Controversy over proposal to grant Masin brothers' group state honours

Brüder Masín

The Senate has proposed that state honours be granted to the resistance group of the Masin brothers, who fought their way out of Communist Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s. But the issue is not without controversy, and not everyone believes they deserve such recognition.

Josef and Ctirad Masin struggled against the Communist regime in the 1950s, shooting their way - with four others - across the border into East Germany in November 1953, leaving six dead in their wake. They later emigrated to the United States, where they live to this day. The Senate recently passed a vote, proposing that the members of the Masin brothers' group receive state honours recognising their courage and heroism. Though there is some opposition to the awards, Senator Edvard Outrata says their radical action was understandable, given the brutality of the regime.

"When the Communists took over they did so in a quasi constitutional way but immediately they introduced a rain of terror. People reacted to it as personally they would. Some people left the country, some succumbed to it, others just weren't directly affected...These particular men felt they had to fight and put together a group that started military actions against the regime."

What is your personal view? Have you personally supported the proposal, and if you did, why do you think they deserve the honours?

"I did in the end. It is a questionable thing. It depends on how you look at their actions. I think it was very important at that time to show resistance, it was a pity that too few people did so, these did, they stand out in that way, while they didn't achieve much because there were so few of them, nevertheless we should recognize that. We should recognize it particularly because we want to make a point that shows the awful character of the Communist regime, particularly in the days when they fought, which were the 1950's. That was a time when people were being sentenced to death on false pretences. The communist regime has later developed into a milder form of repression during which one would not suggest this type of fight but in the very early fifties I think it was quite adequate."

However, there are also many opponents of the proposal, like the Communist Member of Parliament Jiri Dolejs. He is one of those who consider the Masins and their friends little more than killers.

"The Masin brothers left this country under conditions which are not possible to call a struggle for freedom, because they committed manslaughter even though it was unnecessary. Every man has the right to fight for his opinion, for his concept of freedom; however, his fight must not exceed certain limits."

Senator Outrata is not surprised that Communist Party senators voted against the proposed state awards:

"From the point of view of the Communists it logically follows. They were introducing the dictatorship of the proletariat and everybody who fought them was of course villain and a murderer. So it's a question of what type of fight it was. The Communists started a rain of terror, rain of killing people actually, so they saw the situation as a civil war launched by the Communists. But of course there are critics who would say that it was not adequate response to the terror, and there is a second group of people who would say that they didn't achieve too much, so what heroes are they. I don't think heroism or bravery is measured by the results necessarily, more by the approach."

The Senate has passed its proposal. Now it is up to the President to decide. Whether the acts of Masin brothers will be recognised as heroism will be seen on the Czech National Day, on 28 October.