SLOVAKS are now able to look into the files of the communist secret service (ŠtB) to see what information was gathered about them by agents and collaborators under the oppressive regime.
The opportunity comes with the creation of the National Memory Institute (UPN), which began operating at the Justice Ministry on May 1. Politicians and people prosecuted by the regime have called for such an institution since the fall of communism in 1989.
It is estimated that the ŠtB produced about 70,000 files of which about a third were destroyed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The remaining files have until now been administered by the Slovak Information Service (SIS).
The institute is currently negotiating the transfer of the files from the SIS, and citizens have already started sending in their requests to look at their personal files. The institute is obliged to respond to every request within 90 days.
The head of the UPN, Ján Langoš - a former MP who was among the politicians calling for the creation of the institute - said that making the communist documents accessible to the public would enable a renewal of the nation's memory for future generations.
"Those of us who remember the regime are obliged to keep up the memory of that tragic period in our history, so that young people remain sensitive to the rise of evil that can blight humankind," he said.
Apart from administering the ŠtB files and enabling public access to them, the institute, which plans to employ 40 people, will also carry out historical research on the period of so-called unfreedom in Slovakia. That includes the country's fascist history during the second world war, starting in 1939, and the communist regime that lasted until 1989.
The UPN also plans to publish a list of ŠtB collaborators, a project that Langoš said could be finished by autumn this year.
It is believed that thousands of people worked with the regime, and that the ŠtB often tried to find compromising information about them that could later be used to blackmail them into cooperating with the communists.
Organisers say the UPN will also start negotiations with the Czech Republic, in whose archives a number of files remained stored after the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993.
According to Juraj Kalina, one of the UPN's co-founders, the institute will carry out original research on the cruelty of the communist regime.
"One of the priorities of the institute is collecting testimonies from people who remember that period," Kalina said.
Although several public figures, including former dissidents, welcomed the creation of the UPN, representatives of the parliamentary Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) described the institute as a "waste of taxpayers' money".
"I don't know what the purpose of the institute is supposed to be. It's merely a waste of taxpayers' money. That period [of history] will be judged by historians," Ladislav Jača, KSS central secretary, told The Slovak Spectator.
Along with a law on UPN, parliament recently approved a grant of Sk60 million (€1.5 million) for the running of the institute.
"What use will that [institute] be to a 60-year-old retired man? You will see that people will not be interested in looking into the files," Jača said.
According to Jača, the institute was intended as a way of distracting public attention away from the problems people face as a result of the current cabinet's policies.
He also said that if the ŠtB files are to be made public, "why does the CIA [in the US] not open its files, and why does the Slovak cabinet not open the current SIS files so that people are able to see what information the current regime collects on them?"
But those behind the institute insisted that it was crucial for any nation to know its past and to keep the memories of past evils inflicted on that nation alive so that similar atrocities could not happen in the future.
Many people who suffered under communism, such as representatives of the church who were prosecuted for their beliefs, supported the creation of the institute.
Marián Gavenda, spokesman for the Slovak Conference of Bishops (KBS), said he hoped that the publication of the files would compel "those who inflicted the suffering to look into themselves and clean up their souls."
"This is not about revenge against those who worked with the regime but rather about understanding our past," he said.
12. May 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová