Milos Jakes, Czech Communist Leader, Is Dead at 97

Historians in the News
tags: Communism, 1989, Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia, Eastern bloc

Milos Jakes, a longtime Communist Party official in what was then Czechoslovakia, and the head of the party during the tumultuous two years that ended Communist domination and resulted in the election of the playwright Vaclav Havel as president in December 1989, has died. He was 97.

The Associated Press, in a report on July 15, said the Communist Party had confirmed his death but given no details.

Mr. Jakes, swept aside during the fast-moving events that upended the Soviet bloc, “came to be seen as the epitome of an out-of-touch Communist Party functionary,” Mary Heimann, a professor of modern history at Cardiff University in Wales and the author of the 2009 book “Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed,” said by email.

He was a key figure in the crackdown that ended the so-called Prague Spring, a brief attempt at liberalization under Alexander Dubcek in 1968 that was squashed by an invasion.

“As Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops crossed into Czechoslovak territory,” Professor Heimann said, “Jakes sided with the minority in the Czechoslovak Communist leadership who argued that the Dubcek leadership had lost control and needed help from the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact to restore order.”

The result, as The New York Times put it in a 1987 article, “turned the Prague Spring into a winter of orthodoxy.” During this period, known as “normalization” — a return to the pre-Dubcek status quo — Mr. Jakes was instrumental in expelling dissenters from the party.

His history as a hard-liner made him a shaky choice to replace Gustav Husak as general secretary of the party in 1987, by which time Mikhail S. Gorbachev, coming to power in the Soviet Union, was already implementing his earthshaking reforms. Czechs were restless and in no mood for old-school repression.

Read entire article at The New York Times

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