“Operation Kulak”: Memorial to Czech victims of collectivisation erected below Mount Říp

Czech Senate speaker Miloš Vystrčil, Jaroslav Šebek

In the autumn of 1951, Communist authorities launched a massive wave of agricultural “collectivisation”, forcibly evicting thousands of Czech farmers from their land and homesteads. To mark the 70th anniversary of “Operation Kulak”, a monument to the victims was installed this weekend below Mount Říp – a place of symbolic importance in Czech mythology and history.

During the enforced nationalisation of property early into the Stalinist era, one class of people in Czechoslovakia came in for particular persecution: wealthier, propertied farmers known as “kulaks”. Communist authorities evicted an estimated 4,000 such families, along with hundreds of less prosperous farmers.

The violent collectivization of the Czechoslovak countryside was carried out in a pervasive atmosphere of political intimidation. Not only were the kulaks’ farmland, animals, machinery and homesteads expropriated, their children were barred from higher studies.

Many farmers were also accused of treason and sentenced to do hard labour in the uranium mines.

Among them was the grandfather of Jaroslav Šebek, who today heads the national Association of Private Farmers. Mr Šebek was among the dozens who gathered below Mount Říp for the unveiling of a monument commemorating victims of forced collectivization.

“This memorial is very important for us. My grandfather – who was a handicapped farmer – was imprisoned, deprived of all his rights, and sent to the uranium mines in Jáchymov simply for managing his own farmland.

“A lot of people coming here don’t know anything about what happened in the 1950s. So, here now they can learn what the Operation Kulak was actually all about.”

Photo: Ondřej Hájek,  ČTK

Collectivization had already begun in Czechoslovakia according to the Soviet model in 1949, when the communists started establishing Common Agricultural Cooperatives (Jednotné zemědělské družstvo) in every farming village.

Within a year, the State Security (StB) began intimidating and coercing farmers into giving up their land and joining the cooperatives.

For a farmer, even a few months in jail could spell ruin if there was no-one to look after the crops and livestock. Those who resisted also risked being charged with sabotage or treason as “class enemies”.

Such was the case of the father of pensioner Václav Dašek, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. To honour his father, Mr Dašek travelled some 170 kilometres to attend the unveiling of the memorial below Mount Říp.

“There aren’t many witnesses anymore, I imagine. I was only five months old at the time of my father’s arrest, and I’m already 72. Only a few are left who directly experienced it.”

Collectivisation led to a sharp drop in agricultural output and shortages of some vital foods. Paradoxically, many products even had to be imported quietly from capitalist countries.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the new Soviet leadership demanded that satellite states alleviate the collectivization pressure. But the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia never gave up on the idea and even began a second phase in 1957, using mainly economic pressure – such as imposing devastating taxes on holdouts.

The process ended in 1960, when was new constitution was implemented and the name of the republic changed to reflect the “final victory of socialism” in Czechoslovakia.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Jana Vitásková
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