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Czech Republic: Misuse Of Titles Hits Czech Government

Prague, 18 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Czech Republic has experienced yet another political scandal.

Last night, without any advance warning, Deputy Prime Minister Jan Kalvoda told the cabinet he will resign his parliamentary seat and leave politics because he had used the title "Doctor of Law" (JUDr.) which he never earned. The case is all the more piquant because Kalvoda is Czech Minister of Justice and has been responsible for the country's post-communist transformation of the country's legislation and criminal code.

Kalvoda heads the conservative-oriented Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), one of the two junior coalition partners. The ODA has the reputation among insiders of being little more than a closed men's club. Kalvoda�s departure may provoke some important ODA members to leave the party.

Kalvoda's resignation came just hours after a Christian Democratic (KDU-CSL) lawmaker, Pavla Jurkova, resigned her seat in parliament for misusing the title Doctor of Law. She admitted that the title does not appear in any of her personal documents and added that a public misconception exists that a person who graduates from a law school automatically has the right to use the title Doctor of Law.

Three other lawmakers were reported to misuse doctoral titles. One, Social Democrat (CSSD) Marie Noveska, dropped out of law school. The other two -- Ondrej Zemina and the chairwoman of parliament's mandates and immunity committee Anna Roeschova -- are members of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus' Civic Democratic Alliance. Both of them completed law school but admitted misusing the title Doctor of Law. But all three said yesterday that they had no intention of surrendering their parliamentary mandates.

After Kalvoda made his announcement, he left in the midst of the cabinet meeting and went to parliament to make his departure from politics public.

Kalvoda told the legislators that "the title Doctor of Law does not belong to me -- I allowed it to be used and consider this to have been my own mistake. He said that the decision to leave politics was his own.

Kalvoda later told reporters no other, "hidden" reason for his resignation exists and in response to reporters' questions, said he had not been subjected to any attempts at blackmail.

Kalvoda's announcement came as a bolt from the blue and left Klaus' cabinet dumbfounded. Klaus described himself as being "incredibly surprised and shocked" and added that the whole matter is "rather absurd." He described the affair as, in his words, a "political deviation, upsetting and causing nervousness. Press reports say the ministers ordered whiskey and beer in an effort to ease the shock.

The largest-circulation Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes, reports a sense of black humor prevailed in the cabinet last night, with some ministers sitting speechless, and others just shaking their heads in disbelief.

The ministers were reported to have agreed that the only one among them who is not liable to come under similar suspicions is Interior Minister Jan Ruml: he never earned a title of any sort because the Communist regime refused to let him to enter university because of his dissident activities. Ruml responded that he had been leading the cabinet by the nose, since although he had always claimed to have been herding cows under the Communists, in actual fact he had been a shepherd.

In the Czech Republic, misuse of an academic title is considered a violation of the law and is subject to a maximum fine of 3,000 Czech crowns (the equivalent of $111). The 1990 law on higher education grants every graduate of law school the title of "Master" (magistr / Mgr.).

Before 1990, the title Doctor of Law was only bestowed on those who passed the so called "rigorosa" exam or graduated with honors (red diploma). Since 1990, law students seeking the title Doctor of Law must successfully complete two years of post-graduate study, pass the "rigorosa" and successfully defend their dissertations.

The left-wing daily Pravo notes that according to current regulations, the title Doctor of Law has no significance whatsoever, neither for the conduct of a law firm nor for other legal professions ranging from judges and state attorneys to public notaries. The paper insists the title is solely a matter of social prestige.

Be that as it may, titles are of immense social significance in Central Europe and generally ensure respect and better treatment by others, particularly bureaucrats. That the Justice Minister and at least four other MPs have used titles they had no right to is likely to generate an air of suspicion about the Czech leadership.