New trial places Communist-era involuntary emigration campaign in spotlight

Ivanka Lefeuvre, photo: Archive of the project “Ženy v disentu” / Academia

A court case in Prague will this week put the spotlight back on a notorious Communist secret police operation in which opponents of the regime were harassed so terribly that in many cases they abandoned their native Czechoslovakia. The victim in this instance was a woman with three small children.

Ivanka Lefeuvre,  photo: Archive of the project “Ženy v disentu” / Academia

Ivanka Lefeuvre  (1977),  photo: Archive of Ivanka Lefeuvre
In the late 1970s Communist Czechoslovakia’s secret police, the StB, began carrying out a brutal policy against dissidents.

Under Operation Asanace, or Clearance, the StB used violence and psychological pressure to make such people’s lives so unbearable they eventually accepted “offers” to leave the country.

On Tuesday a court in Prague will begin hearing a criminal case taken against three ex-StB officers by one such victim, Ivanka Lefeuvre, a Charter 77 signatory.

Following many years of mistreatment, she felt she had no alternative but to leave Czechoslovakia in 1982, with her husband Martin Hybler and three small children. She settled in France and still lives in the country.

Former StB officer Milan Kopenec, who was assigned to Ivanka Lefeuvre and is one of the men on trial, told newspaper Deník N. that he had no recollection of her, which made it impossible to defend himself.

The plaintiff will be represented in court by historian Petr Blažek of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.

Ivanka Lefeuvre  (1982),  photo: Archive of Ivanka Lefeuvre
He describes Operation Clearance as one of the most abhorrent things done to opponents of the Communist regime in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It was declared by an order of the minister of the interior, [Jaromír] Obzina. It affected hundreds of people, including the victims’ families. Frequently it was a complete turning point in their lives. They had to sell everything and leave their families and friends behind. They moved to countries where they often started with nothing and may not have known the language. Often the families fell apart in that new environment. People didn’t know communism would end – they thought they were leaving forever.”

Blažek says this campaign of forced emigration is one of the best documented operations carried out by the StB.

Petr Blažek,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková,  Czech Radio
“Violent methods were frequently used in ‘persuading’ people to leave. They were driven into the forest or beaten during interrogations. Women were assaulted in their homes at night or on the street. The victims were stripped of their citizenship, a process they had to pay for. They also had to pay for the education they had received. They often sold their property below its value just to have some money and were only allowed take certain things with them.”

Ivanka Lefeuvre kept thorough records of her own case and published a book, Migration 1982, about her experiences. Her case is being heard by the Prague 1 District Court.