Monday, 23 October 2017

HN: ÚSTR's totalitarianism studies still subject to row

ČTK |
5 October 2017

Prague, Oct 4 (CTK) - The Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) was established ten years ago but its way of approaching and presenting history is still subject to a row between politicians and historians, Jan Wirnitzer wrote in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Wednesday.

The critics consider the USTR's present course an effort to prevent enquiries into the crimes of communism, Wirnitzer writes.

None of the duly elected USTR directors have completed their term in office so far. The USTR Council has gradually and for various reasons sacked directors Pavel Zacek, Jiri Pernes (both historians) and Daniel Herman (former priest and current culture minister for the Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL)..

The present USTR head is Zdenek Hazdra, who shortly led the institute already once before, after the dismissal of Pernes in late 2010, Wirnitzer writes.

The situation in the USTR was criticised by the participants in a recent conference held in the Senate and marking the first decade of the USTR's operation. Criticism was mainly voiced by the USTR founders and former and present rank-and-file employees.

"At present, the USTR plays a secondary role in the modern history research," Zacek, the USTR's first director in 2008-2010, said at the conference, pointing to a low number of publications issued by the institute.

Criticism also targeted French historian Muriel Blaive, an adviser to the USTR director, for her statement that the opening of former communist secret service StB's archives to the public by the USTR has not brought a testimony on a bad totalitarian regime and people's resistance against it, but on a permanent process of negotiations between the communist rulers and the people of Czechoslovakia, Wirnitzer writes.

On the other hand, the USTR present managers say the previous managements of Zacek and Herman were activistic and politicised the institute.

"The then USTR managements liked to use the media and political potential of the stirring of emotions against the former regime's protagonists," the USTR's incumbent deputy director Ondrej Matejka said at the conference.

He said the USTR's professional work has improved under the current management, and that the institute has doubled the number of historians cooperating with it and enhanced its department for the education of teachers without raising its expenditures.

The critics from the former management and also some current employees are resolutely opposed to Matejka's praise of the USTR.

The operation of the USTR, which focuses on examining the Nazi and the communist eras, has cost more than 1.5 billion crowns since its establishment 10 years ago.

At the time, the then leftist opposition disagreed with the establishment of the USTR. It only narrowly failed to bloc the project in the Chamber of Deputies and eventually push through its scrapping by the Constitutional Court (US), Wirnitzer writes.

Finally, the opposition Social Democrats (CSSD) reached their goal otherwise. Using their majority in the Senate, the upper house of parliament, they had National Archive head Emilie Benesova, pro-CSSD political scientist Lukas Jelinek and leftist sociologist Michal Uhl elected to the USTR Council in 2012, Wirnitzer writes.

As a result, the USTR's strict unambiguous course ended, as did Herman in the post of director. As an argument for his dismissal, Uhl said Herman had labelled the communist era totalitarian, while this should be subject to a discussion, according to Uhl.

In January, only a narrow majority of the Constitutional Court judges prevented a proposal that would have paralysed historians' research, if accepted. The proposal made historians' access to archive documents, including StB files, possible only with the consent of the people mentioned in the files, such as StB agents, for example, Wirnitzer writes.

Another round of the battle for the USTR will start in two months when the Senate will be choosing new members of the USTR Council. The mandate will expire for just the Council members who were behind the dismissal of director Herman in 2013, a step the Constitutional Court eventually called unlawful, Wirnitzer writes.

In view of the Senate's present lineup, the CSSD cannot control the choice of new USTR councillors any more, Wirnitzer writes.

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