Czech Republic: Cui Bono, Cui Prodest?

By Basta, Jaroslav | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Czech Republic: Cui Bono, Cui Prodest?

Basta, Jaroslav, Demokratizatsiya

When Czechoslovakia shed its totalitarian regime in November 1989, its new leaders were confronted with an entrenched secret police apparatus, the origins of which dated back more than forty years to the Soviet-backed Communist seizure of power through a coalition government. Democratic parties, united with the Communists in a National Front in a joint attempt to oppose Nazi occupation (and later to rid state institutions of Nazi collaborators), failed to notice the Communist takeover of the government, particularly the instruments of force. For their part, the Communists increasingly infiltrated government posts, private companies, and even the non-Communist political parties, until--after gerrymandering "free" elections--the Communists took control in February 1948. Within two months, the new government created the National Security Brigade (Sbor nadrodni bezpecnosti, or SNB) and placed it under the control of Communist Minister of the Interior Vaclav Nosek.

With its SNB and elite State Police (Statni bezpecnost, or StB), the Communist Party became the new leader of Czechoslovakia. It immediately cowed the opposition through its use of the Ministry of the Interior and other security organs, with security policy directed by the Czechoslovakian Communist Party Central Committee (Ustredni vybor, UV KSC) leadership. The pro-Communist wings of the individual non-Communist parties simultaneously "cleansed" their own ranks, consolidating their power and subsequently emerging to lead the new government of the National Front. Pre-war Communists--many of them graduates of the Soviet intelligence schools and political academies and often fully recruited KGB agents--administered the activities of these parties.

The Ministry of the Interior and the state police played an enormous role in the establishment and consolidation of the totalitarian system. A standing police organization, it became integrated with the secret, or political, police. In the former Czechoslovakia, the vast majority of ministry staff members were also part of the SNB, while the ministry itself, though a formal member of the government, was nonetheless administered not by the prime minister but by the Communist Party apparat.

The SNB's most important repressive section, the StB, held immense power in the government, wielding near total control over the citizenry. Fear was one of its most skillfully used tools. The StB sowed fear and nurtured it among the population. Stories of repression, violence, and execution during the first years of the new Communist regime planted indelible feelings of horror and hopelessness in people's minds, crushing any hope of resistance.

In addition to its primary intelligence role, the StB held executive and investigative powers. This meant that, apart from intelligence and counterintelligence activities, the StB also conducted searches of homes, arrests, and prosecutions of its victims. Additionally, the StB remained in constant close contact with the Soviet KGB. In the early years, Soviet agents themselves served inside the StB, but as the Czechoslovakian Communist regime matured and developed its own cadres, Moscow supervised and practically administered the StB through Soviet "advisers." Interestingly, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, each state in the Soviet bloc began to post a representative of its Ministry of the Interior in its embassy in the capitals of fellow Soviet satellite countries. These representatives mediated contacts between the Ministries of the Interior and their police forces. (The state security organs maintained similar liaison offices.) Direct cooperation with the KGB might have detailed, for instance, participation in intelligence operations or the screening or loaning of officers and agents for operations conducted by another country's intelligence services. These StB operatives also traveled to the USSR to "raise their intellect" in so-called instruktace briefs.

The StB was concerned about Czechoslovakian society as a whole. …

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