The Response of the State Security apparatus in November 1989 - an attempt of self-preservation

Daniel Běloušek

The year 1989 is one of the key moments in modern Czech history. Over the course of the latter half of that year, the communist totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe successively collapsed. Czechoslovakia’s turn came in November 1989, when its so-called normalization regime gave up power within several weeks, under the strong pressure of the opposition and the public.

In November 1989, security forces as a whole stood on the side of the curent regime. But even such an organized force could not save the disintegrating communist system. Looking like a monolith from the outside, the system of the security apparatus was in fact lacking viable ideas, internal soundness, and moral beliefs in its own truth and the whole political appartatus of the State. Positive approach to the regime and appropriate personnal background were always crucial for the admission to security services in the communist Czechoslovakia, as nearly 100% of members of security forces were members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.

Starting late November 1989, attention of the StB was focused on self-preservation. The main effort was to destroy sensitive materials related to persons or organizations hostile to the regime, foreigners visiting repeatedly socialist countries, as well as domestic dissidents and independent religious activists. At first the liquidation started spontaneously but from December 1st to Demeber 8th, 1989 it was grounded on the orders of the Deputy Minister of the Interior general Lorenc. Today, we estimate that in the second half of 1989 almost 95 % of files concerning „hostile persons“ were destroyed. Other categories of evidence such a „personal files“, „signal files“, „screened persons files“ etc. were also partially destroyed but not to such an extent as the „hostile persons“ category. Shreddings did not happen to the so called „living“ records only but also to the great amount of archived documents such as information outputs, assessments and working plans, or materials relating to projects of the StB abroad. The surviving files did not stay intact either. More shreddings thinned out many evaluation reports, overviews, and programmes of activities of individual parts of the StB. Therefore, in many cases, it is not possible to reconstruct the course of the activities of the StB. Unlike the files in the other units of the StB, large volumes of archival materials of the Military Counterintelligence were preserved.

Some of the top officials inside the StB had originally planned to examine the records, prepare microfiche copies and subsequently „hide“ sensitive materials at an unknown location for future use. However, the swift course of the events had rendered this plan unusable.

The so-called Velvet Revolution is often presented as a perfect example of successful transformation from a totalitarian to democratic regime. In the shadow of this non-violent process, illegal shreddings of operative files took place within the Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior, which led to the liquidation of important topical and archival materials. A loss of these valuable documents to this day complicates historical research, investigation of communist crimes, and issuing of certificates to participants in anti-communist opposition and resistance based on Act. No. 262/2011 Coll.

The reform of the intelligence community was a major task, whose success depended on overcoming the previous regime’s civil intelligence and counterintelligence functions. Units of the Federal Ministry of the Interior were dissolved upon the order of the Minister of the Interior on February 15th, 1990. In their place bodies of the new apparatus were established: the Office for Foreign Relations and Information (UZSI) and the Security Information Service (BIS). Military Counterintelligence transformed into the Military Defensive Intelligence (VOZ). This service was newly subordinated to the Ministry of Defence.

It is worth mentioning that in some cases the new regime called members of the former security corps to account.  It concerned investigations of the StB unlawful operations from the fifties and a smaller extent of cases from the seventies and eighties.

Sylwia Szyc