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Milos Jakes, Czech Communist Leader, Is Dead at 97

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.

“Few have forgotten that, in the years immediately after the Soviet invasion, he headed the Central Control and Auditing Commission,” The Times wrote just after his appointment, “which had the job of purging party ranks of tens of thousands of members no longer considered trustworthy.”

Huge protests filled the streets of Prague during Mr. Jakes’s tenure, and in November 1989 he resigned.

In a 1990 interview with The Times, he sought to burnish his image, contending that he had been advocating restructuring and liberalization even as he was being ousted during what became known as the Velvet Revolution. He also deflected responsibility for the country’s much-derided human rights record during the decades when he was a leading party official.

“There were laws and legislation,” he said. “They were applied. When a demonstration took place without a permit, it was the duty of the police to disperse it. This is done everywhere.”

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Credit…Michael Krumphanzl/Agence France-Presse

Milos Jakes (pronounced MEE-lohsh YAH-kehsh) was born on Aug. 12, 1922, in the Cesky Krumlov area, in the southern part of what is now the Czech Republic. Before World War II he studied electrical engineering at a state trade school. He joined the Communist Party in 1945 and began ascending through the ranks.

In the mid-1950s, he headed the Communist Party’s youth group for a time and then attended the Soviet party college in Moscow.

After aligning himself with the Soviets during the Prague Spring, he became the economic specialist in the Czech party’s leadership. He was credited with transforming the agricultural sector in the 1970s and making the country a net exporter of food.

After his ouster, efforts were made to convict Mr. Jakes of conspiring with Soviet officials to end the Prague Spring. A Prague court acquitted him in 2002.

Professor Heimann said that Mr. Jakes’s wife, Kvetena Jakesova, died in 2013 and that he had two sons, Lubomir and Milos.

Mr. Jakes maintained that depictions of his country as bleak in the decades between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution were inaccurate, and that the country had been better off under Communism.

“All that talk of devastation — it’s just slogans,” he told The Times in 1992. While the Communists were in power, he said, “There was constant development and people lived quite well.”

Professor Heimann said that although Mr. Jakes was thrown out of the Communist Party at the end of 1989, he remained loyal to communism.

“He continued to attend the annual May Day rallies held on Letna in Prague,” she said, “where he was sometimes asked to sign copies of his political memoirs.”