Former prominent official of Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime, Miroslav Štěpán, has died at the age of 68. As leader of the Community Party in Prague, Mr Šťěpán authorized violent suppression of opposition protests in the regime’s final years; after its fall, he became one of few Communists convicted of abuse of office. Miroslav Štěpán later unsuccessfully attempted a political comeback, never giving up his hard-line views.
On November 23, 1989, Miroslav Štěpán became the protagonist in what was a crucial moment in Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. As chief of the Communist Party’s Prague chapter, he appeared in front of thousands of workers at ČKD Praha, a major machinery factory in the capital.
He was hoping they would back the party in its refusal to let go of the power it grabbed more than four decades ago. “Fifteen-year old kids cannot decide who the president will be,” he famously told the factory yard, referring to student protests that triggered the revolution five days before. But the workers’ response was unequivocal. “We are not kids,” they shouted back.
A few weeks later, Miroslav Štěpán was forced to step down from all of his positions; he was expelled from the Communist Party and eventually arrested. In 1990, he was sentenced to four years in prison for abuse of power. His sentence was later lowered to two and a half years most of which he served.
An agriculture engineer by education, Miroslav Štěpán joined the Communist Party in 1964 but his rise to power came only a few years before the fall of Communism when, in 1986, he became member of the Communist Party’s central committee, and in 1988, the chief of the party’s chapter in Prague.
In an attempt to defend the Communists’ grip on power, he ordered a series of crackdowns on opposition protests, the last of which, a student rally that marched through Prague on November 17, finally toppled communism in Czechoslovakia.
After his release from prison in 1991, Miroslav Štěpán founded two far-left parties exploiting Communist nostalgia, and made two unsuccessful bids to the Czech Senate.
Although he sometimes expressed regrets of the Communist regime’s human rights abuses, Štěpán never gave up his convictions, and claimed people were much better off during Communism than after its fall. He ultimately blamed Soviet leaders for betraying their comrades in Czechoslovakia.