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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 your Union of Czechoslovak Lawyers protesting events in Chile. The document stated that the Union follows with great apprehension the daily flow of news concerning illegal measures and the escalating terror directed against all progressive and patriotic forces in that country. It further stated that the Union condemns the persecution, torture, and mass executions of Chilean patriots. In its resolution, the Union of Czechoslovak Lawyers called for the restoration of constitutional and democratic freedoms in Chile and observed that leaders of the Chilean people are quite deprived of their civil rights and of legal protection. The Union demanded that it be allowed to participate in the defense of Luis Corvalán, and of other patriots, during their trials.

We believe it is a matter of all progressive people all over the world to do all they can for Chilean revolutionaries and democrats and to offer full material and moral support to their just struggle for a democratic society and for socialism. We can say so only now, however, for many of us had no earlier opportunity. We declare at this time that we, former political prisoners of Czechoslovakia during the Seventies, are in complete solidarity with the struggle of Chilean progressive forces, and that we unequivocally and energetically condemn the terror of the fascist junta.

We feel we have the full right to express such solidarity; for we are linked with progressive Chileans through common ideals, common goals, and frequently through similar fates. However, we deny the right to express such solidarity to you, gentlemen of the Union of Czechoslovak Lawyers, for we are not aware of a single instance in which your Union would have come forth in defense of human rights, civil liberties, or adherence to legality in your own country—Czechoslovakia. Or do you perhaps really believe it correct, from the point of view of justice and its role in society, that dozens of thousands of our fellow citizens have in recent years been forced out of their positions and had to take jobs incommensurate with their training and qualifications?

Do you believe it correct that children of so-called “rotten” parents may not study at high schools and colleges?

Do you believe it correct that numerous fellow citizens have been vilified in the press for their recent political activity (i.e., during 1968-1969), with no chance to defend themselves?

Do you, gentlemen from the Union of Czechoslovak Laywers, really believe that in your own country there exist ample guarantees of freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and association, the freedom of movement, even of leaving one’s own country and coming back, the freedom of scientific inquiry?

Do you believe it correct, from the point of view of criminal justice and its role in society, that in Czechoslovakia, the death penalty may be meted out to those who conduct “especially dangerous activity against the foundations of the Republic…if it results in particularly detrimental consequences,” especially in the light of recent experiences which demonstrated that any political activity not favored by our ruling group can be interpreted as dangerous to the order of the Republic?

From the point of view of the role of criminal justice: is it really proper that in the summer of 1972, forty-seven communists and socialists were sentenced to long years (up to six and one-half) in prison, in line with stipulations that were more moderate than those prevailing today? The defendants included Milan Hübl, the former President of the High Party School, University Professors Jaroslav Mezník and Antonín Rusek, Regional Communist Party Secretaries Alfred Cerný, Jaroslav Sabata, and Jaroslav Litera, Jan Tesar, the historian, Jiri Muller, the student leader, and many others.

Are you confident, gentlemen, that these trials were conducted in strict accordance with the law, that during investigation, the secret service (the StB) applied no psychological pressure, and that physical torture was not applied in a single instance? Are you satisfied that stipulations concerning the participation of the public in such trials were met? Are you sure that no foreign lawyers from democratic associations requested to take part in the hundreds of political trials that have taken place since 1969, and that if they did, such requests were granted?

Are you satisfied that the conditions for incarcerated communists and socialists meet the standards set by law (although it was amended in 1973 to give more power to the jailers), that political prisoners have no stricter a regime than criminals have, that they are being fed adequately, do not suffer from avitaminosis, enjoy full medical care, that their elementary educational needs are taken care of, and that, conversely, they are not being hermetically isolated in order to liquidate them through mental breakdowns?

We all live in the same country, and are all aware of the real state of its affairs. Though every one of its citizens is responsible, your responsibility is greater by virtue of your greater knowledge, and by virtue of your greater capacity to change or alleviate the situation. Besides, we feel, on the basis of numerous personal experiences, that your organization is hardly representative of the bulk of Czechoslovak lawyers.

Your resolution in defense of civil rights in Chile and in opposition to the Chilean fascist junta is hypocritical, and your voice rings false. We, Czechoslovak political prisoners of the first half of the Seventies, are indeed linked by tight bonds of solidarity and affinity or proximity in ideology and action with Chilean socialists, communists, revolutionary Marxists, Christians, and other democrats, in line with our own diverse political orientations.

You, however, have nothing in common with them, and hypocritical words can hardly mask that. Your own task is merely to defend, through propaganda, the situation in your own country, complete with the lively trade between Czechoslovakia and the Chilean fascist junta, and with Czechoslovakia’s refusal to offer political asylum to Chilean refugees.

We have confidence in the future victory of the just struggle of our Chilean comrades, friends, and brothers against fascism and terror, for democracy, freedom, and socialism. We want them to know that in Czechoslovakia, they have many true allies.

Signed by former political prisoners, of the years 1969-1974:

Karel Bartošek, Rudolf Battek, Ivan Binár, Jan Dus, Karel Fridrych, Ladislav Hejdánek, Jirí Hochman, Karel Kaplan, Vavrinec Korciš, Anna Koutná, Bohumír Kuba, Vít Lepil, Jan Leštín-ský, Vladimír Nepraš, Jan Schopf, Josef Stehlík, Jaroslav Suk, Jan Svoboda, Jan Sabata, Václav Sabata, Hana Sábatova, Pavel Sremr, Zdenek Sumavský, Petruška Sustrová, Alex Richter, Zuzana Richterová, Petr Uhl, Zdenek Vašícek, Premysl Vondra, Radko Vyorálek.

(Mr. Kovanda writes in behalf of the Friends of Czechoslovakia, Political Prisoners’ Fighting Fund, 161 Columbia Street, #2, Cambridge, Mass. 02139.)

Letters

Victims November 28, 1974

  1. 1

    See Pravda Vitezi, London: Bulletin of the Committee to Defend Czechoslovak Socialists, no. 6-7 (1974), pp. 13-18, for other such documents.

  2. 2

    London Times, September 5, 1974.

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