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Atlantic Eye: A despicable legacy

21st-century Bastille Day riots
efore the French establishment celebrated the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, there was another annual rite of revolution on a smaller scale. Once again the early hours of France's National Celebration were marked with the burning of more than 300 vehicles and attacks that left more than a dozen police injured, Paris police said. The BBC said many officers reported hearing difficulties after the protesters' set off explosives near police. The violence occurred despite French authorities' precautions that included nearly 10,000 police being placed on guard ahead of July 14. The number of incidents and arrests was higher than in 2008, police said. Bastille Day -- July 14 -- is the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution when the Bastille prison was stormed in 1789. The following events led to the establishment of France as it is known in the 21st century. But some of the same issues confront modern France that caused the uprising in the 18th century. The annual Bastille Day riots are based in a generation of French citizens who complain they are victims of high rates of unemployment and the failure of the central government to effectively bring ethnic minorities into the French mainstream. Even the enactment of legislation that sets possible prison sentences of up to three years and maximum fines of $63,000 for people convicted of arson in such demonstrations didn't deter protests in 2009. This year's protests were spurred by riots in Firminy in southern France. A 21-year-old Algerian died after hanging himself while in police custody. His relatives refused to accept the official explanation, and another autopsy was ordered to determine the cause of and underlying circumstances of the death. For three nights after the death, young people roamed the streets of Firminy, setting stores and vehicles on fire and throwing debris at the 200 anti-riot police called in to quell the violence. The instance in Firminy is a sign of an ongoing issue in France, one that made worldwide news in October 2005 when riots in several cities raged after two minority teenagers, residents of an area of Clichy-sous-Bois with large Arab and African populations, died after they tried to flee police. Police were investigating an alleged construction site break-in. Three people ran and hid in an operating power substation. Two of them were electrocuted. Violent protests flared in November 2007 after two boys of Arab heritage were killed when the motorcycle they were riding was hit by a police vehicle. Again rioting spread to several areas in France in protest of the police actions and the ongoing problems with finding work. Bastille Day is marked by a huge parade down the Champs-Elysees. This year the honor of leading the march was given to a member of the Indian military. The pomp and ceremony demand a lot of attention and national pride. But the other demonstrations are working to direct attention to bigger modern issues than military parades. The echoes of the events of 1789 can be heard in the modern uprisings and, while it is unlikely to grow into a nationwide revolution, the French government is being forced to look into the causes of the unrest among its disaffected minority population. (AFP report)
by Marc S. Ellenbogen
Prague, Czech Republic (UPI) Jul 13, 2009
They just won't go away. Twenty years after the fall of communism, much Central Europe's economy, politics and judiciary is dominated by former Communists. It is a despicable legacy. But it might not be the worst of it.

A new study by former Czech Sen. Martin Mejstrik counts 30 percent of Czech judges as former members of the party. Others put the figure at 50 percent. Either way, the highest levels of the Czech judiciary are ripe with former Communists.

But even worse might be the "pervasive corruption at the highest levels of the judiciary which has little to do with the legacy of communism," a prominent legal scholar said to me. "Younger judges -- the majority at the bottom of the food chain and untainted -- are pressured or marginalized by methods used in Communist times and fine-tuned by a new corrupt mafia."

"The Communist judges and the new mafia do not love each other, Marc. … They have a relationship based on a common evil past. … There are Communist judges who have actually learned, and are now more honest than others in judgeships that were not in the party," says the legal scholar. "They collude with the highest levels of government across party lines.

"It is all very complicated. The current system is an outgrowth of a system set up by Franz Wehr -- the father of the First Republic's constitution (1918-39) -- and Hans Kelsen -- who believed in Reine Rechtslehre -- legal formalism that leaves no room for the social context. … It is a tradition in Czech lands -- also in Austria and Germany -- long before the Communists. But the Communists found it a useful way to control society."

In the early 1990s President Vaclav Havel and a reform Czech Parliament created a Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court -- the highest court in the land -- has 15 members, each appointed to a 10-year term. Each judge may serve two terms. The Constitutional Court, the cleanest of the Czech courts by far with virtually no former Communists, often finds itself under fire and ignored by the lower courts and their cohorts in government.

The Czech legal system is split into the aforementioned Constitutional Court; a Supreme Court (64 judges -- 60 percent former Communist -- who serve for life. Chief Justice Bruseva was NOT a communist); a High Court (70 percent Communist and the most corrupt) split into administrative locations in Prague (60 judges) and the eastern-city of Olomouc (15 judges); 14 Regional Courts (200 judges -- 30 percent Communist) and lower-level District Courts (2,500 judges -- almost no Communists). The numbers of judges fluctuate.

According to the Mejstrik Report -- Mejstrik was a leader of the student movement during the Velvet Revolution in 1989 -- "The judicial system of the Czech Republic struggles with a bad reputation. Well-known is the excessive length of civil and administrative proceedings, leading to thousands of complaints to the European Court of Human Rights over the past several years." Also criticized is the "interference of the executive sphere within the judiciary."

Among the Czech Republic's roughly 3,000 judges, there are several hundred former members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, deemed a "criminal organization" by Act No. 198 of the Czech Republic from 1993. The report also finds:

-- The number of former Communist Party members is significantly higher at higher court levels.

-- None of the courts in the country above district level provided Sen. Mejstrik with information on the membership of their judges in the Communist Party. According to the research, at least 40 percent of all chairs and vice chairs of Czech courts are former members of the Communist Party.

-- There are at least five active judges in the Czech Republic who do not have appropriate law school education. They carry degrees from the so-called Law School for the Working Class or The National Defense Corps School of the Communist regime.

-- The Prague High Court of Justice was selected as a model example. Data was collected for 50 out of 92 judges; 32 were members of the Communist Party until the "Velvet Revolution" -- among them the chairman of the Court, Judge Vladimir Stiborik; at least two of the three vice chairmen -- Judges Jaroslav Bures and Stanislav Bernard -- and the head of the Penal Law Section, Judge Vladimir Vocka -- who in 1997 stopped the prosecution of top-ranking Communists Milos Jakes and Jozef Lenart, who were being tried for high treason in connection with the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968.

Vojtech Filip, collaborator of the Communist StB (State Secret Police), who is the current chair of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia and vice chairman of the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, has been a member of the Communist Party since 1983.

In 1992 Filip asked the district court for a ruling that he did not knowingly collaborate with the secret police. The witnesses in court were three of his commanding state security officers. No other witnesses were called. Mejstrik found that the judge, Milan Tripes, who ruled in favor of Filip, was a candidate for membership in the Communist Party in 1988-1989 -- imagine the absurdity.

According to my legal source, "The political past has less influence than the present, even though we outside see the former Communists as the bigger problem. … In some cases, unfortunately, the former Communists might be more modern than the current mafia."

When Vaclav Havel left office in 2003 he prepared a list of clean candidates for high courts. They were thrown out by current President Vaclav Klaus -- himself a Communist enabler. The Senate has meanwhile rejected 20 of Klaus's high court nominees.

It isn't enough to reject Klaus's incompetent nominees.

The current crop of corrupt and Communist judges should be sent out to pasture for good.

There they can ride out their lives -- grazing the land instead of defiling it.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A supporter of the anti-communist underground, he has advised political candidates and is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)


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