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Czech Republic: Gorbachev Speaks At Mlynar's Funeral

Prague, 25 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Former Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev attended the funeral in Prague today of his college roommate for five years, Czech reform Communist and dissident Zdenek Mlynar, who died last week at 67.

Gorbachev, speaking softly and dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief, told the hundreds of mourners at Prague's Strasnice crematorium that his and Mlynar's fate were intertwined for more than 45 years. He asked Mlynar's foregiveness for having had no contact with him for two decades after Mlynar quit the Czechoslovak Communist party at the start of the post-Soviet invasion normalization period. Gorbachev says he was convinced all along that Mlynar remained true to his Socialist ideals.

Reminiscing about a conversation the two had on learning of the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953, Gorbachev said he and Mlynar discussed what would become of them, never imagining today's situation when the Czechs as well as Slovakia and Russia are fully independent and democratic.

Rudolf Slansky, Czech ambassador to Slovakia and formerly ambassador in Moscow, delivered the keynote address at the funeral, describing Mlynar as an intelligent and pragmatic politician. He noted that Mlynar was the youngest member of Alexander Dubcek's reform Communist leadership in 1968 and the main author of Dubcek's "Action Program."

Slansky says the 1968 attempt at reform just like Gorbachev's perestroika 20 years later showed that reforming totalitarianism from the inside could only result in its self-destruction and subsequent democratic transformation.

Slansky noted that when Communist rule collapsed in 1989 it was too late for Mlynar and others of his generation to return to politics.