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Oops! Errors, legal flaws may send anti-communist laws back

THE JOY of some members of parliament at the recent passage of three laws to help the country deal with its communist past has given way to dismay. While one of the laws will be returned to parliament due to a simple textual error, another has been challenged as unconstitutional.
The two problematic laws include one making the files of the former communist secret police, the ŠtB, publicly accessible. The law was approved on July 10 with an effective date of July 1.

THE JOY of some members of parliament at the recent passage of three laws to help the country deal with its communist past has given way to dismay. While one of the laws will be returned to parliament due to a simple textual error, another has been challenged as unconstitutional.

The two problematic laws include one making the files of the former communist secret police, the ŠtB, publicly accessible. The law was approved on July 10 with an effective date of July 1.

An amendment to the Penal Code making propagation of or public expressions of sympathy for communist ideology and the denial of communist crimes punishable by jail terms of up to three years. This measure has been slammed as a muzzle on freedom of expression even by right-wing politicians, not to mention the 23,000 strong Slovak Communist Party (KSS).

It is also uncertain whether Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, himself a former top communist official, will sign a third law banning former members of the ŠtB from serving in the current Slovak secret service (SIS), which has complained the ban could spell personnel problems.

"If someone is trying to ban the KSS then he should just come out and say so," said KSS chair Jozef Ševc.

Dozens of KSS members protested the Penal Code amendment in front of the parliament building three days after its passage, and delivered a protest letter to the visiting head of the European Parliament, Pat Cox.

But even sworn enemies of communism have admitted problems in the laws.

Daniel Lipšic, an expert in constitutional law and a vice-chair of the ruling coalition Christian Democrats (KDH), said that while "the Slovak elite hasn't dealt with communist crimes yet", he was convinced that "punishing the expression of an opinion, however unethical and immoral it may be, is unconstitutional."

Schuster, who is on holiday on Croatia, has not said if he will sign the laws into effect, but has called them "an unnecessary opening of old wounds".

Backers of the laws said they wanted to put communism on an equal footing with fascism, and said the burden of proving the difference should be on those behind the communist regime which ruled Slovakia from 1949 to 1989.

"The communist regime in Slovakia unjustly sentenced 70,000 people to prison, sent 12,000 to forced labour camps and killed around 60 people. I think the two ideologies are very similar. If they [KSS] don't, they should say what the difference is," said Marián Gula, head of the Justice Ministry's department for the documentation of communist crimes.

Former Interior Minister (1998 to 2001) Ladislav Pittner, head of the confederation of political prisoners, condemned the KSS outcry as an attempt to "find reasons so that the amendment is not signed".

Having passed the legislature once, however, the laws may not receive a second approval if the president sends them back. While most laws approved by parliament need a simple majority of MPs present to be passed, laws returned to parliament need 76 of the house's 150 members in favour to take final effect.

On July 10 the ŠtB law was supported by 70 MPs, while the Penal Code amendment received 51 votes.

Parliament also ended its last regular session before September elections on July 13, making it unlikely the laws will be discussed again before a new legislature assembles in the fall.

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