Death of defendant brings 1950s kulak expulsion case to close

A Prague court has halted a case centred on Communist persecution of kulaks following the death of a man believed to have been the country’s oldest defendant. His alleged crimes took place in the early 1950s when Czechoslovak agriculture was being collectivised, often using extremely harsh measures.

Illustrative photo: CC-BY-SA-4.0, Jana ZemanováIllustrative photo: CC-BY-SA-4.0, Jana Zemanová Jaroslav Mikolášek, who has died at the age of 95, was accused of involvement in the expulsion of kulaks (relatively wealthy farmers) when he was agricultural secretary of a Communist Party District Committee.

Last year Mikolášek, who was in poor health, failed to turn up for a hearing at the Prague 2 court.

Instead he sent a statement claiming he had been merely following orders when, in June 1953, he and other members of the committee forced two farming families off their land in the Prague East area.

This occurred under Operation K (the k stood for kulak), which was launched in 1951.

But the Communists’ reshaping of the Czechoslovak countryside was already well underway by then, says historian Jan Adamec.

“In 1949 the Communist Party started a harsh policy of collectivisation, meaning that the countryside must be collectivised, the countryside must become socialist.

“So they started a programme of establishing in each village JZDs. That stood for Jednotné zemědělské družstvo, or Common Agricultural Cooperative.

“They kind of encouraged people to establish their own cooperatives. But the problem was that the mid-sized or rich farmers, who logically were not willing to enter.”

The Communists pressured such “village rich men” – portrayed as class enemies – to join cooperatives.

However, if the biggest agriculturalist in a locality continued to hold out, increasingly harsh measures were used against him, says Adamec.

Jan Adamec, photo: Šárka ŠevčíkováJan Adamec, photo: Šárka Ševčíková “He would be charged with some fake charges and sentenced to prison. He could be expelled with his families outside the village.

"Or the farm he owned could be taxed so heavily that he was forced to sell it, or to donate it, to the collective.

"Each case is a very sad personal story or family story.

"But by the beginning or the middle of the 1960s the Communists were proudly claiming that the whole countryside had already been collectivised, and socialised in general.”

In all around 4,000 Czechoslovak families were thrown off their farms during the process the Soviets called dekulakisation.

Since the 1990s the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Crimes of Communism has dealt with over 500 cases of forced collectivisation. However, just a few have resulted in court verdicts.

The most recent ruling came in June this year, when an 86-year-old former Communist Party official received a suspended sentence for expelling a family from their homestead in 1952.