Rudolf Slansky: Former Czech diplomat and Communist era dissident dies aged 71
The former Czech diplomat and Communist dissident, Rudolf Slansky junior, passed away on Monday after a serious illness. He was 71. As the son of the famous Czechoslovak Communist Party General Secretary who was executed after a show trial in 1952, Rudolf Slansky junior's participation in the dissident movement after 1968 and his subsequent work in the diplomatic service earned him the respect of many senior figures in Czech politics. [..]
Renowned for his firm principles and tolerance, Rudolf Slansky had a profound impression on all those who he knew, as much through politics and diplomatic work, as in his everyday life. Born in Prague in 1935, he lived in exile between 1938 and 1945 with his family in the USSR, after his father along with much of the Communist leadership of the time, fled to the Soviet Union when German troops occupied the Sudetenland in 1938. He knew a young Cyril Svoboda as a child, whose family had a country cottage in the same village as the Slanskys, and who would become today's Foreign Minister. Pavel Rychetsky is Constitutional Court Chairman and was also a close family friend of Rudolf Slansky.
"I have to say that everyone who knew him knew him as a person who was extraordinarily tolerant as well as kind. I got to know Rudolf Slansky during the period known as the Prague Spring at the beginning of 1968. I was twenty-five at the time, teaching at Prague's Faculty of Law. He was older and represented people who were pushing for basic democratisation and reforms. His strongest personal attribute was empathy and understanding for people and he always tried to find the good in others. At the same time, he was very firm in his beliefs."
Pavel RychetskyAs a school pupil, he studied communist economics and planning, but had to leave school at the time of his father's execution. Rudolf Slansky senior was Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and was sentenced to death by hanging by his own party in 1952 when his son was just 17. Pavel Rychetsky describes the effect these events had on Slansky.
"I think he was influenced by a fairly tragic past: as a child he was imprisoned with his mother and sister and his father was executed. All the same, he didn't react with ill-will or lean towards hatred. Even though we were close friends, we never spoke about the execution of his father together. I think it was a great lifelong weight on his shoulders. He knew his father was a victim of various processes, which he himself helped set-off. At the same time, his father was the only intellectual in the Communist leadership before and after the Second World War."
In the 1960s Slansky himself became a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, but was expelled in 1969 due to his active participation in the Prague Spring Communist Reform movement in 1968. During the 20 years that followed, the "normalisation" period, he participated in dissident groups and was a signatory of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto. He became the permanent representative of Czechoslovakia at the UN in New York after 1989, before serving as ambassador in Moscow for 6 years. In 1997 he was appointed ambassador to Slovakia, a position which he occupied until 2004. But aside from the mark he made on the political world, he is fondly remembered by those he knew personally. Sociologist Jirina Siklova was a close friend of Rudolf Slansky Jr. and describes her memories of him:
"The best name for him would be a gentleman. Really, the most important thing was that he was gentle. I know that he had perfect contact with people. He never accused anyone. He had a great ability to understand what pain is, what political orientation is, and how important it is to accept other people."
Such warm sentiments remain with many who knew Rudolf Slansky, both professionally and personally. But those by whom he will be missed most sorely are his wife and two sons, for whom the memory of this figure of great political prominence and influence will always remain as a loving and devoted husband and father.
1950s trial of "Czech kulak" subject of new radio documentary
Show trials featuring trumped up charges and fabricated confessions remain one of the strongest symbols of Communist state repression throughout the former Eastern Bloc. Czechoslovakia's most infamous show trials involved senior Communist Rudolf Slansky and resistance leader Milada Horakova, both of whom were given the death penalty. But not all defendants were so high-profile: a newly discovered recording reflects Communist Party efforts to use the courts to crush a whole class - relatively wealthy farmers.
As the Communist government attempted to subdue the Czech equivalent of Russian kulaks in the 1950s one of their main tools was the court system. One particular trial, of farmer Josef Pazout in 1954, is the subject of a new documentary to be broadcast on Czech Radio on Thursday. It was made by Marek Janac, who outlines Pazout's "crimes".
"He didn't hand in the amount of foodstuffs he had been ordered to. In those days they gave farmers, especially private farmers, quotas so high that they couldn't be filled. That gave them a pretext for prosecution. And Pazout was also accused of reading but not handing in a Western propaganda leaflet he found in a field - millions of them were dropped by balloon here."
Thousands of propertied farmers were tried in the 1950s, but this recently discovered recording is the only known document of its kind. Marek Janac says at the time the trial was broadcast on local radio - and by loud speaker in the streets - to vilify farmers as a class and Josef Pazout as the richest farmer in the district of Bystrice, central Bohemia.
Pazout got six months in prison, plus one more for refusing to pay a fine. Historian Petr Blazek says that punishment only seems to be light.
"You have to realise that even a few months in jail basically meant liquidation for private farmers, if they didn't have anyone to look after the farm. They couldn't tend to their crops or look after their animals. What's more in the period 1951 to '53 those found guilty were forced to leave the area where in some cases their families had lived for several centuries. They had to start again elsewhere with whatever they were allowed to take with them."
Josef Pazout's daughter Ruzena Tomasova was 19 when her father was sentenced. How did his imprisonment impact the family?
"Badly. Because we were three women,my mother, my sister and myself. My brother was only 12 or 13. I must say the neighbours helped us. It wasn't until harvest time that they let my dad out. The local agricultural committee went to Bloch, the state prosecutor, and pleaded with him to release him. But Bloch just said, you take care of it."
Prosecutor Lev Bloch had, like his counterpart in the notorious Milada Horakova trial, no legal experience apart from a nine-month "workers' law school" course. The new radio documentary reports that he killed himself within a year of the Pazout trial; some believe because of a guilty conscience, the makers say.