Three former Communist secret police officers charged for their role in infamous Asanace campaign

Jaromír Obzina (second from left), photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0602-023 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The police have charged three former members of the Communist era secret police, the StB, for their role in Asanace, an infamous clearance campaign aimed at getting opponents of the regime to emigrate. Sixteen former members of the secret police have stood trial and been convicted for intimidating or using violence against dissidents, but the main organizer of the campaign, Jaromír Obzina died before he could be tried.

Jaromír Obzina (second from left), photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0602-023 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
During the normalization era, following the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that quashed the Prague Spring democratic reforms, the secret police unleashed a campaign aimed at supressing all resistance to the hard-line Communist leadership. In 1977 then interior minister Jaromír Obzina ordered those who could not be made to toe the line to be hounded out of the country. Under the so called Asanace campaign which lasted between 1977 and 1985 the secret police harassed and threatened hundreds of families many of whom eventually agreed to leave their homeland. The StB applied both physical violence and psychological pressure, making death threats, threatening to harm close family members, police raids in the middle of the night and beatings and cigarette burns during interrogations. The latest case concerns a doctor who was sacked for openly supporting Poland’s Solidarity movement and who eventually left for Germany after being threatened that his entire family would be eliminated “in an accident”. Historian Petr Blažek says the StB drove dissidents out with little more than the clothes on their back.

“All these people were stripped of their citizenship –at their own request. And because they were forced to sign such a request they had to pay the state money invested in their studies, for instance. They were allowed to take with them a small number of personal belongings and maybe some books but their property was seized by the state and was usually sold under price.”

Although it is not clear exactly how many people were hounded out of the country under the infamous Asanace campaign the highest estimate is close to three hundred, including family members. Originally dozens of former communist secret police officers were expected to stand trial for their part in the affair but many of them died before their case made it to court. In the end 16 people were convicted. Historian Petr Blažek again:

Petr Blažek, photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“The vast majority of those charged received suspended sentences of two to four years, only a few of them actually served prison sentences and they were the ones who exerted violence against dissidents – burnt them with cigarette butts, strangled them during interrogations and there was a case of one woman being sexually abused. But three years in prison was the most they got and the main perpetrator, the man who instigated the campaign – then interior minister Jaromír Obzina - was never punished because he died before his case came to court.”

According to the news site ihned the three former secret police officers who have now been charged, have not been taken into custody. Under Czech law they could face up to ten years in prison, but experts predict that as in the former cases, the punishment will be at the low end of the scale in view of the time that has passed and the fact that they were pawns in a system that had no respect for human rights and freedoms.