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To punish or not to punish a judge who sent an innocent woman to the gallows?

  • Date: 16 Aug, 2007 at 5:46AM,
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  • By Jiřina Šiklová; translated from Czech, originally published in Literarni noviny 7/2/2OO7

    Several people asked me whether I sought justice because of the persecution I experienced during the communist regime. I did not. I did not want to waste my time suing those who caused my persecution and ostracism of my children. Why should I?

However, one can only accept injustice and suffering when it is his own. Otherwise, he must not.  Judge Lída Brožová-Polednová participated in the trial of Milada Horakova and three others, all executed for political reasons. I realize that nobody can really punish an 86-year-old former communist judge. Because of her age, she is not going to be imprisoned. She is going to die a natural death as others of her age. Nevertheless, she should stand trial to recapitulate how criminal were the judiciary proceedings of the 1950s era.

This woman judge is certainly not suffering with dementia.  Although she is using a bad memory as an excuse, she is able to remember details from the clergy trial. Also, she is capable of reflecting on the Cold War. Her utterances prove her persistent immorality and lack self-reflection. That is not a crime. For lack of conscience, we can only punish such people by bringing their deeds to public attention and letting them know our distaste for them. 

Unfortunately, this does not affect immoral people. An immoral person cannot be punished by a moral judgment. Therefore, making public the names of those who cooperated with the secret police, means punishing those who are moral, but were not brave enough to resist.  They surely suffered with their bad conscience, and they still suffer. We do not judge those who coerced people to sign cooperation with the secret police. They do not have a guilty conscience.  Judge Ludmila Brožová-Polednová is one of those without conscience. If she has children and grandchildren, maybe they will be ashamed of their mother and grandmother.  However, once again, they are not the guilty ones.  People like Mrs. Brožová-Polednová, just like the interrogators, will use the same excuse. They will claim they just followed orders and the laws of the communist regime. The Nazis used the same excuse, and those who helped Pol Pot in Cambodia and those who are now “active” in Darfur will use it as well.

I do not know exactly how to define Europe geographically. However, I do know that because our European culture is based on Judeo-Christian roots and Roman law, possible forgiveness can be rendered only after admission of guilt. Just as there is no collective guilt, admission of guilt and realization of one’s sin cannot be accomplished by public pronouncements.  It has to be a personal feeling. If one is incapable of that, one is unsuitable for punishment. We will not hang her because, after the fall of communism, we proclaimed that “we are not like them.”  More than any other slogan, that statement proved we belonged to civilized Europe. If we meant what we said then, this woman judge will never be punished. In any case, the answers of Mrs. Brožová-Polednová show her chutzpa. Let’s face it, discuss it, and let our children read about the judiciary system of those times.  Probably, nothing else can be done.