Slovakia’s Institute for National Memory Proposes to Tax Communist Spies

During my fieldwork, one of the injustices I heard most about is the disparity in old age pensions that exists today between those that worked for the secret service ŠtB (who managed to build up a nice pension over the years) and those suffered at their hands. Apparently, you don’t build up much of a pension in prison, or when you’re forced to work menial jobs because you’re a ‘class enemy’, even under communism).

In Slovakia there is now a proposal to change this, effectively taxing ŠtB pensions and distributing that revenue amongst former political prisoners and other victims of the communist regime. Both government and opposition parties are reacting positively – but none of them actually came up with this proposal themselves.

What is remarkable is that this proposal is not coming out of any of the parliamentary parties, but from Slovakia’s ‘Institute of National Memory’ (Ústav Pamäti Národa, ÚPN). That’s how I found out – they posted it to their facebook page, introducing it as ‘our most recent legislative activity’. Not that I disagree with the proposal, but it is interesting that an organization like this would engage in promoting a political agenda. ÚPN was created in 2002 in order to facilitate access to the ŠtB files, to inform the public about the communist past, and to conduct historical research. Like its counterpart in the Czech Republic, ÚPN stresses its impartiality – and like its counterpart in the Czech Republic, the ‘non-partisan’ nature of the institute is hard to reconcile with its overtly stated mission to study communist crimes. These institutes reproach their detractors and critics for ‘politicizing’ the past, they hide behind their nominal neutrality and claim that what they do is scientific research (as though that could never be political in anyway) based on expertise (again, something that is treated as being mutually exclusive with politics). And yet, in Slovakia as elsewhere, they behave as political actors in their own right, for better or worse.

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