Two Communist era VIPs stand trial
Court proceedings against two former high ranking Communist officials began in Prague on Monday. Jaroslav Klima, deputy interior minister in the 1960s and Jaroslav David, then deputy prosecutor general, are charged with preventing the trial of World War II criminal Werner Tutter. The reason - after the war, Tutter agreed to collaborate with the Communists and in the 1960 he acted as a secret agent in West Germany. Olga Szantova has the story.
The Werner Tutter case is one of number of similar cases where the Communists used the services of former Nazis, and therefore did not prosecute them for crimes committed during the war. Werner Tutter was the deputy commander of the German units that fought against the Czech resistance fighters towards the end of World War II , and he was directly responsible for harsh reprisals against local inhabitants. After the war, in 1948 he was sentenced to only 6 years in jail, because the extent of his role in these events was unknown.
But when his crimes were proved in full, all proposals for a re-trial were turned down, because in the meantime he had agreed to collaborate with the Czechoslovak secret police, the STB, and had been sent to West Germany as a spy. The two former Communist officials now standing trial are charged with being instrumental in hushing up the Tutter case during the 1960s. Their case comes to court nearly 12 years after the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. I asked the deputy director of the Office for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, Pavel Bret, why there was such a delay in this and other, similar cases.
"In order to answer, I have to go back to 1989, 1990. The general feeling was that we should start a new life and let bygones be bygones. Then, under the existing laws the majority of the communist crimes were barred by the statute of limitations. Gradually, though, new laws changed that. In 1993 a law making the communist regime unlawful was passed and a number of other legal measures taken, so investigations of Communist crimes could begin. But it takes a long time, and even when we do collect all the relevant proof, courts spend years - 3,4 years are no exception - before they come to any ruling. It took 10 years for the court to close the case of the police reprisals against the students in November 1989, the events that triggered the Velvet Revolution."
The law opening at least some of the communist archives to persons prosecuted under the regime was passed as late as 1996. Some 30 people have been sentenced for Communist related crimes in the Czech Republic and in total, 163 have been charged. Pavel Bret says that this is just a small drop in the ocean of Communist crimes.
"Parliament recently passed a law making some political crimes not subject to the statute of limitations, so we hope to find enough proof to charge other perpetrators of communist crimes. But it is a fact that time is working against us. These people are getting older and older and so are their victims."