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22 Sep, 2008 00:49

Soviet files may reveal Czech secrets

A row has erupted in the Czech Republic after the government decided to make public secret police files from the Soviet era. The documents contain the details of alleged spies and their victims. Critics say the move is unfair as it could discredit living

Hundreds of thousands of files from the Czechoslovakian security service – the STB – have been made available to the public. The documents contain both the names of spies and their targets.

In 1990, then President Vaclav Havel kept the files secret, fearing they would threaten the young democracy.

In 2002 the Parliament made all the documents public, but only last year were they transferred from the Interior ministry to a newly created Institute of Totalitarian Regimes, giving the public unprecedented physical access to them.

“Of course we cannot find all secrets of former communist regime in these files,” said the institute’s director, professor Pavel Zacek. “But it was a very important institution – the secret police – and this institution was so bureaucratic that there’s much information and many files than can be used for study.”

Roughly 19km of files belonging to the country’s former secret police are kept at the Institute and in two other locations in the Czech Republic.

Although some documents might shed light on the country’s past, many of them leave questions unanswered. Nobody knows how much information was lost when some documents were culled after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989. Many are believed to have been altered, raising questions as to their veracity.

The revealed files include the names of some current high ranking officials who allegedly collaborated with counter intelligence.

Walter Bartos, a Czech parliamentarian who once served in one of the most secret military bases, said he was shocked to find his name in the archives.

“When my name was found in the military counter intelligence files, I was in shock! For the first hour I couldn’t even speak! I am listed as a confidant but the file doesn’t even contain my signature or a single sentence I would have said. So it was created without my knowing about it,” he said.

Despite the stigma of allegedly cooperating with security services, Bartos supports the publication of the archive.

But other MPs are against digging up the past in this way, fearing it could lead to “witch hunts”.

Miloslav Vlcek, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies said: “I think a thick line should be drawn. Those archives were already partially shredded – so they are not even 100 per cent accurate. In reality those people who were there in 1989 already made sure the important information was destroyed or well hidden.”

Two decades after the end of communism, the debate continues over whether the former Czechoslvakian secret service should be preserved as a part of the country's history.

But with a database containing files on 140,000 people – the question remains whether those skeletons should ever be taken out of the closet.