According to information avaliable to Respekt, Interior Minister Ivan Langer has investigated 1,800 employees at his ministry – administrative workers at the so-called „kachlíkárna“ near Letenská pláň who are responsible for running all of the ministry's departments, from the police department, to the fire deparment, to the archives, to public administration. The result? One in 12 of these workers served in the pre-November [pre-Velvet Revolution] StB, either as an officer with the totalitarian secret service or as an agent. That's a fairly high number. The ministry is now trying to determine whether this is either something that should worry us or something we can dismiss. In other words: Can these people can stay? And if they should leave, then how?
Slanina, lord of the cafeterias
For now 150 former StB officers and agents are left in peace to go about their daily business at the ministry. In fact, they don't even know that the minister decided to investigate them or that in the near future a decision will be made about the future of their careers. Meanwhile, we don't know – because the ministry is still keeping it secret –where they work, what they're responsible for and if, in any way at all, their past affects the work they do today. They are, nevertheless, people who play an important role in decision-making about the security strategies of this country and the daily running of public administration. There is, in other words, an exhausting search for answers ahead. But we do have enough information to at least form some sort of an opinion. Barely three weeks have passed since the minister dismissed three ministry employees because of their StB ties. And we can use this as an example to illustrate the problem at hand.
Until recently, Jiří Slanina headed the ministry's cafeterias – up to the moment an investigation ordered by the minister revealed him to be a former StB agent. And not just any agent: proof of his overzealousness as an agent meant he didn't pass a civic screening in 1990. In the Havlíčkův Brod region, where he served [under the communist regime], he was renowned for bullying people whose views were not in line of those of the party. Local dissidents recall that when he was promoted and transferred to Prague, conditions in the region became significantly more relaxed. So Slanina had to leave the police force, but when in 1999 the Social Democratic Party decided to hire pre-November police „experts“, he applied. Minister Grulich had no problem accepting him. Eight years later, after the arrival of new ministry head Langer, he was uncovered and sacked – but a problem arose.
Here we can't avoid a small trip through history. The Czech Republic has two tools to identify and resolve the risks associated with those who once served for the pre-November apparatus: the lustration law and security screenings. The first tool deals with the situation in a broad way: political police officers, their agents, top communist officials and members of the people's militia are barred from serving in certain public administration posts. The law was created at a time when no one was really able to identify the risk former protagonists of the past regime posed to democracy, but it was generally accepted that such people shouldn't hold high positions after the regime change. The second tool is security screenings, which assess a specific person's capability to handle sensitive information and the risks involved.
Now back to Slanina. As an administrative worker, he didn't need to go through any screening and the lustration law didn't apply to his position. Nevertheless, as head of the cafeteria section, he had perfect overview of all the ministry's employees, including member of the counter-intelligence service. Simply put, anyone who ever had lunch at one of the ministry's cafeterias had to slide his identification card through a machine that was able to read the card's information, including the section of the ministry for which the card-holder worked. No one is claiming that Slanina supplied foreign agents with information about the ministry's employees, but it seems logical that a man with his past shouldn't be working in this type of post.
Minister Langer reached the same conclusion. He decided to give precedence to sound moral judgment over lustrations and security screenings and dismissed Slanina. Although the media applauded his move, he now has 150 other Slaninas to deal with, and that is a big problem.
What to do about them
Ministry representatives are having a tough time with this, of course. When asked what would happen to the former StB officers, Zdeněk Zajíček, who has been entrusted with handling the screenings, said, „We ordered some screenings. Of course, I won't tell you anything about the results, but we're trying to resolve the situation.“
„I don't know what ministry posts these people hold, but people like this present a problem. In my experience, they would present a risk in any type of post. Just remember Jan Kavan,“ says sociologist Ivan Gabal, trying to assess the risks involved. „From a legal perspective, the situation is such that the lustration law and the security screenings were implemented to protect certain positions rather than to investigate specific individuals,“ he says.
„Why were these people screened anyway? They already passed security screenings and lustrations, so I wouldn't have thought of investigating them,“ says former Interior Minister František Bublan. According to him, the issue of former StB agents working at the ministry „cannot be resolved globally“. „We would need to screen everyone individually, assessing what risk each person poses,“ says Bublan. „I wouldn't overdo it. I wouldn't want to organize some sort of a witch hunt.“
„It's not a matter of hunting anyone down,“ responds Minister Langer. His screenings were a reaction to the discovery this February that Pavol Mihál, head of Czech Interpol, had a false lustration certificate. In his application, he simply changed a letter in his name – Pavol to Pavel – and in the '90s he received a certificate cleaner than snow. When this was discovered at the beginning of this year, Mihál, whose post called for a clean lustration certificate, had to leave. Minister Langer then checked another 900 lustration certificates of top police officers and, after discovering that, like Mihál, six of them had false papers, [Langer] decided to screen all key ministry employees. Langer doesn't want to confirm any numbers, nor is he willing to name any names or the positions in which these people work.
Let's return once more to the recent past. It's been a month since Miroslav Krejčík, director of the military intelligence service, gave an interview in which he suggested the protagonists of the past regime could harm the current one. „They were guided by the motto, the worse it is, the better. They sabotaged the work of the military intelligence service. Their mode of thinking harkened back to the times of the deepest totalitarianism,“ he said, referring to the work of 40 former communist StB officers whom he had dismissed in recent years.
Another way of illustrating the risk posed by the protagonists of the past regimes is the case of former Police President Vladislav Husák. Once a member of the communist Public Security force, Husák and his girlfriend, who is a former StB officer, are suspected of warning [former] top communist official Miroslav Šlouf in connection with a planned police investigation of the infamous bio-ethanol corruption case. (Many of those being investigated were Šlouf's political allies.) It's hard to claim that what we're seeing here is an organized network of conspirators. But it seems – if it is indeed proven – that these people have close ties to one another and that they have built their careers using their communist-era contacts. If these ties mean they are willing to sabotage a crucial police investigation, then they truly present a serious security risk.
This means security screenings are key. Minister Langer introduced stricter criteria for police investigators handling sensitive information (secret, top secret, etc.). Most department directors need to undergo new security screenings. It's still unknown if the screenings might also apply to ministry workers in important positions.
But even this step doesn't answer the questions of what to do with StB officers. Just because someone has StB ties doesn't automatically mean that he shouldn't pass a screening. We won't be able to avoid debating this issue in the next few months. With the arrival of the new government, police archives began yielding testimonies about our past and about the communist careers of tens of thousands of people who today in many cases hold important positions in our society. We can probably expect more such disclosures.