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.