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Czechoslovakia: Police Repression
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Criminal Justice System > Police Repression

POLICE REPRESSION


A manifesto made public under the title Charter 77 in January 1977 challenged the government to live up to its own laws in regard to the rights -- human, political, and social -- of the Czechoslovak people . The manifesto revealed that Dubcek-style reformism was alive and well eight years after Dubcek himself had been forced into obscurity. Signed during the next two years by several hundred citizens representing the entire spectrum of economic, political, and social life, the document claimed to be apolitical, but in an authoritarian state any demand for a lessening of authoritarianism is inherently political, and the government reacted accordingly. The police responded by sharply increasing the very activities of which the Charter complained, that is, unwarranted arrests, illegal searches, harsh interrogations, and general harassment. Charter spokesman Jan Patocka, a well-known and highly respected retired professor, died one week after an intensive interrogation by State Security agents. Another prominent signer, Vaclav Havel, who had been blacklisted as a playwright for earlier support of Dubcek, was arrested immediately, held for four months, and then released without being charged. Havel was rearrested in 1979 and sentenced to prison for antistate crimes.

Repression continued into the 1980s as the dissidents refused to give up their demand that the basic laws of the land apply to everyone, including those officials sworn to uphold them. In April 1978, a group calling itself the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (Vybor na branu nespravedlive stihanych -- VONS) was formed to publicize the police vendetta against the signers of Charter 77. The new group itself then became a police target, and in October 1979 several of its members were convicted on charges of subversion and sentenced to prison terms By early 1987, the Charter 77 movement and its offspring, VONS, were still clinging tenaciously to their demand that legal processes be observed, a demand that had brought grief to the members but had also attracted world attention. The movement remained small, and the security agencies always had the upper hand, but the dissidents refused to capitulate.

The use of brutal methods by the Czechoslovak police continued into the 1980s. In a 1984 report, Amnesty International cited Czechoslovakia as a country that used torture as a tool of state policy. Yet continued concern in the West with human rights in Czechoslovakia may have helped to ameliorate the situation after that time. In a 1986 telephone interview with Austrian radio, a Charter 77 spokesman said that the political oppression of human rights activists had diminished somewhat and was not as severe as it had been in the early 1980s. The police also showed restraint at a December 1985 demonstration in downtown Praguecommemorating the death of John Lennon, a restraint that had been lacking at a similar demonstration the previous year. Nevertheless, marked oppression of religious groups and believers continued unabated into the 1980s. As one Western observer has suggested, this differentiated approach toward dissent indicates that the Czechoslovak government considered religious activists, who are supported by a large segment of the population, to be more of a threat than a small number of political dissidents.

(A number of excellent monographs concerning various aspects of Czechoslovak national security have been published in the 1980s. Party control of the military, the professionalism and nationalism of the officer corps, and Czechoslovak-Soviet military relations are discussed in East European Military Establishments by A. Ross Johnson, Robert W. Dean, and Alexander Alexiev. William J. Lewis's The Warsaw Pact presents useful information about the structure, training, and equipment of both the CSLA and the internal security forces. A former wing commander in the Czechoslovak Air Force, Zbynek Cerovsky, has written several excellent articles for Armed Forces based on his experience and insights. Much has been written by Condoleezza Rice concerning the reliability of the CSLA and the cohesion and loyalties of its military elite. Richard C. Martin has focused on force modernization and how it may affect the performance of the CSLA in a future war. Otto Ulc, a former Czechoslovak judge, has continued to write highly entertaining and informative monographs on various aspects of life in Czechoslovakia, including dissent, crime, and public attitudes toward the emplacement of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles in the country. And finally, The Military Balance, published annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, is a convenient source of personnel strength and information about weapons. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of August 1987




Last Updated: August 1987


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Czechoslovakia was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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