Czech Radio uncovers long-lost audio from Milada Horakova's trial

21-11-2005

The sentencing to death of Czech MP Milada Horakova on trumped up charges of treason at the height of the Stalinist regime in the 1950s will always be one of the most painful and chilling moments in Czech history. A little more than 55 years ago, she faced her show trial with calm and defiance, refusing to be broken. Audio recordings - intended to be used by the Communists for propaganda purposes - were mostly never aired, for the large part because for the Party's purposes, they were unusable. After Milada Horakova's trial and execution, much of the material was subsequently hidden away and and gradually forgotten. Until now. Not long ago, a number of reels were uncovered by Czech Radio, dating back to the trial's last day.

Czech Radio's Marek Janac explains how the lost material came to light:

"I was preparing a documentary on the communist period including the Stalinist show trials, and I was struck by the fact that the original broadcast by Czechoslovak Radio, only 'summed up' Mrs Horakova's final statements. I became curious over what had happened to the original recording. In contact with the National Archive we found out about the existence of three old boxes of dusty magnetic tape. It turned out that they were recordings of Milada Horakova on the last day of the trial.

Compared to the official Communist transcript later put out, this was the uncut original. And, there are significant differences: in the official version sentences or parts of sentences were completely cut, For example, an answer ends-mid sentence, where Mrs Horakova talks about Czechoslovakia's first presidents: T.G. Masaryk and Edvard Benes. She explains how for her they had always been an inspiration. The Communists of course weren't happy about it and they couldn't use it. On the tape, Milada Horakova stands by her principles."

In a project next year Czech Radio would like to reconstruct the show trials - including - in full, to record them for posterity, historically accurate and complete. That, however, will mean digging through countless more reels - both in Czech Radio and at the National Archive. Tape as well as transcripts originally censored by the Communists. Marek Janac once again:

"The [three reels] we have were found when they went into unmarked boxes at the National Archive, that were handed over by the Justice Ministry after 1989. we've got tapes labelled 23 -25, which means 22 are still missing - plus two reels on which the verdicts were recorded."

Listening to the material today - Milada Horakova's testimonyfrom 55 years back - is absolutely chilling. Marek Janac:

"The most chilling thing for me is how propaganda can manipulate, could trick a whole nation into believing that the show trials were real."

21-11-2005