Remembering Russian émigrés kidnapped by Stalin's secret police
A short ceremony was held in Prague on Friday morning to commemorate the thousands of Russian émigrés who were illegally abducted by the Soviet secret police at the close of World War Two. The abductions began as soon as the Red Army began to liberate Czechoslovakia in 1944, and continued long after the Soviets arrived in Prague in May 1945. It's one of the most mysterious chapters in Czechoslovakia's 20th century history, but their fate has not been forgotten.
"For us it's important because it was immediately after the Second World War, after the victory over German Nazism, and I think it was the first moment that Stalinist and communist methods and procedures started to function here in this country, at a moment when most people here were not aware what was going on. So this is a special event. We discuss quite often our gulags, our concentration camps in the communist era here, people know a lot about it, but this is something which is even now not part of the standard knowledge in this country."
SMERS stood for "Smert Spionam" or "Death to Spies". Part of its mission was to follow the Red Army as it advanced into Europe at the close of World War Two, liquidating and kidnapping potential enemies of the Soviet Union. These included Soviet citizens who had emigrated and started new lives abroad. Only a handful of the thousands of Russian émigrés illegally abducted in Czechoslovakia ever returned.
Vladimir Bystrov's father was one of the lucky ones, returning after ten years in Siberia. For years his son, now an elderly man, has investigated the kidnappings, and has just written a new book, a copy of which he presented to President Klaus at Friday's ceremony. The subject was of course taboo during the Communist period, but Vladimir Bystrov says there is now increasing awareness about the fate of Czechoslovakia's Russian émigrés.
The abductions began in the fog of war but continued even after Czechoslovakia had regained full sovereignty in 1945. And most crucially, thousands of Czechoslovaks were being abducted by the Soviet secret police long before 1948, when the communists took power.