Sun, Oct 19, 2008 - Page 8 News List


Making peace with the past

Many East Europeans formerly living under communist regimes would like to bury their unpleasant memories of the totalitarian period. However, without addressing past human rights abuses, forgiving and forgetting is not possible.

Recent events in the Czech Republic and Poland show that the totalitarian past is never far from the surface. The leading news weekly Respect says the Czech Republic’s well-known writer Milan Kundera was a communist informer in the 1950s who played a crucial role in the arrest of Miroslav Dvoracek. Dvoracek was a pilot who fled Czechoslovakia shortly after the communists came to power.

He became a Western agent and returned on an undercover mission to Prague in 1950. However, shortly after arrival he was betrayed to the police, arrested and sentenced to death — the sentence was later commuted to 25 years of hard labor.

A careful study by Adam Hradilek, a researcher at the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, showed that a student named Milan Kundera reported the presence of Dvoracek at the student dormitory in Prague to the police. The event led to the arrest of Dvoracek.

A similar case shocked Poles this summer after Polish station TVN presented the documentary Three Buddies. It is a real story of three friends — Stanislaw Pyjas, Bronislaw Wildstein, a leading conservative journalist in Poland, and Leslaw Maleszka, once a leading opinion writer at the left-leaning paper Gazeta Wyborcza.

In the 1970s, the three college friends were active in anti-communist organizations. However, Maleszka was a valuable agent for the communist secret police. His reports on students, in which he did not hesitate to describe the intimate lives of his closest friends, were called “excellent” by the secret service.

On May 7, 1977, 24-year old Pyjas was brutally beaten to death. The documentary showed that Pyjas had to die because he might have suspected Maleszka of collaboration with the communist regime. The secret services did not want to lose such a precious agent and an unknown officer ordered the murder.

In his books and essays, Wildstein — a former Polish dissident, journalist, freelance author and one of the “three buddies” — argues for a thorough review of the country’s communist past. He has become an ardent supporter of the lustration law, which is a crucial element of transitional justice.

The law was passed in the Czech Republic in 1991 and finally in Poland last year and is meant not only to serve as a form of justice, but also to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Coming to terms with the past, as the Polish and Czech examples show, can be traumatic. However, without it, justice and rebuilding social trust is not possible. A peaceful and democratic nation can’t exist with an unhealed trauma in its historical memory.



Who trusts the drivers?

I am very disappointed to learn that the ban on right-hand turns at red lights will not be lifted. In addition to carbon emissions and fuel costs being cut, overall commuting times and driver aggression would be reduced.

The China Post article on this contained an error, as it stated that only the US and China allows right hand turns on red. However, in Canada, we are also allowed to make right turns on red. The major difference between driving in Canada and Taiwan, however, is not the traffic rules, but the lack of driving education and respect by Taiwan’s drivers.

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