ANALYSIS: President Husák died 30 years ago. It was a symbol of normalization gray, purges and decay. He lacked self-reflection


He expelled thousands of people from their beloved country, because his dictatorship under the supervision of the Soviet Union was unbearable, his rule killed any future development of life in Czechoslovakia. For over twenty years, Gustáv Husák was the main face of normalization, so that on November 18, 1991, two years and one day after the outbreak of the Velvet Revolution, he died in complete oblivion.

In his youth, he paid for a diligent student and a rebel

He was born in 1913 in the village of Dúbravka, which is now part of Bratislava. His father worked as a quarry worker and later made a living as a peasant. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was one year old. So he came from a very poor situation, but thanks to his studies and his immense ambition, he managed to get to the top. As a graduate, he prospered at the prestigious Bratislava grammar school and also studied law in Bratislava with honors.

The image of young Gustav Husák as a successful and ambitious student would not be complete if we did not mention here that during his adolescence he also discovered a rebel in his current situation. As a young man, he became convinced that it was communist ideology that offered the right recipe for eliminating all the injustices of the time. And it was his unwavering convictions that were not shaken by several years of imprisonment that affected his entire life.

At the age of sixteen, he became a member of the Communist Youth Union and from the age of twenty he was a member and functionary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. After graduating from law school, he became a trainee lawyer in the office of Vladimír Clementis, the later Communist Foreign Minister, who eventually became one of the victims of the contrived trial of Rudolf Slánský.

Gustáv Husák was a great opponent of the Tis regime during the Slovak state and was part of the resistance movement during the war. The culmination of his resistance activities was his participation in the Slovak National Uprising, which brought him to political prominence after the end of the war. After the war, he held the position of chairman of the Board of Commissioners, which is in fact the position of the Slovak Prime Minister. As a zealous Bolshevik, of course, he also took part in the communist takeover. He organized provocations against the Democratic Party, which won the elections in Slovakia in 1946. It contributes to the fact that the Communists managed to control the Slovak police, including the secret police, with the help of which they could then terrorize the opposition, the church and ordinary citizens.

He remained faithful to communist ideology even in a cruel prison

The first years of communist rule were marked by sophisticated Soviet-style processes. Their main purpose was to cause fear in people. The victims of these staged trials were the Communists themselves, and Gustáv Husák did not escape them either. In 1951 he was accused of “Slovak bourgeois nationalism”. It was a fictitious accusation, but it had a certain real basis. Husák rejected the idea of ​​a united Czechoslovak nation from a young age. He even went so far as to flirt during the war with the idea of ​​joining Slovakia directly to the Soviet Union.

Other Slovak officials Ladislav Novomesky, Daniel Okáli, Ivan Horváth and Ladislav Holdoš were also tried together with him. On April 24, 1954, he was sentenced to life in prison in a so-called trial with bourgeois nationalists for high treason. Some historians claim that only the deaths of Stalin and Gottwald saved him from the death penalty. During interrogations, he was beaten, strangled and beaten against a wall. The time when he was examined and interrogated had a strong effect on his health, and at one time Husák weighed only 56 kg. Yet he did not question communist ideology for a second.

His fellow prisoners later spoke of Husák as an ardent communist who blamed individuals, not the communist system or the Soviet Union. He suggested the idea that the party was testing him. In discussing what he would do when he was out, he was clear: he had seen himself in the highest political positions, and he had already pledged pardons to his fellow prisoners. However, he kept his distance from the other prisoners.

Together with the other accused, he was forced to confess, among other things, that it was a party task to mark the national deviation as hostile and to confess. Unlike others, Husák did not succumb and never confessed. According to historian Michal Macháček, Husák was a devout communist, but his character also included individualism and critical thinking. However, he did not deify the party and knew well how his mentor Vladimír Clementis, who confessed under duress, was executed, which forced Husák even more to correct or at least not submit to this injustice.

After the occupation, he began his journey to the top, ending up at the Castle

Finally, Gustáv Husák was released in 1960. Three years later, he underwent complete rehabilitation and again received a membership card from the Communist Party. But he had to wait a few more years for a real political comeback.

His moment came in 1968, when he was slowly reaching the peak of his career. Gustáv Husák was a very charismatic orator and opponent of the strongly unpopular former President Antonín Novotný. He was also helped by the fact that he was accompanied by the reputation of a former political prisoner, who managed to behave bravely even in the most difficult moments. He managed to gain the sympathy of the general public. Although he rhetorically stood up for politics and the person of Alexander Dubček during the Prague Spring, in reality he looked at him and the events of the time critically and considered him incompetent. He did not identify with the democratization of society, which he considered anarchy, and continued to fully recognize Moscow’s position of power. The events of August 21, 1968 surprised him, but at the same time he was able to skillfully take advantage of the opacity of the situation. Husak probably won the favor of the leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, with his vigor and eloquence, which convinced the Soviet leader that he was the man who should be entrusted with power in Czechoslovakia.

Many considered Husák a better choice than openly pro-Soviet collaborators such as Alois Indra or Antonín Kapek. They hoped that he would be a moderate man like János Kádar in Hungary. Therefore, when he took office in April 1969, many had hopes that he would be the first Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party to continue, at least in part, the course begun in January 1968 without major purges or dismissals. Therefore, further developments must have shocked many. People did not experience any Czechoslovak counterparts of “goulash socialism” and further development, on the contrary, brought about a strengthening of conditions.
Gustáv Husák began the normalization with extensive personnel purges, which took place not only in the party, but also, for example, in schools, companies and ministries. The purges that took place in the Communist Party under his leadership deprived 327,000 people of the party’s membership. Some 350,000 people lost their jobs during the workplace clean-ups, and many often had to work as workers who did not correspond to their qualifications. They were then replaced by characterless careerists who completely mastered everyday life in the country.

Since the beginning of the 1970s, he has surrounded the top management with people such as Vasil Biľak, Alois Indra and Miloš Jakeš, who have fallen far short of his intellectual level and despised them. On the contrary, his former friends, who in 1963 were responsible for his rehabilitation, went to prison at that time. This is, for example, the historian Milan Hübel, who spent seven years in prison during the normalization, and Husák even worked to ensure that the then President Ludvík Svoboda did not pardon him. The full peak of Husák’s political career was his election as president on May 29, 1975. After the long-term seriously ill President Ludvík Svoboda was removed from office. The presidential term lasted five years at that time, and he was confirmed as president without major problems in 1980 and 1985.

Mitterrand preferred Havel to visit Prague

The period of his presidency was marked by the rigid approach typical of representatives of the late communist gerontocracy. His policy was at all a symptomatic reluctance to pursue any major systemic reforms. As historian Michal Macháček writes in his monograph Gustáv Husák, the last communist president “was based on the then state, which was only to improve and, in his words, to lead to a developed socialist society.”

In the last few years, his aging has begun to show relentlessly. Already in the early 1980s, members of the presidency of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Kremlin drew attention to the difficulty of performing the function of president and secretary of the Communist Party. They pointed out that he had become physically noticeable, and in 1983 he had an ischemic stroke.

At the end of 1987, he resigned as Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He was replaced by the exemplary incompetent Miloš Jakeš, who belonged to the party’s anti-reform “conservative” wing. After leaving the post of secretary general, Husák himself found himself in even greater information and social isolation. Miloš Jakeš’s statement about the “stake in the fence” suited Gustav Husák the most. In addition, in February 1989, he suffered a stroke, and was eventually hospitalized until the end of March 1989.

Even after his release, walking problems and pain in his left hand and difficulty expressing persisted. In addition, he suffered a cancer of his right cheek in the same year. Already during his stay in the hospital, discussions began on changes in the highest positions – it was thought that Miroslav Štěpán would replace Jakeš, who would become president, at the head of the Communist Party.

Isolation and cutting off information in the party due to the resignation of the Secretary General did not deprive him of the ability to perceive overall political developments. The communist system lagged far behind the West in virtually everything, and people saw it well. He himself began to realize that the Communists were gradually losing ground. Therefore, the then regime in December 1988 worked hard to visit the former French President François Mitterrand, who conditioned his visit on a meeting with the opposition, a dissident led by Václav Havel. Husak experienced a great humiliation on December 9, 1988, when Mitterrand invited the Chartists to breakfast at the Buquoy Palace in Prague’s Lesser Town, and the Socialist president had to wait for the French head of state to discuss everything with opponents of the communist regime. Mitterrand simply preferred Havel.

Husák was also known as a man who never went far for a sharp expression, as he showed at the meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in October 1989, where he quite pregnant described the situation in which the party found itself: “You do not see that shit? Do something! ”In Poland, the first semi-free elections took place in June 1989. Hungary opened its borders to the West in September, and in the same month the government and the opposition agreed on a transition to democracy. Thus, both Central European countries were already heading for democracy at the beginning of the autumn, and it was only a matter of time before Czechoslovakia took a similar path.

Before leaving, he appointed a government of national understanding

Then came the November Revolution, and its end in politics was inevitable. The opposition demanded, among other things, the departure of all profaned representatives of the communist regime, including President Husák, which also happened in the end. When announcing his departure on the evening of December 9, 1989, Gustáv Husák made it clear that he did not intend to change his attitudes when he declared: “I have personally believed in the bright ideals of socialism since I was young. Where there were mistakes, there were people’s mistakes, not the basic ideas of socialism. I don’t even see better basic ideas, basic orientations in the world today. That is why I will remain faithful to them forever. ”A day later, symbolically on Human Rights Day, he appointed a government of national understanding led by Marian Calfa. Shortly afterwards, he resigned as President of the Republic and retreated.

Gustáv Husák spent the last two years of his life in Bratislava. He struggled with serious health problems, especially stomach cancer, and the fact that he had not received a pension for a long time. The last communist president died almost in oblivion and perhaps also symbolically the day after the second anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

Gustáv Husák was undoubtedly a man with enormous political talent, for whom politics was everything. His tragedy was that he lived his whole adult life in error. He dedicated it to an ideology that is responsible for millions of the dead and deservedly ended up after 1989 in the abyss of history. He never showed any self-reflection. He thus represented one of a series of tragic and frightening cases of an intellectual to whom ideas became more important than the people themselves and their lives.

The author is an MEP and vice-chairman of KDU-ČSL


Source: EuroZprávy.cz by eurozpravy.cz.

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