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Central Europe: Secret Police Files Opened To The Public

Prague, 20 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Last week Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski submitted to the parliament a draft law allowing ordinary Poles to view files on them gathered by communist security agencies.

Kwasniewski's proposal was the latest one in a series of similar moves taken recently throughout Central Europe. Within the last year alone, first Hungary and then the Czech Republic effectively opened up their security archives. Romania did it last month and Bulgaria made last week former secret police files available to the general public.

They all followed an example of former German Democratic Republic (GDR) -- now the eastern part of unified Germany -- which opened up five years ago the personal files compiled by its secret police, the Stasi. Since that time, more than a million Germans have examined their files.

The disclosure of the Stasi files has been a traumatic experience of most former GDR citizens. They have discovered that the pervasive Stasi network reached into almost every sector of the population, touching on all forms of organized life and frequently extending into personal, even intimate, relations among friends and within families.

But it has had little impact so far on German politics in the unified country. GDR has simply been absorbed into the larger German state, which remained relatively immune to the Stasi scandals and related tragedies of distrust and betrayal.

This is not the case with the other formerly communist Central European states, however. There, the secrets contained in security files are likely to affect the very basis of politics. Millions of people in those countries are believed to have informed for the security agencies at some point, and many currently leading politicians have been accused by their opponents of having been either willing or unwilling informers or even agents.

And yet, the disclosure is also much needed. Already the political climate in most Central European countries has been charged with accusations and counterclaims, and the continuing uncertainty only makes matters worse.

At the same time, there have been consistent reports from each of the countries in the region that former communist security agents managed to destroy considerable volumes of the files, delete incriminating passages from other ones, and insert conflicting and frequently misleading information into still others. This happened in Poland, where tens of thousands of secret files were reported to have been burned in 1989 and 1990. Similar reports show that hundreds of thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian files were also destroyed. By contrast, the Hungarian archive is said to be relatively intact.

All this creates doubts about the reliability of the files in place. A public opinion poll published two weeks ago in Bulgaria showed that only 11 percent of those questioned intended to apply to see their files, while more than 60 percent said that they "had no desire to read such documents." According to media reports, only a few Romanian politicians have bother until now to look up their files.

In Poland there has been little sign that the opening of files would lead to a massive public response. The existing law calls for a screening of public officials for past ties with the communist security police. Only a dozen or so of candidates in recent parliamentary elections admitted such ties. None has lost the election. There have been rumors in Poland that Kwasniewski's move was merely intended to preempt similar action by his political opponents. Whether it will result in any significant alteration of the existing political balance is doubtful.

Until now sporadic disclosures have only prompted everywhere renewed disputes and quarrels, complicating rather than simplifying politics and redirecting attention from basic economic and political issues at hand. There is no reason to assume that the opening up of the existing, admittedly incomplete, files would make the situation better. Indeed, it is likely to make it even worse.