Comments to Havel's book: Art of the Impossible. Politics and Morality in Practice.

Knopf, 273 pages, $ 29.95

Reviewed in the Globe and Mail, Saturday, May 24,1997

Reviewer: Kenneth Murphy, Senior Fellow at the Columbia University School of Law.

Quotes from Havel's book:

"...we all need to be a certain kind of shock - one that tells us we cannot evade the universal nature of our responsibility..."

As Kenneth Murphy comments: "Havel's own guilt too, are not to be evaded - and he does not attempt to. In an early act of reform, for example, the Czech parliament passed a law : "aimed at preventing those who had violated human rights in the past from working in the civil service..."

The problem is that the legislation is based on the principle of collective responsibility; it prohibits certain persons from holding certain positions solely because they belonged to groups defined by their external characteristics. It does not allow their cases to be heard individually.

K. Murphy then continues: " In conscience ,what was Havel, dissident champion of the individual to do? The constitution required him to sign all laws passed by parliament. Refusal would create "a political crisis further destabilizing the country. It would have been a morally upright yet immensely risky act of civil disobedience. (V.H.)"

"It may thus come to pass that the bill with my name on it....will mean that a number of people will be treated unfairly."

Indeed this has happened. First of all, with blatant violation of the existing laws, a register of secret police files has been published in a widely circulated tabloid containing over 130 thousand names under the title: "A Complete List of Secret Police Informers". That this was a blatant lie is one thing. The "List" is simply a list of police files; some of them may refer to informers. A substantial part, however, contains names of people who due to their non-conformist views were under police surveillance, often not aware of this fact, sometimes terrorized to sign a "commitment" to cooperate with the secret police (or else). The "List" was far from being complete and there is strong evidence suggesting that only a minority of those registered in this "List" were genuine informers . The regime operated of course using the services of a large number of real informers.

Their names up till recently could not be found.

In June 1997 a disgruntled (fired?) official involved with security issues (former dissident Stanislav Deváty) suddenly revealed that there is another List containing 13,000 names, never published.

He revealed one juicy example : The recent Czech Ambassador to the United States and present chairman of an important political party (ODA) Mr. Michal Zantovsky. But this is another issue.

Much more serious is the fact that although a law was clearly broken (the confidentiality of the registers is protected by law) the Czech government and parliament did not show the slightest interest in investigating the leakage of these confidential data or to see that the law is upheld. This clearly indicates a governmental connivance with this criminal act.

The bottom line is this:

The Czech Republic adopted and continues to use the principles of Soviet law as formulated by the murderous Soviet state attorney Vyshinskij, against their own citizens.

Vyshinsky's book "On the Theory of Judicial Evidence" is the basic text of Soviet criminal law.

According to this doctrine :

These are exactly the principles upon which the infamous Czech "Lustrace law" rests.

If a person's name is on a list prepared by the Secret Police which allegedly contains the names of "secret collaborators" , this person is officially labelled as such without further ado. There is no trial or hearing. There is no need to document that the person who is now marked as a "secret collaborator" really reported anyone. It is enough if the person's name appeared on the "List". The guilt -with serious social and existential consequences-is thus readily established.

The "confession" consists from the fact that some of those on the "List" signed a document promising cooperation with the Secret Police. That the majority of these commitments were often extorted, particularly in the fifties, with brutal terror and under duress plays no role under the present Czech legal system. Actually the overwhelming majority of these commitments were acquired through some sort of pressure which perhaps in the seventies did not include severe threats, but there was always an indication of negative reprecussions if the contacted person decided not to be "sensible".

However, the cynicism of the Czech government does not end here. Are there no remedial measures? Yes there are. You can sue the Ministry of Interior and you can try to prove your innocence.

No Czech legal body or any other organization has found anything unusual in this procedure.

The possibility that someone occurred on the "List" by error or fraud is dismissed out of hand. In the opinion of the present day "anticommunists" the Czech Communist Secret Police were impeccably honest, accurate and infallible.


In view of the continuing use of Soviet "legal" principles, in view of accepting the principle of "guilt by association" the question emerges as to whether the Czech Republic is mature enough to enter the family of European nations and the NATO.