Compensation for Czechs dragged to Russia

The Czech cabinet has decided to back a bill proposed by Parliament which would enable people who were dragged off to the Soviet Union after World War II to receive compensation. These were people known for their anti-communist views, who were on the list of the Soviet secret police and who, often without any official trial, spent years in Soviet work camps. Many of them never came back; none of them, nor their descendants have ever received any moral, or financial compensation. Olga Szantova reports.

Most of those who were dragged away were Russian refugees, people who had fled from Russia after the Soviet government took over in 1917. They settled in various parts of Europe, many of them in Czechoslovakia, where they had their own schools, churches, newspapers, etc. Their activities were carefully monitored by the Soviets and when they liberated Czechoslovakia from the Nazis at the end of World War II, they had a list of people they were after. Most of those refugees had been granted Czechoslovak citizenship, but the Czechoslovak government never protested against their being illegally dragged away.

After the fall of communism in 1989, the few survivors and the descendants of those who had died, formed an organization, to draw attention to these events that were never officially talked about. I asked its chairman, Vladimir Bystrov, why it had taken so long for the cabinet to deal with the issue.

Vladimir Bystrov:Parliament discussed the issue way back in 1992, but it was dropped in the Czech lands after Czechoslovakia split at the end of the year. In Slovakia they compensated the Slovak victims, but here many members of parliament were worried about the cost of compensation, and the issue was dropped.

Radio Prague: So, why has it been taken up now, after so many years?

VB: The time seems to be right. The compensation of people who were forced to work for Nazi Germany during the war and the compensation of Jewish victims has highlighted the issue and some politicians realized that this group of victims, those who were dragged away to Soviet gulags should not be forgotten.

RP: How many people are actually involved?

VB: We can only guess. Nobody really knows how many people were dragged off from what is now the Czech Republic, there are no documents - some 1 000 , maybe 1 500. We have managed to document 400 cases, out of which some 60-80 victims came back. But there are no documents for the period between 1948 and 1955, because after the communist takeover here, these people were no longer dragged off, but were officially handed over to the Russians by the Czechoslovak secret police. So far we know of just about a dozen or so of those cases.

RP: Are the rest to be forgotten? It's such a tragic gap in our history, is anybody studying the issue?

VB:In January this year the interior minister decreed that the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes is to broaden its activities. So far it has only investigated cases that occurred after the communist takeover in this country, that's from February 1948. Now they are to go back to the period from the end of 1944, when the Soviet army first entered Czechoslovak territory. That's a major step. Even if material compensation is very important for all those who suffered, we consider moral satisfaction just as significant. The victims of Soviet organized terror were the first victims of communism on Czechoslovak territory. And that should never be forgotten.

Author: Olga Szantová
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