Blowing the Whistle on the Past

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If you were ever mixed up with the communist secret police (StB) in the former Czechoslovakia, watch out for Petr Cibulka. He's out to get you. Even if your name is not yet on one of his lists, which contain personal information on nearly 200,000 alleged StB collaborators and officers, do not rest assured. The 49-year-old former dissident is always on the lookout and routinely tips off journalists to new finds. He also publishes them in his bi-weekly paper The Uncensored News and posts them on his website (http://stb.cibulka.cz/). And he's not afraid of lawsuits, either. "They'd have to kill me [to stop me]," he says.

Cibulka is not alone in attempting to disclose who spied on whom under the former Czechoslovakia's communist regime, which tried and convicted some 280,000 people on political charges, forcibly confined around 7,000 in mental institutions and executed more than 230. A group of Senators is drafting a law to provide public access to most StB dossiers, a move that would make it easy to refute or confirm the information Cibulka has published since the 1989 fall of communism.

So far only about 60,000 personal files, a fraction of what's believed to exist, have been made available to alleged collaborators and their victims. None has been opened to the general public or the press. "The information should be openly out there," says Pavel Zacek, a former employee of the Czech police's Bureau for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes who is now helping draft the law, "and then we can decide if we will speak to these people."

But Cibulka isn't waiting for a new law. He spent almost five years as a political prisoner in the late 1970s and throughout the '80s, largely for speaking out against communism, distributing samizdat writings and music, and organizing underground musical events. While in prison he was repeatedly beaten and kept in solitary confinement. He went on two hunger strikes, one of which lasted 31 days.

Now he is pursuing the former StB, police and Communist Party functionaries who he claims persecuted him and others. Through their connections and personal wealth, he says, these individuals still occupy important posts in the state administration and control a large part of the business sector. "As early as the [1968] Soviet occupation, I stood up against dictatorship," Cibulka says. "It's important for the health of society to know ... what kind of people have political and economic power in this country today."

Cibulka published the first 160,000 names in 1992 shortly after receiving them on three floppy disks from a source with access to StB records. "I never wanted to know who stole the materials," he says. His paper continued publicizing names until 1996, when it collapsed amid distribution and financial problems and Cibulka moved his operation onto the Web. He revived the paper in November 1999 for the 10th anniversary of the fall of communism. In the first issue he published an additional 15,000 names of alleged StB officers.

It has not been an easy quest. Cibulka discovered that many of his dissident friends had been listed as StB collaborators. And because his lists contain mostly names, dates of birth, code names and types of collaboration -- such as informant or agent -- it's difficult to determine the nature of a person's alleged involvement or if their record has been falsified. And this has angered some of the people on Cibulka's lists. Milan Hlavsa, a member of the Plastic People of the Universe, a prominent underground band that regrouped after 1989, says his listing was part of a StB smear campaign after he refused to leave the country in the late 1970s. "I never signed anything and that's their cruel revenge," he says.

Pavel Bret, a deputy director of the Bureau for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes, also warns of the dangers inherent in Cibulka's lists. "It's dangerous to apply sweeping blacklisting," he says. "We shouldn't forget who compiled them. If [Cibulka] wants to be objective, he should also inform the public how people had been recruited -- that it was often through compromising documents, extortion, beatings -- or their collaboration was falsified."

But Cibulka believes the public has the right to know about the pasts of people like Jan Dolansky, a former StB officer and now a lawyer with the state-owned Public Health Insurance Company, who recently received a suspended sentence in connection with the 1980 beating of Vaclav Maly, now a Prague bishop.

During more than 40 years of communist rule, hundreds of thousands of Czechs were tainted by association with the StB and Communist Party. Most of them -- and their friends and families -- would like to see the past buried and forgotten. For better or for worse, Cibulka is determined to dig it up.