Ex-Communist leaders show little regret over 1970s anti-dissident campaign
Prague December 13. INTERFAX EUROPE -- December saw the opening, and consequent adjournment until February, of the trial of ex-Communist Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina and four senior StB. secret police officers charged with abuse of public office.
Obzina and the others are accused of organizing and implementing a campaign of physical and terror between 1978 and 1984, code-named `Slum Clearance,' with the aim of "persuading" dissidents that they would be better off emigrating. The trial represents the first major attempt to bring senior members of the former Communist regime to justice for giving orders to carry out illegal acts. On December 11, the state prosecutor adjourned the case, on the grounds that 15 witnesses and six victims had failed to appear. The state prosecutor and lawyers for the accused also requested the calling of further witnesses.
Obzina defends himself mainly on the grounds that his actions were legal under the laws of the time. However, Obzina and his fellow accused do not rely purely on this formal defense, but have various more ingenious, and ingenuous, arguments to justify their actions. Obzina, for instance, argues that `Slum Clearance' was actually a program to assist opponents of the regime and comply with the Helsinki human rights agreement by resolving the previous problem that people were denied the right to emigrate. Obzina also argues that the order to "exert pressure" on dissidents was not in itself illegal and that he cannot be held responsible for "excesses" that occurred in carrying out the plan.
The trial has given a harrowing description of these "excesses" that occurred. Singer Jaroslav Hutka was given the "option" of emigration or prison. Member of dissident rock group Vratislav Brabenec was given the same option, with the StB. indicating that they would "find" a machine gun in his cupboard. Both were subjected to physical violence during interrogations.
The StB. also made use of family members to exert psychological pressure. Brabenec described how the StB. took his wife and two year-old child to an unknown location. Charter 77 spokesperson Zdena Tominova decided in favor of emigration after her children were subjected to systematic bullying at school. Jiri Hermach emigrated to Austria in the early 1980s at the age of 74 after his grandchild was refused a place at grammar school.
Svatopluk Karasek told the court how he and his wife decided to leave in 1980, despite the fact that neither of them wished to emigrate from the CR. Karasek said he was subjected to enormous pressure: his wife had heart problems and the two had three young children at the time. Karasek ironically commented the decision of the regime to prevent him performing his profession as a Protestant churchman, saying that he "actually bettered his position," since as a vicar he earned around 500 crowns a month, while as a window cleaner he got 4,000.
Ivan Medek described how he was detained by StB agents, tied up and blindfolded, taken by car to woodland, beaten up, and left. His consequent complaints and requests for an investigation made to the courts, the president, and the interior minister received no reply.
Neither were women spared physical violence. In a related trial at Prague 1 in which two former St.B operatives Zbynek Dudek and Jiri Simak are accused, Zina Freundova, a member of the committee for the defense of the unjustly accused, described how three unmasked men entered her flat at 2 a.m., after one of them had introduced himself as an acquaintance of hers. They kicked and beat her, cut off her hair, stripped her naked, felt her genitals, threatened her with rape, and told her that next time they would murder her. Dudak denies the charges claiming that he was merely a driver for the StB. and did not take part in interrogations.
This trial, in which Simak and Dudek are also accused of brutally beating dissident Zbynek Benysek, has lso been adjourned until February because of the non-appearance of Simak, who also denies being present at the beatings. The adjournment angered some former dissidents. Brabenec and Ivan Jirous, the poet popularly known as `Magor" ("Idiot'), said Dudek should be "brought to the court in chains, just as they did with us."
Most disturbingly of all it seems Obzina genuinely believes that the beatings and other means used truly were justified in the defense of the socialist homeland. After Medek's appearance as a witness, Obzina raved about Medek's work, after emigration, for Radio Free Europe, in which according to Obzina Medek was paid by the American imperialists to attack Czechoslovakia.
A further eleven people, mostly regional heads of the StB. are also due to be charged. The investigation of the case has been going on since 1995 and originally a total of 25 people were to be charged.
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