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Sobotka clashes with Zeman over interwar journalist

President claims Ferdinand Peroutka wrote an article praising Hitler

Prague, May 7 (ČTK) — Judging journalist Ferdinand Peroutka from the comfort of current society is unfair, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, ČSSD) told the Czech News Agency, reacting to President Miloš Zeman’s having criticized Peroutka’s articles as pro-Nazi.

The dispute over Peroutka started with Zeman’s speech at a Prague conference on the Holocaust in January, where he mentioned intellectuals’ failures face to face with a crisis such as the rise of Nazism.

Zeman said Peroutka, one of the most influential Czech journalists, published the article “Hitler is a Gentleman” in Pritomnost (Presence), a prestigious Czech political magazine in the interwar period.

Experts say Peroutka never wrote such an article and called on Zeman to either prove his statement or publicly apologies. Peroutka’s granddaughter has filed a lawsuit against Zeman over his words.

Peroutka (1895–1978) was a prominent democratic journalist during the interwar period. He was imprisoned by the Nazi regime in 1939–45. He left the country after the 1948 communist coup and later worked for Radio Free Europe. He died in the US.

In the past weeks, presidential spokesman Jiří Ovčáček has been publishing what he calls Peroutka’s controversial articles from the beginning of the war.

“History cannot be related backwards, it cannot be related from the end,” Sobotka said.

“Judging the people who had to show courage and express their views during the Nazi occupation is unfair from the comfort of present-day democratic society in the Czech Republic,” he added.

It is vital to judge people by what they really experienced and risked, Sobotka said.

“Peroutka risked by what he was writing, he risked a concentration camp, he risked imprisonment, he even risked death,” he added.

Sobotka said the debate waged by the Castle (Presidential Office) was absurd and ahistorical.

In this way, one cannot interpret history and the behavior of its crucial actors, he added.

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