The Czech Statistics Office: Rebuilding after two years

24-08-2004

The floods of 2002 devastated the library of the Czech Statistical Office. Over a century of statistical data, as far back as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was under water. How are they coping two years on?

Jan Matejcek, director of the Prague branch of the Statistical Office, gives an idea of the scale of the destruction.

"I can sum it up in one word, it was heavily devastated. The office was located in Karlin, in Prague 8, where there was more than three and a half metres of water."

Mr. Matejcek experienced the floods first hand in 2002 as he was one of the people hastily trying to protect the archives and storage equipment from imminent danger.

The floods taught the Czech Statistical Office an important lesson. Since then their office has been re-located far from the banks of the River Vltava and all important data are now stored in the vaults of the Czech National Bank, perhaps the safest place in the country.

However, an important piece of this country's history has been lost forever. Such data are vital to researchers who study this part of the world. I spoke to Jeffery Kopstein, a professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto who is researching elections in pre-World War II Central Europe. How does the absence of historical data from the Czech Republic affect his study? He points to the example of his work on the country's pre-war ethnic German minority.

"We will be able to generate very highly accurate estimates of, for example, how many Germans voted for Henlein's party, there are all kinds of guesses out there. We are gong to be able to come-up with the most accurate estimates. What we are not going to able to do is to condition those results on socio-economic status, that is to say poor vs. rich Germans. So it really is a big disadvantage. I was shocked when this data was destroyed, where it was stored, and that there were no other copies of it at all."

Some material was saved from the floods, but as Mr. Matejcek explains, it won't be easy to build the archives of the Czech Statistical Office from scratch.

"There were some books which were picked-up, but only a few. Some of the archive material was frozen after the floods and now it is waiting to be restored, however there were only about three or four cubic metres of such material. But it is very expensive and the restoration process is not always successful."

If any libraries or statistical offices would like to contribute data, which was maybe donated to them in the past, how would they go about doing that?

"We are starting to build our new library, it is practically empty now. If somebody is able and wants to help us we would appreciated it. But we do not have the financial resources to purchase such material."

If you have some statistical data and would like to make a contribution to the archives of the Czech Statistical Office they can be reached by e-mail at knihovna@gw.czso.cz

24-08-2004