A Document of Our Time

What follows is a remarkable message from victims of political repression in Czechoslovakia to victims of political repression in Chile. Victims of repression usually have problems enough with their own situation to be actively involved with the fate of their comrades in other countries. Consequently, though this is not the first document dealing with Chile that has appeared in the Czechoslovak version of samizdat, it is perhaps the most important one.1

The letter is addressed to the official Union of Czechoslovak Lawyers, and states that this union has no right to protest conditions in Chile so long as it ignores conditions in its own country. The signers of the letter are intimately familiar with these conditions: some of them have spent as long as four years in Czechoslovak prisons. Nor have things improved since the letter was written last summer. Indeed, a recent news item spoke of the situation of currently incarcerated political prisoners as being “desperate.”2 Details are unimportant. Between Chile and Gulag—what new might horrify us?

Parallels between Chile and Czechoslovakia have been drawn by many. Quite naturally, the contemporary Czechoslovak opposition has likened the 1973 fascist coup in Santiago to the 1968 invasion of Prague. It is an extraordinary paradox, however, that General Pinochet himself made virtually the same comparison when he offered to release Chilean political prisoners if the Soviet Union (and by extension Czechoslovakia) releases its own. Just because Pinochet sees similarities between the two regimes does not mean that they do not exist. Stretching the imagination beyond endurance, Husák’s leadership in Czechoslovakia compared the white terror in Chile to what would have befallen Czechoslovakia, had the invasion not “saved” the country.

To compound the irony and paradoxes, on that point Husák and his men might be in agreement with many of the persecuted Chileans: the Communist Party of Chile strongly endorsed the Soviet invasion. But again: just because communists are in prison does not mean that they are right. It is obvious, though, that in expressing their solidarity with all patriots of Chile, including communists, the former Czech political prisoners are transcending very painful and difficult differences.

The signers themselves are of diverse political leanings, and include communists of the Prague Spring variety, socialists, clergy both Catholic and Protestant, and members of the former Revolutionary Socialist Party, a left Marxist group that was the first to be rounded up when political imprisonment became fashionable again in Czechoslovakia, in 1969. Publicly signing this letter exposes all these people to dangers that are not to be under-estimated; they might very likely land back where they recently emerged from, for “defaming the Republic,” for example, or for “subversion.” This Review advertised in July an international campaign in defense of those who are in Czechoslovak and Soviet prisons rights now. Defending them, we shall be defending perhaps the best friends Chile has in Czechoslovakia.

To the Union of

Czechoslovak Lawyers,

7 Curie Square, Prague:

On June 14, 1974, the Czechoslovak press published a resolution of…

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