Photo: TASR/Ústav pamäti národa

The socialist regime in Czechoslovakia was not totalitarian

 “Socialism in Czechoslovakia was not a totalitarian regime and human rights were observed”

according to approximately 45% of respondents participating in the April 2018 poll carried out by the FOCUS agency. 

Facts and disproval of the myth ↓

From the very beginning, the socialist regime showed its true face and manifested itself as repressive, unjust, unfree and anti-human. Its establishment was associated with power-based theft of people´s property, euphemistically called “nationalization” and “collectivization”, and liquidation and persecution of those individuals and social groups labelled as “class enemies” who were unwanted for the regime. It was totalitarian in various forms and to varying extent throughout the entire period and even during the softest periods, in the years 1968 and 1969, the basis of the regime did not change. The communist party significantly interfered into lives of people and decided about their destinies while applying systematic force through a network of instruments and institutions and, in particular, a secret service (Štátna bezpečnosť – Štb). 

De facto, socialist Czechoslovakia used to be a social cage full of compulsorily employed people who were provided with basic life security but lacked freedom and were prohibited from travelling and expressing political opinions. The people who wished to go to Western countries were captured by the frontier police at the state borders fenced around with barbed wire and were tortured, imprisoned, and even killed. The same was true as concerns other forms of persecution based on expressed opinions or even on fabricated grounds and persecution had impacts also on families of persecuted people. The socialistic regime ripped off people of their freedom, dignity, and some of them lost their lives. It replaced freedom with the atmosphere of fear and forced obedience. 

The totalitarian nature of a regime is confirmed by its victims. The armed forces of Czechoslovakia killed 276 people at borders (49 out of them in Slovakia), the regime executed more than 247 people due to political grounds, sentenced approximately 260 000 people as political prisoners (out of that over 70 000 in Slovakia), and sent from 22 000 up to 23 000 citizens to forced-labour camps (including 8 240 people in Slovakia). In addition, more than 4 500 people died due to consequences of imprisonment or directly in prisons, many people were forcibly resettled within the country, some were dragged to gulags in the Soviet Union (more details in Annex 1 Victims of the communist regime). Behind each number concerning victims there are specific names and lives of persecuted people and their families destroyed by the regime. Their stories illustrate the human dimension of repressions of the communist regime (more in Annex 2 Stories of people persecuted by the communist regime).

The totalitarian nature of socialism is evidenced in practice also by the fact that when the communist party faced the threat of easing of the system, it intervened repressively through police actions, imprisonment, and physical violence either by suppressing the resistance with own forces or making use of the help provided by other countries, particularly the USSR, as it happened in our country in August 1968. The repressive nature of the regime manifested itself also in other forms. Examples include forced internments, transfers of inhabitants, prevention of people from living in their own municipalities or regions or forcing them to perform work or to study something they did not want to (more in chapter 1.1 Totalitarian nature of the regime and its victims).

The repressive and totalitarian nature of the regime was a result of the essence of socialism. The case of Czechoslovakia confirms that a socialist society may be maintained and achieved only by a centralized authoritative and repressive regime led by a monopolistically deciding elite that concentrates power and applies institutional enforcement.