Why does the Czech Republic need a government commissioner
for human rights?
The Czech Republic does not necessarily need a commissioner, but it
does need a state authority which collects and registers information about
human rights violations as well as information about cases in which Czech
legal norms disagree with the country's international obligations. The
Czech Republic needs an authority which proposes certain measures and legislative
changes to the government, so that such disagreements can be solved. The
preceding government has not done anything in this area. It did not normally
send information (about human rights violations) to Geneva or to the Council
of Europe in Strasbourg, and if it did, then only too late, when it found
itself under pressure to do so.
One case that has already gained international prominence is that
of the infamous wall planned in Ústí nad Labem to divide
Roma and white Czechs.
If we build such a fence in Ústí or anywhere else, we
will in fact build one great Chinese Wall around the Czech Republic - a
wall which will divide us from the rest of Europe. I sincerely hope this
will not be the case. The construction of the fence was postponed until
the spring, the situation can develop in such a way that the fence will
not be built at all. If the fence is built it will not have an exit onto
the street, and that is a degradation of human dignity. The question now
is, whether the government can halt the construction of the fence or to
remove it by force. I will take a very close look at this question. I would
not be too happy if it came to a situation in which a local decision is
revoked by Prague or if we had to change our legislation in order to authorize
the government to intervene. And I say this fully aware of the fact that
it is solely the government which must guarantee that human rights are
not violated: not Parliament, the president or local authorities. And the
government bears this responsibility both domestically and internationally.
In a television program you said that people still lived in the old
world. What world did you mean?
The world before November 1989 - I did not want to say the Communist
world. For us, the expression "old world" is still connected to Austria-Hungary
and to the First Czechoslovak Republic which wanted to be a modern, democratic
state but was not, especially regarding its minorities. The modern conception
of human rights, as expressed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, is based on a self-reflection of that part of humankind that lived
through the Holocaust and the horrors of Nazism. In Europe today, people
live in a new world, a modern, multicultural one. I still remember French
xenophobia against the Germans. Now, the French and the Germans cooperate,
not only their Presidents but mainly their young people. I wish we, as
the Czech Republic, would join this cultural moment. Among the twenty-
and thirty-year-olds, things look better in this regard than among older
people. But there are still a lot of reservations.
For example, with regards to the local Germans? The Germans who have
not been expelled from Czechoslovakia after WWII are still not entitled
It took some doing to pass the restitution laws. I remember because
I took part in the process as a Parliamentary deputy. We knew that the
reparations would give rise to new injustices, and I was among those who
wanted to restitute as little as possible. Others wanted to go back to
the great agricultural reforms of 1919. As a compromise we agreed to set
the cut-off date at 25 February 1948. We did not pass the restitution law
with regard to Germans or Jews.
The property of the Germans who lived here until 1945 was confiscated
under the Beneš Decrees after the War. The Czech Republic today can not
revoke these decrees. I believe they lost their validity on 31 December
1991, because in January of the same year we signed the a convention, and
any law which was incompatible with this convention ceased to be valid
by the end of that year. I think the flat expulsion of the Germans after
WWII was an injustice according to the laws of the pre-war Czechoslovak
Republic. Everyone recognizes that it is totally unacceptable - everyone
except maybe for some pig-headed, anti-Germanic old fogies.
Do you still have Slovak citizenship?
Yes. After the division of Czechoslovakia chose Slovak citizenship.
I did this out of protest against the undemocratic division of the federation
and also as a demonstration of the fact that some things can be better
in Slovakia than in the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Law on the Retention
of Citizenship was better. After I had made this choice, Czech authorities
treated me as a non-citizen, because, so they argued, I had lost my Czech
citizenship. After a complicated trial before the Constitutional Court,
where at first I lost, I finally got the Constitutional Court to declare
part of the Law on the Retention of Citizenship to be unconstitutional
and that I had not forfeited my Czech citizenship. Since then, I have dual
citizenship, and I hope that this will also be bestowed on the 65,000 Czechs
living in Slovakia.
If you look at today's society as a former dissident, what would
Still a lot. Under the new conditions in this country, we have to find
out, where the state can help and where social legislation can be a guarantor.
Our society is democratic but it is a democracy under the sign of a capitalist
economic system. With privatization we have also privatized people, their
morals, their soul. We are still far away from our objective, the civic
society. We will probably never reach it. But as far as social solidarity
and common decency are concerned, we have taken a step back.