The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia came to power through a coup in February 1948, during which, with the help of the obstruction, deprived the government of ministers from the Democratic Party.
Communism in Czechoslovakia was special in four characters that could not be found in our neighboring countries:
1. In Czechoslovakia, unlike neighboring states private enterprise was completely banned.
2. Only peasant cooperatives units were allowed, where people, fields and small cattle farmers were forcibly affiliated. Private fields or animals were almost non-existent,
3. There was no organized opposition. They grew also in neighboring countries only step-by-step - in Poland through the Solidarnosc as independent trade unions; in Hungary through more reformed communists; in the Czech Republic through the civil opposition; in eastern Germany through the civil and ecclesiastical opposition. Slovak main struggle for more freedom was played by Christian dissent.
4. The church in Slovakia was more persecuted than in any other neighboring country, which resulted in 1950 by abolishing all male monasteries and religious orders and the Greek Catholic Church. In 1951, the abolition of all female religious orders and monasteries. In addition, the government seized all church properties, and priests needed to operate only with state consent, without which implementation of the priestly ministry was prosecuted as a crime. Therefore, a strong network had existed (also called underground church), which existed without permission of the state.
The Candle Demonstration
The Candle demonstration was the first big protest rally against the communist totalitarian regime in the Czechoslovakia. It was the most massive manifestation in all eastern Europe. At its beginning, there was a Catholic dissent, which thanks to many years of tireless work of Jukl, Krčméry, Korec and several others, eventually accounted for a large numbers of people. The input came from Slovaks living abroad (hockey player Marián Šťastný), that wanted in first place protest abroad against the malicious murder of believers (in the October 1987 priest Štefan Polák was brutally murdered in the town of Borovce). The information reached Ján Čarnogurský and through him to František Mikloško and the community Fatima. The Candle demonstration itself was held on the 25th of march 1988 on Hviezdoslav square in Bratislava.
The number of people that took part in the manifestation varied greatly.
The first police report about the manifestation said that on Hviezdoslav square gathered about 2000 people who were scattered all around the area. Around 500 people gathered in front of the building of the Slovak National Theater with lit candles.
Those numbers did not count manifesting citizens on adjacent streets, to whom it was prohibited to reach the square. Activists of the underground church reported that on adjacent streets there were 10 000 - 15 000 people.
In fact, the total number it is difficult to estimate. Roughly it can be assumed that about 8 000 - 10 000 citizens took part in the manifestation.
This peaceful demonstration for human and religious rights was brutally suppressed by the police. During the manifestation there were altogether more than 149 people arrested. Among the arrested was also reporter from Austrian television Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, who commented this event: “We will never forget that You in Slovakia started this.” and labeled Slovaks as “Pioneers of the revolutions that came in 1989” in the spirit, that the path to the fall of the Berlin Wall led from the Candle Demonstration.
When and why were political prisoners imprisoned?
One of the Slovak dissidents remembers one dialogue in jail, where he talked to one former senior communist police officer, who eventually ended in jail. This former policeman said that the police had been ordered to arrest everybody randomly without distinction. Arrests made no logical sense and in the first years after seizing power by Communist party, the main purpose was to induce fear in the society, in which no one could be sure who would be next in line.
The first political prisoners appeared in February 1948 when the Communists took power over in Czechoslovakia. They were innocent people who got escorted into the gulags by Red Army during its transition through Czechoslovakia and also people who were against Communist party between years 1945 - 1948. They could be dealt with even before 1948, because in post-war government the Communists had control over ministries of Defense and Interior. Legislation after 1989 defines the first political prisoners of the Communist regime from October 6th 1944 when our territory was penetrated by Red Army (see Act no. 219/2006 about anti-communist resistance).
The most arrests took place in Czechoslovakia between 1948 (when the Communists took over the government) to 1953 when Stalin and Czechoslovak president Klement Gottwald died. During this period, the Communist party sought to total seizure of power and the destruction of any opposition - in Slovakia, it was represented mostly by intellectuals and churches, but also peasants and farmers.
During this period, there were most judicial killings, the prisoners were held under toughest conditions, there were, so called, monster proceeding (manipulated legal proceedings with prearranged ending - death). In jails, prisoners were under constant pressure with the aim of brainwashing, hearings were held in inhumane detention conditions - several days of interrupted sleep, physical harm, drugs were put in food, solitary confinement, cells without heating. Slovakia had the largest ecclesiastical legal proceeding of all countries that were dominated the Communists - in one process were sentenced three bishops at once. It was unprecedented even in the USSR.
The Most Important Personalities of Anti-Communist Opposition
The opposition against the communist power in Czechoslovakia consisted of two main groups - intellectuals and Christian dissent. In the Czech Republic stood out mainly dissent formed by intellectuals and artists, in Slovakia it was Catholic dissent, with equally creative intellectual background.
As the main representatives of Catholic dissent can be called secretly ordained bishop Ján Korec (now Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec), mathematician and programmer and later a secret priest Vladimir Jukl and doctor Silvester Krčméry, who are also called pillars of the secret underground church.
Cardinal Korec, a secret bishop at that time, served as the spiritual father of the underground church, and Jukl with Krčméry worked to create structures of the church, and passed what they had been taught (mainly) by Kolakovič. Most of all they organized and coordinated meetings for university students. The numbers of people they persuade was constantly increasing. Later these people were responsible for smuggling of religious literature, printing samizdat (secret magazines), or organizing the biggest Christian pilgrimages and demonstrations and also for the Candle demonstration in 1988.
The most famous Christian dissidents from the Czech Republic were Oto Mádr, Josef Zvěřina, Cardinal František Tomášek, and current bishop Václav Malý.
Among the intellectuals the prominent dissidents were playwright and essayist Václav Havel. Later he was elected the first post-revolution president. He was behind the initiative for Charter 77, which drew attention to the respect for human rights in Czechoslovakia - to what the communist government pledged at a conference in Helsinki in 1975.
The philosopher Ján Patočka, or historian Ivan Martin Jirous should be included in the intellectuals group. Other major dissidents, from the artistic community, were a songwriter Karel Kryl, and musicians from bands Plastic People of the Universe.
In terms of intellectuals from Slovakia, it was mainly a writer Dominik Tatarka and a philosopher Milan Šimečka. Certainly worth mentioning is Milada Horakova, Member of Parliament and fighter against social oppression, who had already been imprisoned by the Gestapo during the war. She was the only woman executed in the communist block except the USSR and Albania).
It is important to say, that Slovak opposition came up with great support of petitions. While the Charter 77 was the first bold action of civil dissent and signed by 2,000 people. Christian dissent organized a petition for religious freedom which exceeded 500,000 signatures. These people were then not afraid to speak on the squares of Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Tomislav Kolakovič (real surname Poglajen) was Croatian priest, who came to Slovakia in 1943. He had to flee Croatia where he was chased by Gestapo for open criticism of Nazism and Fascism.
In Slovakia, Kolakovič worked especially among university students in the dorm Svoradov where he persuaded young people with his intellectual heights, his drive, sincere effort to look for the truth and fight for it, or mission to help the most needy. Already at that time he organized workshops among young people on topics regarding the dangers of Nazism and totalitarian ideologies like Communism and gave them to contrast with the social teachings of the Catholic Church.
Students who had become best friends with Kolakovič later formed a fellowship, which was called Family. Kolakovič already predicted the communist terror and prepared the members of Family for it - ha had foreseen that terror would come to Czechoslovakia along with the Red Army. The members were therefore given aliases, were taught how to resist pressure from investigators when questioned, taught how not to betray friends, and how to provide first aid. Although it had seemed ridiculous to students at that time, later many of these techniques helped them to survive the communist methods and imprisonment.
The Helsinki Conference, 1975
The Helsinki Conference was held in great frustration of affairs in the US. Brezhnev as the leader of the USSR presented himself as a representative of fair dealing. Moreover it was held in Finland which moved carefully between East and West. It is said, that through some kind of inattention of the USSR and the countries under its influence, resulted in signing international agreements affecting respect of human and civil rights. When the citizens of Czechoslovakia (via Charter 77) and the main civil dissents asked to make the rights valid (not only on paper), a new wave of opposition against the regime started to rise. As a result of that, a lot of arrests in our country started too.
Director — Frantisek Neupauer