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East: Conference Hears Calls For Communist Crimes Not To Go Unpunished

A memorial to victims of communist crimes in front of the Czech Senate in Prague (RFE/RL) PRAGUE -- It's been almost two decades since most of Eastern and Central Europe peacefully disentangled itself from the failing ideology of communism. But not everyone is content to let the repressions and injustices of that era slip quietly into oblivion.

At a conference in Prague titled "The Conscience of Europe and Communism," Jana Hybaskova, a member of the European Parliament, called for crimes committed under communism to be given the status of crimes against humanity.

This means they would remain punishable through the courts for an indefinite period of time. She said communism fits the definition of a crime against humanity because it involves "slave labor, deportations, and murders on political and religious grounds."

Czech Senator Martin Mejstrik, one of the sponsors of the conference, supported Hybaskova by emphasizing the psychological divide between those European countries that suffered the trauma of 40 years of communism, and those that did not.

"Until Western Europe understands why this subject is so important, why it is important to realize that communism is as criminal an ideology as Nazism, then Europe will not be united," Mejstrik said.

Another participant, Miroslav Lehky, deputy head of the Czech Institute for the Studies of Totalitarianism, said persecutions of political prisoners and the killings of people attempting to flee to the West should be regarded as crimes against humanity.

Official statistics show that in Czechoslovakia alone, 560 people died trying to flee west over the border; another 10,000 died in concentration camps; and some 250,000 were sentenced to jail for political reasons.

'Communist Values Continue'

Russian journalist and former dissident Aleksandr Podrabinek told RFE/RL that there are social dangers in trying to hide or ignore past institutionalized injustice.

"The main feature of Russia today is a narrowing field of liberty in all spheres of life, such as the press, political parties," Podrabinek said. "I think that this is largely due to the fact that Russia did not come to terms with its communist past. Communism was not condemned, so the communist values continue to live and are considered to be normal."

The conference is expected to issue a final document that calls for the creation of an institution at the European level tasked with keeping alive the memory of the horrors of communism and Nazism.

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, addressing the conference, urged the European Union to be more active in supporting the rights of people still living under communist systems. He said Europe must bear special responsibility for dealing with the consequences of communism and Nazism, as both were established on the continent.

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report

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