsored People's Militia, and secret-police agents and collaborators from holding a wide range of high public offices.

While proponents see it as a compromise, detractors denounce the law as presuming guilt, denying citizens due process of law, and damaging the country's image abroad.

Not wanting to let Communist abuses go unpunished, and preoccupied with the immense task of integrating with Western democratic and legal institutions, the measure was adopted in 1991.

It is a debate that still echoes throughout post-communist Europe, where other countries are also trying to address crimes long protected from punishment. Some states, like the former East Germany, shed light on the activities of the former secret services by making their files public. Others, like Hungary and eventually Slovakia, have avoided stirring the emotional pot with similar vettings. The Czech solution lies somewhere in the murky middle.

When Czech lawmakers last Wednesday overturned a presidential veto and extended the screening law, few saw it as an ideal solution. "A poor compromise is better than none," said Hana Marvanova, the deputy of the ruling Civic Democratic Party, who presented the extension.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, whose dissident writings earned him the constant attention of Communist authorities, accompanied his Oct. 6 veto of the extension with a blast fired at those who refused to let the law fade away.

Extending the screening law "seems to me a thoroughly incomprehensible expression of distrust in our own ability to form a normal legal order," President Havel wrote in the country's largest-circulation daily newspaper. Extending such a law "could only cast doubt at home and abroad on our capacity to be a fully fledged member of the family of democratic states. …

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