July 15, 2020 / 11:30 AM / 20 days ago

Last Czechoslovak Communist-era ruling party chief Jakes dies

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Milos Jakes, the Czechoslovak Communist Party chief swept from power in the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989, has died aged 97, the party said on Wednesday.

Jakes was the last Communist-era general-secretary of the party, which held a monopoly on power and over all aspects of public life for four decades, leading it from 1987 until November 1989.

His tenure as party leader overlapped with the perestroika reforms started by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union.

But the Czechoslovak Communist leadership was reluctant to follow suit, keeping a stricter line on economic and public life, putting dissidents in jail, suppressing free speech and violently dispersing public protests that started to emerge in the late 1980s.

He resigned under the pressure of the demonstrations during the 1989 uprising that led to the end of Communist rule, and the transition to democracy and market economy.

Despite decades in retirement, he said last year he still considered the events of 1989 as a counter-revolutionary coup to destroy socialism, Czech Radio reported.

“Perestroika opened the room for unbound openness. Everybody said whatever they wanted, criticised what they wanted, and instead of unity, this led to ruptures,” he had also told Russia’s gazeta.ru in 2017.

Coming from a poor family, he joined the party after World War Two in 1945. He rose through the ranks in the 1960s and through purges following the 1968 Soviet invasion that crushed efforts for a more liberal form of socialist rule.

Jakes was later put on trial for treason for supporting the Soviet invasion of then-Czechoslovakia, but was eventually acquitted.

The Czech Communist Party (KSCM), a successor the Czechoslovak party, has won seats in parliament in every election since 1990. Since the last lection in 2017, its votes have backed up a minority government led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis, the first share of power the party has had in the past three decades.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alison Williams

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