Former high-ranking Communists acquitted of treason

Jozef Lenart and Milous Jakes, photo: CTK

A court in Prague acquitted two former communist leaders on Monday after finding them not guilty of treason for their role in the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Former Prime Minister Jozef Lenart and ex-Communist Party leader Milous Jakes had gone on trial for attempting to legitimise the invasion by trying to create a hard-line "worker-peasant government", in violation of Czechoslovakia's constitution. Rob Cameron has more.

Jozef Lenart and Milous Jakes,  photo: CTK
"We have here a bulletin which has just been handed to me by the press from Czechoslovakia, saying that Radio Prague announced Wednesday that Soviet troops have crossed Czechoslovak borders. The broadcast asked Czechoslovak citizens not to take action against them. The broadcast came at 2am over the direct network of Radio Prague"

Senator Hale Boggs announces to the U.S. Congress on August 22, 1968, that Warsaw Pact tanks had invaded Czechoslovakia, bringing to an end the period of liberal reforms known as the "Prague Spring." State prosecutors - working with the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism - alleged that on the morning after the invasion, eleven hard-line members of the Communist Party leadership, including Lenart and Jakes, arrived at the Soviet embassy for talks.

The Soviet ambassador suggested they circumvent the Czechoslovak constitution and create a special body to rule the country, dubbed a "worker-peasant government". The Communist Party delegation were unable to decide on the make-up of the new body - a blurring of Communist and state power - and went to President Ludvik Svoboda to appoint the body himself. Svoboda was shocked, and refused. The "worker-peasant government" was abandoned.

Thirty years on, investigators believe the plot amounted to treason, and have spent years trying to gather evidence. But that evidence was not enough to convince Prague's City Court. Judge Hana Hrncirova said the court's role was to decide on guilt or innocence, not to make judgements on history.

In this case, she said, there was nothing to prove that Milous Jakes and Josef Lenart attempted to overthrow the legitimate government of Czechoslovakia. Jakes and Lenart, now elderly men, are free to spend the rest of their retirement in peace. Former opponents of the Communist regime may not like it, but they will be judged by history, not by a court of law.