Teachers and students seek compensation for damages suffered during Communist period

19-01-2006

The Christian Democrats, one of the two smaller parties in the ruling coalition, have formulated a new bill which aims to compensate teachers and students who were thrown out of their positions during the communist era. Earlier this week Christian Democrat MP Vladimir Riha hosted a meeting attended by many of those affected.

Sixteen years following the democratic revolution in the Czech Republic, teachers and students who were dismissed by the communist regime between 1948 and 1989 may finally have a chance to attain moral and financial recognition for the injustices they suffered. Although teachers in the Czech Republic were morally rehabilitated after 1989, they must still cope with very low pensions—a lingering burden of the communist past.

Next week the lower house of parliament will see the first reading of a bill that if passed, will give each person dismissed from their place of employment or studies for political reasons a one-time financial settlement. Vladimir Riha of the Christian Democrats says that the initiative came from former members of his party and people who suffered directly, who tried unsuccessfully to push for compensation 8 years ago.

"I had their original document re-written into a bill, and members of parliament from across the political spectrum have said they support its introduction because we feel a debt to these people. The intelligentsia and teachers were the first to be targeted in 1948 because the communists knew that an uneducated population will be easily manipulated."

Following the communist coup of February 25th, 1948, there was a mass purge of universities and schools. Jiri Navratil was one of those newly-minted graduates of the Faculty of Law caught in the wave, and he told Radio Prague his story:

"I just finished the Faculty of Law, and I was expelled because I was a member of the boy scout organization. I just finished my studies at the faculty but I was never a doctor of law."

And this happened to you in what year?

"In 1948."

What did you do thereafter?

"It was very simple. I was arrested and condemned for 20 years in prison, but it was good because after 11 years I was free again and had the opportunity to work in different professions—very simply professions—for instance, cleaner of swimming pools."

If this law passes, how will it affect you personally?

"The law will probably give every student 100 000 crowns. Nearly nothing."

Some of our discussion here today focused on the rift between the generation of 1948 and the generation of 1968. What are your opinions on this conflict, or is there a conflict?

"It is a very peculiar thing, because our colleagues who were members if these so-called action committees and expelled us in 1948 were then after 20 years expelled themselves. It is a very peculiar thing, but in a town of Mr. Kafka, things like this happen. (Laughs)."

So you accept them as normal, as part of the communist history of Czechoslovakia?

"Of course."

At this stage, the question of compensation remains open as the bill must pass through both houses of parliament before it is approved.

19-01-2006