Lubomir Strougal, Czechoslovakia leader who betrayed Prague Spring, dies at 98

Lubomir Strougal, who led Czechoslovakia for 18 years during the Cold War and was twice tried but never convicted on charges of abuse of power in later years, died on February 6 at 98. Died at the age of

Jerry Dolejs, a former Communist Party politician, confirmed the death in a statement to the media but did not provide further details.

For more than three decades, Mr. Strugel was seen as an opportunistic political survivor in a country that had long stood as a cautionary tale to challenge the Soviet grip on the Eastern bloc. . Mr. Strugel, according to a 1969 profile published in the Boston Globe, “chameleons had the ability to match their colors to winning sides.”

A year earlier, protests in Prague and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia demanded greater political rights and greater economic autonomy from Moscow — an outcry against the Kremlin that captured world attention and was dubbed the Prague Spring.

At first Mr. Strugel, a senior Communist Party official and former interior minister, supported the protests and nominally sided with the reformist leader Alexander Dubcek. Mr. Strugel turned around when it became clear that Moscow would not give any ground.

In August 1968, Soviet-led Warsaw Pact tanks and troops entered Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring. By April 1969, Dubcek had been ousted, and a cadre of Mr. Strugel and other Moscow loyalists was on the rise.

Mr. Strugel became prime minister in January 1970, beginning an 18-year hold on the post – the longest by any Czechoslovak official – that was marked by a relentless crackdown on dissent. Among those jailed were the human rights campaigner Stanislaus Dutt and the playwright Václav Havel, who would later lead the country after Mr. Strugel’s ouster.

As prime minister, Mr. Strugel was often the country’s public face in international affairs and pushed for more Cold War-era trade with the West even as the Czechoslovakian government remained a classic Soviet client state.

Moscow kept Mr. Strugel on a short leash and forced a de facto power-sharing alliance with others, such as Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Gustav Husk.

Ironically, the status image created by Mr. Strogel was alienated by his liberal leanings. As Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ushered in the infamous era of “perestroka,” or restructuring, in the late 1980s, Mr. Strugel followed suit with efforts to loosen state control over the Czechoslovak economy.

It was too much, too fast for Communist Party stalwarts, who worried that economic changes would also trigger political reforms. Mr. Strugel was ousted in 1988 in an internal power struggle with Communist Party chief Milos Jacques, who had succeeded Hasak.

“Today’s movement cannot be stopped, and any solution can only be political,” Mr Strugel said on state television.

It turned out to be true. Mass street protests in 1989, resulting from the fall of the Berlin Wall, ended the Communist Party’s total control of Czechoslovakia and brought the leader of the Velvet Revolution, Havel, to power. (Havel would return as president of the Czech Republic after the country was split in December 1992 to also create Slovakia.)

“[Mr. Strougal] Opportunism, careerism, unprincipled realism, self-styled ‘lesser evil’ and post-89 exceptionalism were the epitome. wrote Karen Williams, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Drake University in Iowa and author of books including “The Prague Spring and Its Aftermath” (1997).

In 2001, Mr. Strugel was put on trial over allegations that he used his influence as interior minister in 1965 to thwart investigations into three murders by secret police in the late 1940s. was The indictment issued by special investigators probing communist-era crimes included a note allegedly written by Mr. Strugel: “Take no action, drop the case.”

Judges dismissed Mr. Strogel’s case in 2002, citing a lack of evidence. As Mr. Strugel left court, a reporter asked if he believed anyone should be held accountable for the murder. Mr. Strugel was tight-lipped. “I’m not going to talk about specific names,” he said.

In 2019, Mr. Strugel and two other Czechoslovak leaders were charged with abuse of power for allegedly allowing border guards to shoot people trying to cross the country into Austria or West Germany. The court ruled that Mr. Strugel was not fit to stand trial for reasons including his age and dementia-related symptoms.

Lubomir Strougal was born on October 19, 1924 in Veseli nad Luznici in the Bohemian region of what is now the Czech Republic. During World War II, with Czechoslovakia under Nazi occupation, Mr. Strugel was conscripted into the war effort.

After the war, he went to Prague to study law at Charles University and became a member of the Communist Party. He was nominated to the party’s Central Committee in the late 1950s and served as Minister of Agriculture between 1959 and 1961 and then Home Minister until 1965.

Once forced from office in 1988, Mr. Strugel resigned from his Communist Party posts and largely withdrew from public life, but he occasionally appeared at matches to support the Sparta Prague football club. In a 2009 memoir, It bleakly ignored the legacy of more than four decades of communist rule. “I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” he wrote. “I sincerely apologize to everyone.”

His first marriage to Vera Strogluva, with whom he had a daughter, ended in divorce. She later married Milos Strogalva. A full list of survivors was not immediately available.

After the border shooting prosecution against Mr. Strogel ended, the families of those who sought to be impeached pleaded in vain for Mr. Strogel to at least face public questions.

“A total of 60 people died under the Iron Curtain when Lubomir Strugel held the top positions of interior minister and prime minister,” Lodek Navarra, a historian of Cold War-era policies, told the Czech News Agency. “It’s important to remember, even though his criminal prosecution was dropped because of his health condition. High representatives of the government knew what was going on with the Iron Curtain.

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