They Were The First - remembering victims of Soviet terror

A small ceremony took place this week in Prague to commemorate a tragic and little-known episode in the country's past. As the Red Army advanced into Czechoslovakia in 1945, hundreds of Russian émigrés - who'd found refuge in the country after the 1917 revolution - were abducted by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, and taken back to Russia. Rob Cameron has been speaking to Vladimir Bystrov junior, whose grandfather was one of those abducted, and who's involved in a committee set up by his father, called They Were The First.

"Just two days after Red Army troops entered Prague, a group called SMERSH - a Russian abbreviation for 'Death to Spies', special forces of the Russian secret service the NKVD, came together with military troops to Prague and started to arrest and abduct selected - very sophisticatedly selected - representatives of these groups."

They were mostly Czechoslovak citizens - why did the Czechoslovak government do nothing to stop this?

"Well, the Czechoslovak government was first of all really surprised by such an activity by a foreign secret service."

But those activities were illegal, essentially.

Vladimir Bystrov Senior
"It was illegal, against all international agreements, against international law, and against the laws of warfare. But first nobody expected it, and in the first days nobody knew about it. And later, when families of those people asked for an investigation as to where their fathers and mothers were, there was already tension between Communist representatives in the Czechoslovak government and the other, democratic parties."

What happened to them after they were abducted and taken back to Russia?

"In Russia they were criminalized, sentenced to a couple of years in special punishment camps, called gulags, in Siberia. From all those we know about, because the figures are really vague, we know about one fifth came back to their families."

And it's presumed that many of those were abducted died in those prison camps?

"Of course."

Has there been official apology from the Czech government?

"The position of the Czech government and other official bodies was cautious from the beginning, because they had no information to compare with the version presented by our committee. The first really important reaction came from parliament, which adopted a brief declaration saying these actions were illegal, and it was to the shame of the Czechoslovak state that it allowed such a thing to happen. The very latest government adopted a law on compensation for people in Soviet gulags and their families."

That's on the Czech side. Has there been any acknowledge in Moscow of what the Soviet government did at that time?

"No way. That's not the way Russians act."