An account by a Czech journalist of the trials convenved to punish those who took part in the protests of the Prague Spring.
THE SOVIET MILITARY INTERVENTION in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 was inevitable once the Kremlin realized that political ideological and economic pressure would not create any internal force capable of confronting the Dubcek reforms whose program of socialism "with a human face" had the support of the vast majority of the population.
Anti-Soviet feeling, critical attitudes to socialism and demands for neutrality did not precede this unprecedented act of aggression but were its logical consequence: a deeply hurt, dazed and resentful population began questioning the validity of "proletarian internationalism" if it could be used for the purposes of a great power which felt free to defy all norms of behavior among sovereign states.
Because there had been no counterrevolution before August 1968, it had to be invented after 1968 to justify what is now being called fraternal assistance by the socialist camp to one of its members. And if there was counterrevolution, there must have been counterrevolutionaries who now have to be brought to justice.
This is why it has taken almost four years for the regime, imposed in Czechoslovakia by the Soviet occupation, to stage a series of trials against a number of outstanding Czech intellectuals.
The hopes of a whole nation had not died even after the aggression of August. The Russians had miserably failed in their attempt to replace Dubcek and his group with a "workers-peasants revolutionary government." Popular resentment and resistance had forced them to release Dubcek and his comrades whom they had brought to Moscow in handcuffs. Only in April 1969 had they found a replacement, Gustav Husak, a shrewd and ambitious politician who had artfully played on the nation's fear of even more direct Soviet intervention and of the "dire consequences" of continued resistance to the occupation power. Only in April 1969 could the plan materialize to replace socialism with a human face by "socialism with goose-pimples" (a reference to the word "husak" which means "goose" in Czech).
For a while, Husak maintained the fiction that he was the "lesser evil," preferable to the outright conservative Stalinists who claimed to represent Soviet thinking and who would have brought things back to where they were in 1967 and earlier. Though he never said so publicly, he let it be understood that he wanted to be the Kadar of Czechoslovakia, a man who would achieve relative liberalization without provoking the Russians, and one who would know the limits while, at the same time, retaining a measure of popularity.
Although it seems that, so far, Husak has managed to remain in good standing with the Kremlin (which needs him because of his past associations with Dubcek and his sufferings during the Fifties), the reactionary Stalinist elements have gained the upper hand. Husak is a virtual prisoner of those who had felt threatened by the events of 1968 and are seeking revenge. They have occupied leading positions in the Party apparatus, the administration, the army and, most important, in the police.
THREE YEARS OF CONTINUOUS PURGES have changed the picture in Czechoslovakia radically. The Party has lost 40% of its members—over 500,000 people. Censorship was reimposed and the borders were closed. People who refused to declare before the various purge commissions that they welcomed the 1968 occupation as "fraternal assistance" lost their jobs, their children were refused admittance to college and even high school and they are discriminated against in matters such as housing, purchase of scarce commodities, holiday trips even to other bloc countries, etc.
The international situation—the feeling that Czechoslovakia stands alone while the West is flirting with the Kremlin—has helped the present rulers to make "normalization" a success. It is true that very few of the thousands of writers, artists, actors, producers, scientists and other intellectuals, who had so wholeheartedly embraced the reforms, have so far recanted. They were driven into passivity, a state the regime prefers, even if it means a virtual stop to any cultural activity, a "Biafra of the spirit" as the French Communist writer Aragon has described it.
A feeling of frustration, helplessness and resignation prevails. People who continue "resistance" in any form are mostly isolated and often laughed at as dreamers and idealists. The majority professes realism: eat (more consumer goods are being imported), keep a decent job (those who make a formal statement before a commission can keep it), save for a car or a summer home (the regime has made this less inaccessible than before), and get their children a decent education ("proper" statements by parents can achieve this).
This state of affairs, which obviously has little in common with socialism, is what the rulers want. Political passivity and concern only for material matters must be perpetuated—through propaganda stressing the hopelessness of the situation and spreading fear. An Orwellian Ministry of Truth has again begun operating, run by third-rate journalists and supervised by the secret police. People are villified by all timehonored means, including anti-semitic innuendo.
So it seemed that those who rule the country by Moscow's grace should be quite content. Husak even showed magnanimity: he repeatedly promised that no one would be persecuted for what he said or did in 1968. There was clearly no point in staging show trials as in the past: their credibility was undermined by the recent official admissions of past irregularities, and fear could be spread by much milder means. This was why, since the takeover by Husak, there had only been occasional arrests and trials with relatively light sentences.
BUT NOT ALL MEMBERS OF THE HIERARCHY supported Husak's "mild" course. The hardliners, especially those linked directly to the police, were crying for total revenge for 1968. Demands for trials were raised in the controlled press, naming Dubcek and his close collaborators as potential defendants. Dr. Husak now seems to have given in to these pressures, although he still agrees only to trials of people who had not belonged to the top Dubcek leadership. He also insisted that the police find evidence of "criminal" activity after 1968/1969 so that he could keep his promise.
Thus, large numbers of people were arrested beginning November 1971, when the first post-invasion elections were held by Husak's government. It is a measure of the difficulties the regime faces that activities linked with these elections are taken as a pretext for the arrests. All these people did was to produce and distribute leaflets reminding voters of their rights under the Constitution and the election law.*
The way the trials are being staged points to a compromise. There
is not much emphasis on foreign links and, consequently, no ominous accusations of espionage (as in the show trials 20 years ago). This was apparently so because Prague did not want to involve the Italian Communist Party with whom some of the defendants had maintained links, after that party had denounced the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia and the subsequent "normalization."
Also, the regime wants to keep the trials as inconspicuous as possible to avoid adverse foreign reaction. They were staged in summerJuly and August—during the holiday season. Their purpose is obviously to warn the dissidents but, at the same time, Husak does not want to tarnish Czechoslovakia's image too much in view of the forthcoming European Security Conference; mention of the continuing occupation of the country and the resulting repression is to be avoided at that conference.
Even so, protests were numerous and strong in Western Europe. Especially in France the trials have become an issue in internal politics —Mitterand's Socialist Party has demanded that the Communists, with whom it has entered a coalition, denounce the repression in Prague before that cooperation can continue.
Though sentences have been light compared with those meted out in the past, the manner in which the trials are being conducted is not much different from that in the Stalinist past. Due process of law, as it was once known in Czechoslovakia, has been suspended. The results of the police investigations constitute conviction, regardless of what goes on in the court room. Sentences are not fixed by the three-panel judges but, in advance, by the party secretariat. Defense counsels limit themselves to pleading extenuating circumstances. Evidence is accepted only from the prosecution. Defendants are, however, no longer forced to memorize their confessions. Many deny their guilt or point out that they were not led by hostility to socialism. But that does not change the outcome of the trials.
Although the trials are officially public, no one is admitted, except the defendants' closest relatives and "representatives of the workers" who are issued special passes. The foreign press is excluded.
BEGINNING JULY 17, 1972 a series of trials were staged in Prague and other cities against a number of personalities active in the reformist movement in 1968. By August 10, 46 persons had been sentenced to a total of close to 100 years in prison.
Most of the defendants were facing charges of having distributed leaflets at the time of the elections in November 1971. These leaflets were, indeed, distributed but they contained nothing else but references to existing electoral law, part of which was reproduced, and appeals to voters to act in accordance with that law. What is now being termed "subversive" by the courts was in fact, activity explicitly permitted by the Constitution of the country in its articles relating to freedom of expression.
Some of the defendants were also charged with having distributed "underground" literature and having supplied information material to emigre' groups. Attempts were made to link them to two Italian journalists, V. Ochetto and F. Zidar, who had been arrested earlier in 1972 in Prague. Though the Czech press had reported that the two Italians had pleaded guilty "in the face of overwhelming evidence," the two journalists were subsequently released and the Italian authorities notified that this was done for lack of evidence.
Following are some of the persons whose trial and sentencing has been reported so far:
Dr. Premysl Vondra, employee of Prague radio—28 months; Dr. Ota Krizanovsky, sociologist and former professor at the Communist Party School—18 months (suspended); Dr. Josef Belda, a historian—12 months (suspended). The three were charged with producing and distributing the election leaflets.
Jaromir Litera, former secretary of the Prague City Communist Party Committee—2y2 years; Josef Stehlik, former Communist Party official—1 year (suspended); Milan Rocek, former Communist Party official—1 year (suspended). The three were tried and sentenced for "obstructing normalization" and for having distributed the election leaflets.
Jan Tesar, a prominent historian—6 years; Jiri Muller, a student leader—5i/^ years; Rudolf Battek, a sociologist—31/£ years; Jaroslav Jira, an engineer who was secretary of the Czechoslovak Students Union—214 years. All four were tried for distributing the "illegal leaflets."
Rev. Jaroslav Dus, pastor of the Czech Brethren Evangelical Church, now a hotel employee—15 months; Dr. Ladislav Hejdanek, a historian —9 months; Hejdanek's wife, Hedvika—6 months (suspended); Jiri Jirasek, a lawyer—6 months (suspended); they were also tried for distributing leaflets.
In a trial held in Brno, Moravia, Milan Silhan, Zdenek Pokorny, Jaroslav Meznik, Alois Vyroubal, Jan Schopf (all medical doctors, scientists or engineers) were sentenced to terms ranging from 6 months to 5yz years for "subversion" and "incitement."
In another trial held in Brno, Jan Sabata, son of a high Communist party officer in the region, and Vaclav Sabata, another relative, received 2y2 years and 2 years respectively on charges of "subversion." In the same trial Zuzana Richterova, Ales Krehulka, Marek Golias and Tomas Bochorak received suspended sentences between 1 year and 20 months.
Milan Hiibl, former head of the Party School—614 years; Karel Kynd, former television commentator and a former United Nations correspondent and a member of the UN Correspondents Association— 20 months; Karel Bartosek, a historian—1 year (suspended). All three were sentenced on August 1, 1972 on charges of "subversion" in connection with the distribution of leaflets and with the production of a "clandestine" chronicle of current events.
Jaroslav Sabata, former Communist Party Secretary in Brno— 6y2 years; Alfred Cerny, former regional Party Secretary for Southern Moravia—3 years; five more persons tried with Sabata and Cerny were also sentenced in the same trial. All were accused of "subversion" for participation in the production of the election leaflets.
Eight more persons were sentenced in Brno to terms up to four years on August 10. The four year sentence was given to a woman, Vlastimila Tesarova. The other defendants were: Anna Sabatova, the teenage daughter of Jaroslav Sabata—314 years; Kveta Markova, another woman—3 years; Zdenek Vasicek—3 years; Ladislav Zadina—2y2 years; Anna Kautna—2 years; Karel Kautny—1 year; and Stanislav Tesar—15 months (suspended). They were also tried for spreading "subversive material," namely the election leaflets.
At the time of writing, a number of persons arrested in early 1972 are still awaiting trial. Among them are the journalists Jiri Hochman and Vladimir Nepras, both seriously ill. According to some reports, they have been released conditionally pending their trial for hospitalization. Mr. Kyncl, when arrested, was also seriously sick and planning to have an operation for stomach ulcers. Mr. Hochman who was once the correspondent for the Communist Party daily, Rude Pravo, in Washington, D.C., was suffering from a chronic lung condition when he was arrested in February. He was refused medical treatment in prison where he later suffereda stroke. According to reports from Prague, the authorities released him before a trial could be staged so that "he would die at home." He is 46 years old.
* See the last issue of New Politics (Vol. IX, No. 4) for a translation of this leaflet.
KAREL TYNSKY is a Czech journalist living in exile.