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>Total recall in Prague?

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Radio Prague online news (22 July) reports that the Czech President and the speaker of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka will meet shortly to consider nominations for the seven member Board of the soon to be established Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (ÚSTR) created under legislation passed in May. The Board will be responsible for the new Institute’s strategic ‘plan of work’ and will able to appoint and dismiss its Director. Two nominations are to be made by the lower house of parliament, one by the President with (unspecified) associations of former resistance fighters and former political prisoners and bodies representing historians, archivists and human rights advocates supplying (an unspecified number) of additional nominations – an interestingly corporatist touch and normally the kind of thing that would make ODS’s blood boil. Nominations close at the end of August after which an ‘electoral commission’ drawn from the Czech Senate will, it seems, select the Board. Full details of the nomination procedure can be found here (in Czech). Although normally, fairly politically balanced, as one third of its members are elected ever two years, the Senate is currently dominated by the right.

As the ‘totalitarian’ tag in it name suggests ÚSTR’s will link together work on the 1938-45 period of Nazi dominance (including the 1938-9 rump Czecho-Slovak state; and the Slovak State of 1939-45?) and the communist period. Oddly, and rather unhistorically this omits the 1945-48 interregnum of ‘People’s Democracy’, a sort of Putinesque ‘guided democracy’ but with very strong party structures, widely considered to have paved the way from one form of totalitarianism to the other. Interestingly, the ‘National Memory’ tag used in similar institutions in Poland and Slovakia was fianlly dropped in favour of a role couched in terms of transparency and openness: improving collection, analysis and accessibility of documents relating to totalitarianism. The (remaining) records of the communist era secret police and other intelligence agencies will, however, be managed by a separate Security Agencies Archive subordinated to ÚSTR. The overall logic seems to be one echoing that in debates of 1990s over lustration legislation: that the truth (is there only one?) not so far revealed through the lustration process will finally out and when it does be public life will be improved by the consequent discrediting and squeezing out dodgy communist-era collaborators and empowering citizens oppressed by communism.

Although Sobotka and Klaus are both ODS politicians they have rarely seen eye-to-eye in the past, Sobotka being a rare public ODS critic of Klaus’s tirades against multi-culturalism and the EU Constitutions. Although Klaus has moderated his anti-communist rhetoric of the 1990s (always rather pragmatic and directed mainly against the supposed crypto-communism of the social liberal centre and social democratic centre-left) ÚSTR should prove a rather controversial topic. Indeed, interestingly it is now the liberal centre, well represented by various micro-parties and independents in the Senate, which has taken the radical decommunization demands (banning of the Communist Party and the lustration+ logic of the new ÚSTR) with greatest gusto. Tellingly, the journalist and human rights activist Jaromír Štetina, elected as a Senator for the Green Party a couple of years ago, is one of the prime movers in the latest wave of liberal centrist anti-communism, heads a Senate Committee investigating the legal status of the Communist Party and helped put together the “Don’t Talk to Communists” petition back by a series of rock-against-communism style events and a competition to design an anti-communist t-shirt competition. Looking at some of the entries (see illustrations opposite and above), anyone not recognising the parade of Czech liberal and cultural worthies associated with the project could perhaps be forgiven for assuming they had stumbled over some blood-and-honour style skinhead site.