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Czechoslovakia: Who’s a Stalinist?

3 minute read

With the exception of Walter Ulbricht’s puppet state of East Germany, the most stubbornly Stalinist regime in the Soviet empire is run by Czechoslovakia’s Antonin Novotny. Observing the form rather than the function of Nikita Khrushchev’s destalinization drive, Novotny three months ago ordered the demolition of Prague’s 6,000-ton Stalin statue and the transfer of dead Red Boss Klement Gottwald from a glass-topped coffin in a grandiose mausoleum to a less conspicuous resting place (TIME. Dec. 1, 1961). But this month, under the transparent banner of destalinization, Novotny carried out a political execution that Stalin himself would have appreciated.

The victim was former Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Rudolf Barak, 47, whose climb up the Red rungs of success had been remarkably fast. Although he did not join the party until 1945, nine years later he was Deputy Premier, chief of the secret police and a member of the Politburo. Barak also has an unusual nonpolitical record—as a championship pole vaulter, theater buff, especially of avant-garde plays, and fan of “forbidden” jazz records that his two teen-age sons often brought back from France and Italy.

Last June Barak was fired as Interior Minister, and this month, at a session of the party’s Central Committee, he was expelled from the party, stripped of parliamentary immunity, and turned over to the courts for “criminal proceedings.” Among the charges: illegal use of state funds, “antiparty and illegal activity,” “gross violation of socialist legality.” The accusations suggested that on the basis of Barak’s long tenure as boss of the secret police, he would be made the fall guy for “crimes”‘ committed under Novotny’s leadership. After all, Czechoslovakian Communists have not had a real scapegoat since Rudolf Slansky was hanged in 1952.

One reason for Barak’s downfall may be a recent series, of embarrassments of Czechoslovak espionage activities overseas, for which Barak—as secret police boss—was responsible. These include the defection of Prague’s military attache in Washington, a spy scandal in West Germany, and the arrests last year of four Czech agents in Switzerland and Israel.

A more important reason for Barak’s ouster is that he enjoyed a personal following inside the party, unlike the friendless and ruthless Novotny. Furthermore, Barak was Czechoslovakia’s only ranking Red leader untainted by a Stalinist past, and he probably advocated genuine destalinization. Obviously, if real destalinization had swept Czechoslovakia, Novotny—not Barak—would have been the first to fall.

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