Communist prosecutor, Karel Vaš, who played a prominent role in the purge of the top brass of the Czechoslovak military in the late 1940’s, should have served a six-year sentence, Justice Minister Pospíšil has said in a complaint to the Supreme Court; according to Pospíšil, the High Court acted illegally by letting Vaš walk free on the grounds of statutes of limitations. In 2001, Vaš was sentenced to six years for the murder of General Heliodor Píka, who was sentenced to death and executed in 1949.
Over 20 years have passed since the downfall of the communist regime, yet the issue of bringing to justice high ranking party functionaries responsible for crimes against humanity remains a highly contentious issue both for the Czech judiciary and the wider public.
Purge of top brass
Karel Vaš, now 95 years old, became a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) in 1933 while still a student of law at Charles University in Prague. In 1948, shortly after the communist coup, he was appointed prosecutor to the Supreme ‘Even if it’s very late, perhaps the time is coming when the nation will rejoice in justice and rights’Military Court, and in 1949, Chairman of the Senate of the Supreme Military Court in Prague. In 1949 he played a prominent role in producing fabricated evidence in the trial which saw General Heliodor Píka sentenced to death.
“I let three leading criminal layers review the statute of limitations [in relation to the case] of the murder of General Píka and they all concluded that in 2001, the statute of limitations did not apply to the general’s murder and Mr. Vaš should have been condemned [to prison],” Pospíšil (Civic Democrats – ODS) told the daily Mladá fronta dnes (MfD).
The head of the Institute for the Documentation and Investigation of Crimes of Communism, Pavel Bret, lodged a complaint against the High Court’s decision to free Karel Vaš shortly thereafter, but it was rejected.
General Píka’s son Milan has welcomed the Justice Minister’s initiative. “Even if it’s very late, perhaps the time is coming when the nation will rejoice in justice and rights. Those are my father’s words – everything else is secondary,” Milan Píka told MfD.
Tip of the iceberg
Between 1948 and 1951, Karel Vaš produced, ordered and gathered false evidence for hundreds of bogus cases against the Czechoslovak military’s upper ranks in what amounted to a purge along the lines of Stalin’s cull of Soviet generals and majors shortly after the end of World War II.
According to research by the Czech historian Adam Drda, General Píka—who was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Researchers say Vaš was probably responsible for scores more undocumented deathsCzechoslovak armed forces in 1945—was one of 12 Czechoslovak military personnel condemned to death upon Vaš’ recommendation, and he may have called for the death penalty for over 100 accused persons.
Most of those purged had served in Czechoslovak legions on the Western Front, thought this was not the case with General Píka, who served in the Czechoslovak Legion formed in the Soviet Union which fought on the Eastern Front. Vaš served in the same legion and fulfilled mostly administrative roles, where he was recruited by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.
In 1945, General Píka, who had complained about the conduct of Red Army troops in western Ukraine, received two high Soviet awards for his wartime role.
Born in 1897, General Píka, also fought in the World War after having joined the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia and later travelling to join the French Foreign Legion.
Luboš Vlasák, who in 2001 sentenced Vaš to six years in prison, said the judicial execution of General Píka was just the tip of the iceberg of Vaš’ crimes. Vaš’ subordinates from his division of Czechoslovak Legion took part in the massacre of hundreds of Sudeten Germans killed in Postoloprtský, central Bohemia, in June 1945. Researchers say he was probably responsible for scores of more undocumented deaths.
If the Supreme Court recognizes the Justice Minister’s complaint, it will not mean the six-year prison sentence handed down to Vaš will be imposed: the decision would remain a so-called “academic ruling” and the case would have to be returned to court. Nevertheless, acceptance of the complaint would mean it would stand as a bona fide precedent in other cases involving crimes of communism.
There is no time limit in which the Supreme Court must consider and rule on the minister’s complaint.
According to Minister Pospíšil, a legal precedent has already been set which overrules the implementation of the statutes of limitations by the Chairman of the Senate, Rudolf Tomašovič, in 2001: “The legal opinion under which the murder of General Píka has been overruled, for example by the ruling in the case of former prosecutor, Ludmila Polednová,” Pospíšil said.
Ludmila Brožová-Polednová was a prosecutor in the show trial of politician and civil activist Milada Horáková, who was sentenced to death and executed in 1950. Brožová-Polednová began serving a six-year prison sentence in 2009 after a trial which began in 2007 and involved two unsuccessful appeals to both the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.
Brožová-Polednová was freed in December 2010 following a pardon from President Václav Klaus. Brožová-Polednová then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg against her conviction, which was definitively held up by the Czech Having procured a gun in the Czech Republic, Raichl was set to kill Vaš but suffered a heart attack and died. courts in 2009. On June 21, 2011, the ECHR rejected all of Brožová-Polednová’s complaints against the Czech state.
The Ministry of Justice told Czech Position that the ECHR’s decision did not influence Minister Pospíšil’s decision to lodge the complaint to the Supreme Court. When asked why it had taken the minister so long to lodge the complaint, the ministry’s spokeswoman, Tereza Palečková, said the minister had reacted to an appeal by a citizen, but declined to reveal the individual’s identity due to privacy laws.
In 1995 and 2002, Czech war hero Pravomil Raichl, who was forced to flee Czechoslovakia in 1948, intended to kill Vaš in public. Raichl met Vaš in a Soviet gulag, where both were interned after escaping to the Soviet Union following the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. In 1995 he arrived at Prague airport with a Winchester rifle that was confiscated by customs officers .
Then on February 25, 2002, the anniversary of the Soviet takeover in 1948, having procured a gun in the Czech Republic, Raichl was set to kill Vaš but suffered a heart attack and died as he prepared his attack.
Karel Vaš now lives in a pensioners’ home in Prague.