Eighteen years after the revolution, no justice

EIGHTEEN years after the movement that toppled communism started, on November 17, 1989, only one person in Slovakia has been sentenced for crimes committed by the communist regime.
One political analyst, who was jailed as a dissident by the communist government, says this is a mistake that must be corrected.

EIGHTEEN years after the movement that toppled communism started, on November 17, 1989, only one person in Slovakia has been sentenced for crimes committed by the communist regime.

One political analyst, who was jailed as a dissident by the communist government, says this is a mistake that must be corrected.

"I think it is vital for a certain catharsis in the nation; in order to tell the good from the bad in politics, and to be well informed," Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. "The aim is not to send an old man, aged 90, like (former leading communist official Vasiľ) Biľak to prison, but rather to give him the punishment he deserves. "

Biľak has been accused of treason and crimes falling under the Law on the Protection of Peace, for being one of the five signatories of the letter that invited the Soviet army to occupy Czechoslovakia in August 1968. The communist leaders asked for the Soviet military intervention in Czechoslovakia to prevent the reform of the totalitarian communist regime.

The Prosecutor General's office started its investigation on Biľak after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. After the Czechoslovak federation split up, the investigation continued in Slovakia, and it is still in the preliminary stage, Svetlana Husárová, spokesperson of the Prosecutor General's Office, told The Slovak Spectator.

In 1992, then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin brought the 1968 letter of invitation to Czechoslovakia. But it was not the original, which is said to be in the archives of the Russian president. The Office of Special Prosecution has asked Russia for the original, but the Russians have denied the request, calling the letter a historical document, Husárová said.

"The special prosecution sent a wide-ranging request for witnesses and evidence to the Czech Republic, and it is gradually complying with the request," she said. "The Supreme Court of the Czech Republic has already sent the names of people they would like to interrogate - whether living or dead - or who they have interrogated. We also asked the Prague Criminal Institute for specimens of Biľak's signature, which could be used to make an analysis of the letter of invitation. The specimens included in the file are not sufficient."

If the office gets more specimens of the signature, it will ask Russia to make the analysis of the invitation letter themselves, she added.

The only person who has been prosecuted for communist crimes so far in Slovakia is Alojz Lorenc, the former head of the communist-era secret police, the ŠtB. His prosecution started while Czechoslovakia was still in existence, and he was sentenced to four years in prison in the Czech Republic. But after the country split, Lorenc refused to serve jail time in the Czech Republic as a citizen of Slovakia.

The Slovak Higher Military Court found him guilty of misconduct as a public officer in April 2002 and gave him a suspended sentence of 15 months on parole.

The Nation's Memory Institute (ÚPN), the body formed to investigate the crimes of the communist and fascist regimes and archive documents from those times, has not filed any motions for prosecution since it was created in 2002.

The institute is preparing five proposals for prosecution, Ľubomír Morbacher, the head of the ÚPN's documentation department, told The Slovak Spectator.

"They include the case of the torture a political prisoner in custody, and a murder during an ŠtB interrogation in 1952," he said. "Other cases involve the mysterious deaths of people who were under investigation, possibly involving the ŠtB or people hired by it.

"The most complex proposal concerns the people killed at the borders to the west, where there have been dozens of cases recorded."

The ÚPN says all these cases involve crimes against humanity, Morbacher said. The motions will be delivered to the Prosecutor General's Office in the coming weeks, he added. Under the Law on the Nation's Memory, the ÚPN cannot launch its own prosecution. It must submit proposals for the prosecution of criminals and crimes to the Prosecutor General's Office.

Documenting communist crimes is very difficult, Morbacher said.

"The hold-up was the fact that documents on ŠtB activities, which could shed light on some of the cases, were given to the ÚPN slowly, even several years after it was founded," he said. "So the motions for the Prosecutor General's Office are still being prepared."

Many of the ŠtB documents were destroyed after December 1, 1989 on Lorenc's orders. For example, he ordered the files on secret collaborators to be shredded immediately, just leaving a list of documents about the names of collaborators and other incriminating evidence, according to a report by Pavel Žáček published by the ÚPN.

Files on the monitoring, wire-tapping and other investigations of dissidents were also shredded.

Documents recording the investigations on Alexander Dubček, who led the Prague Spring reforms of 1968 until the August occupation, were preserved only in fragments.

For example, one ŠtB report that was preserved said that the Schwarzenbergplatz forum, which organised evening lectures, wanted to contact Dubček in February 1989.

According to Kusý, the fact that there haven't been more arrests for communist crimes since 1989 suggests that the Velvet Revolution in Slovakia was too velvet.

"It seems that the transition from one regime to another was too smooth," Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. "Many high officials of the old regime have become high officials of the new one. They often play a crucial role in economic areas, but also in others areas."

That means the fall of communism was not a dramatic break, marked by a clear line, Kusý said.

"This often affects the current situation in society," Kusý claims. "Our whole attitude, from the past to the present times, has been distorted."

Some current government officials, including Prime Minister Robert Fico, have not shown a clearly negative opinion on the fall of the communist regime, he said. Fico told the SITA newswire in November 2003 that the standard of living of many people is worse than it was under communism.

"I think that before 1989, society was more socially-oriented; people had more social rights than now," he said.

Kusý thinks there could have been a clearer break in Slovakia if, like other post-communist countries, it introduced the so-called screening law that would have prevented ŠtB collaborators or communist officials from holding public office or certain professions.

But revealing ŠtB documents should not be done as a political tool, he cautions.

"To this day, some files are intentionally taken from the ŠtB archives, at someone's free will," Kusý said. "(Former prime minister Vladimír) Mečiar finds something on his desk, and makes an individual campaign against someone.

"At a politically convenient time, something is found from the past to discredit a person. But purging someone's past has not become an ethical matter and a purgatory measure for all of society."

No-one will insist on elderly communist officials like Biľak spending the rest of their days in prison, Kusý said.

"There no sense in that," he said. "But Biľak should be sentenced for his criminal behaviour, no doubt about that."

Even though more could be done to let the country address its communist past, Kusý said, a major advantage of the November 1989 revolution was that it let Slovakia join the European Union and NATO, which sets limits for today's political rulers.

"The current ruling elite can only do as much as these limits allow," he said.

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