Bill on compensation for post-war victims

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More than half a century after the end of the Second World War, the world still finds itself wanting when it comes to compensating those who were treated unjustly during and in the years following the war. We are aware of compensation for the Jewish community, forced or slave labourers, and even Sudeten Germans expelled from post-war Czechoslovakia. But there is one group of people that we rarely hear about. Dita Asiedu explains:

When the Soviet Army entered Czechoslovakia to free the country from German occupation at the end of WWII, it was not solely concerned with liberation. Thereafter, Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks had to fear a new threat - members of the special Soviet department called SMERS or 'death to spies' - who focused on Soviet emigrants who, after the defeat of anti-Bolshevik forces, had left the Soviet Union to Czechoslovakia where they were granted Czechoslovak citizenship. These people were taken back to the Soviet Union without their consent and without protest from their new country. Vladimir Bystrov is a member of the Oni byli prvni or 'They were the First' organisation which today tries to discover the fate of these people:

"Once in the Soviet Union, they were sentenced in absentia to work in labour camps alongside regular convicted criminals. What was even worse was the separation between those people from the so-called people's democratic countries and other prisoners - prisoners of war from Germany or Japan for example. Correspondence with the outside world was prohibited, so in most cases their families received no word from them until they came back or died. To this day, some Czech families still haven't heard from their relatives. Although some prisoners managed to get in touch with their families in Czechoslovakia through relatives in the Soviet Union, it was a very complicated and rare process."

It is still unclear as to how many people fell victim to SMERS. Whilst official numbers are in the hundreds, it is estimated that the true figure lies in the thousands:

"Out of those registered as missing in the Czech archives, some twenty to twenty-five percent returned. This shows you that the Soviets were very successful in carrying out their plan to liquidate the people they put in camps."

Within the next few weeks, the Czech Parliament is expected to vote on a bill under which these people would be compensated. If the proposal is approved by the senate and signed by the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, victims may be financially compensated as early as 2003. But why is it up to the Czech Republic to compensate victims of Soviet crimes?

"The Czech people have to live with a past in which society did not prevent foreign powers from abducting Czech citizens from their homes and treating them very badly - doing things that should never be done. At the time there was not a single protest from the Czech people, official intervention was very diplomatic and the Czech press failed to cover the matter in their publications... the foreign press did - the Americans and French wrote about it. But the Czechs closed their eyes to their own people, leaving them to their own fate. This is rather ironic as the Czech nation constantly claims that Czechoslovakia strove for democracy between 1945 and 1948, before the Communists took over. Reality shows that after WWII, from 1945, freedom was not an ideal and was indeed very limited."