Rudolf Slansky: Former Czech diplomat and Communist era dissident dies aged 71

Rudolf Slansky, photo: CTK

The former Czech diplomat and Communist dissident, Rudolf Slansky junior, passed away on Monday after a serious illness. He was 71. As the son of the famous Czechoslovak Communist Party General Secretary who was executed after a show trial in 1952, Rudolf Slansky junior's participation in the dissident movement after 1968 and his subsequent work in the diplomatic service earned him the respect of many senior figures in Czech politics. Chris Jarrett looks back on this prominent political career.

Rudolf Slansky,  photo: CTK
Renowned for his firm principles and tolerance, Rudolf Slansky had a profound impression on all those who he knew, as much through politics and diplomatic work, as in his everyday life. Born in Prague in 1935, he lived in exile between 1938 and 1945 with his family in the USSR, after his father along with much of the Communist leadership of the time, fled to the Soviet Union when German troops occupied the Sudetenland in 1938. He knew a young Cyril Svoboda as a child, whose family had a country cottage in the same village as the Slanskys, and who would become today's Foreign Minister. Pavel Rychetsky is Constitutional Court Chairman and was also a close family friend of Rudolf Slansky.

"I have to say that everyone who knew him knew him as a person who was extraordinarily tolerant as well as kind. I got to know Rudolf Slansky during the period known as the Prague Spring at the beginning of 1968. I was twenty-five at the time, teaching at Prague's Faculty of Law. He was older and represented people who were pushing for basic democratisation and reforms. His strongest personal attribute was empathy and understanding for people and he always tried to find the good in others. At the same time, he was very firm in his beliefs."

As a school pupil, he studied communist economics and planning, but had to leave school at the time of his father's execution. Rudolf Slansky senior was Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and was sentenced to death by hanging by his own party in 1952 when his son was just 17. Pavel Rychetsky describes the effect these events had on Slansky.

"I think he was influenced by a fairly tragic past: as a child he was imprisoned with his mother and sister and his father was executed. All the same, he didn't react with ill-will or lean towards hatred. Even though we were close friends, we never spoke about the execution of his father together. I think it was a great lifelong weight on his shoulders. He knew his father was a victim of various processes, which he himself helped set-off. At the same time, his father was the only intellectual in the Communist leadership before and after the Second World War."

In the 1960s Slansky himself became a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, but was expelled in 1969 due to his active participation in the Prague Spring Communist Reform movement in 1968. During the 20 years that followed, the "normalisation" period, he participated in dissident groups and was a signatory of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto. He became the permanent representative of Czechoslovakia at the UN in New York after 1989, before serving as ambassador in Moscow for 6 years. In 1997 he was appointed ambassador to Slovakia, a position which he occupied until 2004. But aside from the mark he made on the political world, he is fondly remembered by those he knew personally. Sociologist Jirina Siklova was a close friend of Rudolf Slansky Jr. and describes her memories of him:

Jirina Siklova
"The best name for him would be a gentleman. Really, the most important thing was that he was gentle. I know that he had perfect contact with people. He never accused anyone. He had a great ability to understand what pain is, what political orientation is, and how important it is to accept other people."

Such warm sentiments remain with many who knew Rudolf Slansky, both professionally and personally. But those by whom he will be missed most sorely are his wife and two sons, for whom the memory of this figure of great political prominence and influence will always remain as a loving and devoted husband and father.