Václav Havel – A legend or yet another false myth?
I did not want to comment on the death of Vaclav Havel at the time of his funeral and if it was not for a certain redactor from daily SME who wanted to know details on the circumstances of Havel’s amnesty from January 1, 1990, when I was serving my sentence in Leopoldov in the department Section I for so-called crimes against the Republic, I would find it unnecessary to comment on his character in relation to the amnesty and takeover in 1989.
To the concerned redactor who with my consent recorded the interview I told the same what I am saying here in more detail and with authentic documents. As expected, certain circles made a legend of Havel already at time when he was still alive, and his death was used for the same purpose; and therefore I was not surprised that in the article “Consequences of Havel’s amnesty cannot be ascertained for sure” daily SME did not mention a word from what I told them in the interview.
What is the real truth about Havel’s amnesty?
As of January 1, 1990, several tens of prisoners sentenced by Section I. were serving their sentences in former communist Czechoslovakia. These were mostly made-up or lousily justified charges of espionage, unsuccessful attempts to illegally leave the country with taking hostages qualified as terror, individual attacks against Party officials, subversion of the Republic, and various combinations of the above and similar acts of so-called anti-socialistic behavior. Prisoners sentenced for political crimes who got the highest sentences were serving their times in Slovakia in Leopoldov, 3rd Corrective Educational Group, and in the Czech Republic in Valdice and Mirov. Those with shorter sentences were in 2nd Corrective Educational Group in prison Illava. After November 17, 1989, full of hope and happy expectations we started thinking about freedom again and believed that former political prisoner Vaclav Havel won’t let us down and will grant amnesty first of all to us. This belief was reinforced by release of the so-called Bratislava Five and Jan Carnogursky compelled by the public. However, shortly after the November events, department Section I was abolished and we, the prisoners sentenced for political crimes, were mixed with ordinary criminals in all departments within the Leopoldov prison. We immediately understood that this dirty trick does not predict anything good for us. On January 1, 1990, we learnt that president Vaclav Havel shortened sentences of those imprisoned for Section I crimes for just one year! This meant that we were to rot in prison for many more years and none of us is going to go free anytime soon! I personally rejected this amnesty in a letter which I sent to the Ministry of Justice.
Did the competent authorities and Vaclav Havel know that there are still political prisoners in prisons?
Sure they did because in December 1989 the prisoners in Leopoldov started a hunger strike in protest and in relation to this two of us got out for short interruption of sentence who met with VPN officials and journalists. Among them was present as a speaker for the political prisoners now deceased mountain-climber Pavel Pochyly whom I handed over numbers of criminal files of those sentenced by Section I. By today it is obvious that the decision not to grant amnesty to prisoners sentenced by Section I was influenced by agents StB within the OF (Civic Forum) and VPN (Public against Violence). In this context and with this intention in the beginning of 1990 Jan Carnogursky and then General attorney officially announced that there are no political prisoners in our prisons. Amnesty granted by Vaclav Havel was not only betrayal of those who were sentenced for Section I crimes which were mostly politically motivated, but was also an obvious sabotage and threat to public security due to release of 24.000 ordinary prisoners at large.
None of us expected development like that as we all believed and were convinced that Havel will grant individual amnesty first to those sentenced for political crimes, and to prisoners sentenced for criminal matters will be granted amnesty which would shorten the remaining sentence by half in less serious offences and by one third in the most serious ones; whilst those with remnants of sentences shorter than one year would be granted amnesty without making differences. This way the prisoners would be leaving gradually and there would be no mass release. Paradoxically, such extent of presidential amnesty was not expected even by the guards who were talking to us about it.
In my interview for daily SME from December 18, 2011, I stated that my now deceased uncle Mgr Karol Paluch, member of the Solidarity since 1980, president of the foundation Cor Aegrum and a friend of Adam Michnik from Polish Solidarity intervened at Vaclav Havel in a letter from April 23, 1990, which I am publishing as an authentic document to prove that Vaclav Havel could not be bothered to respond, and also ignored personal intervention of Adam Michnik, editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, who personally asked Havel to grant Paluch clemency.
Citation from the letter of Mgr. Karol Paluch, in memoriam, letter dated April 23, 1990
Venerable Mr. President of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic Vaclav Havel, in Your New Year address you did not forget, Mr. President, prisoners, and stated, among other things, that there are too many prisoners in Czechoslovakia who experienced personally the decline of justice, and now have to live in prisons, which instead of fostering the best what is in man liquidate people both mentally and physically. Simultaneously, you addressed prisoners that they have to understand that 40 years of inappropriate judicial proceedings cannot be cancelled overnight. I think you had in mind mainly political prisoners when you said in your address that persecuted were those who stood up against the totalitarian state power and those who simply decided to be themselves. One of these prisoners is also son of my sister who lives in Poprad, Frantisek Bednar, born February 15, 1957, at this time in prison in Ruzomberok, where he was transferred in the beginning of January 1990 from Correctional Educational Facility Leopoldov…
Our whole families in Slovakia and families in Poland and the USA were disturbed that Vaclav Havel, as a president, did not feel it is necessary to respond even to a letter of exceptionally distinguished and humble person such as Mgr Karol Paluch who in his 60 years of age overcame serious heart surgery in then ill-equipped and outdated hospital in Krakow. To the surgeons who operated him he promised to do everything possible to build a new modern cardiologic clinic. Nobody believed it at that time. But he managed to do exactly that together with Cardinal Macharsky – then Archbishop and professor Dziatkowiak they founded a foundation Cor Aegrum which collected financial means around the world. On June 9, 1997, Jan Pavel II personally consecrated the newly opened department of Cardiologic institute which performs tens of heart transplants.
I have to add that in April 1990 after the Leopoldov uprising redactors of STV discovered Marian Dudinsky, a journalist imprisoned for espionage which was released on parole as a criminal. During his first press conference with journalists he was warned by Fedor Gal not to reopen old wounds and talk about names of judges and interrogators in his case. This poor journalist described his anabasis in his memoirs “StB was my Godmother”. The Act on judicial rehabilitations 119/90 Coll. was passed on April 23, 1990. Despite this I was only released after the intervention of my desperate parents who on July 22, 1990, announced to the Presidential Office and other institutions that if they do not release me by September 1, 1990, they will start a hunger strike in protest at the Wenceslas Square in Prague. . Letter from the parents dated on July 22, 1990
What Havel’s amnesty brought?