CZECH SOVEREIGNTY ENDS AT RFE/RL
By Lev Roitman, Prague newspaper "Lidove noviny"
On Saturday, Prague expects the visit by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. By virtue of her position, the Secretary is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which on Prague Vaclavske namesti occupies the building of former Czechoslovak National Assembly.
In that building, in July of 1995, marking the occasion of American Independence Day and recent RFE/RL relocation from Munich to Prague, Hillary Clinton called for the global "alliance of democratic values". Ten years later, in the same building resonated the words of Vaclav Havel who actively contributed to the RFE/RL transfer to Prague: "I take pride in the fact that previously Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was broadcasting to Prague and now, from Prague, it brings a free word to the world". Hillary Clinton’s and Vaclav Havel’s speeches were translated into all RFE/RL broadcasting languages. In Armenian translated Anna Karapetian. She does not work for RFE/RL anymore.
After twelve years of irreproachable service, Anna Karapetian, a journalist with twenty years of professional experience, mother of three minors, was fired. Her employment was terminated without any warning, without any reason given to her, without even severance payment, for she refused to sign a consent with such a termination and give up her right to appeal to court. Such "philosophy of employment-at-will", which directly violates Czech labor laws, is an integral part of the official RFE/RL "Policy Manual" in the Czech Republic.
Arbitrary Terminations at RFE/RL
Czech RFE/RL employees, at the insistence of the Czech trade unions, are protected by Czech labor laws. Americans are covered by American legislation. By decision of RFE/RL management, Czech labor legislation does not apply to its employees from third countries. Also, as to foreigners working for American employer outside the United States, American laws do not apply to them either. What is applicable is RFE/RL "philosophy" only. At the same time, nationals of those 20 states to which the radio station brings in 28 languages the "free word", constitute the bulk of all foreign RFE/RL personnel in Prague.
Anna Karapetian, whose case is to be considered by the Czech Supreme Court, by far is not the only victim of RFE/RL "philosophy". On March 11th, Czech news agency CTK reported that Snjezana Pelivan, a Croatian citizen fired in the same "philosophical" mode as was Anna Karapetian, requested Czech Constitutional Court to summon Mrs. Clinton. Her testimony should clarify whether discriminative actions of U.S. Congress-financed RFE/RL are "consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States " and "promote respect for human rights" as prescribed by the United States International Broadcasting Act.
However, how could it happen that legal sovereignty of the Czech Republic ends on Vaclavske namesti? Paradox as it is, but Czech Republic still has some legal regulations that did not change from the communist times, allowing foreign organizations to use foreign labor laws as long as it is not in contradiction to fundamental principles of the "Czechoslovak Socialist Republic". What a cynical irony: a law dating back to 1963, which once allowed the Soviet Union operate unhindered at the territory of Czechoslovakia, presently is abused by American management of RFE/RL for discrimination of its employees. Lower Czech courts, bound by legislation of communist Czechoslovakia, are unable to protect foreigners employed by RFE/RL against arbitrary terminations.
To certain extent, the forthcoming visit by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Prague is designed to demonstrate that Obama’s declared intention to "show the world the best face of America" was not just a campaign rattle. Indeed, there are manifold indications that well-informed and sensitive Hillary Clinton’s State Department, in contrast to RFE/RL management inherited from the previous Washington administration, clearly understands that the dignity, moral influence and political reputation of RFE/RL are safeguarded by public sympathy and not by the use of legal loopholes and gimmicks.
There is no more suitable time and place for Czech politicians – the president, prime minister, foreign minister, to raise the question of disgraceful to the Czech Republic and the United States RFE/RL policies and actions than during Prague visit by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And that in the interests of Czech sovereignty and American reputation.
Lev Roitman, journalist, retired in 2005 as RFE/RL Senior Commentator after thirty years of work in New York, Munich and Prague