Who will avenge the victims of the Iron Curtain?

German historians have brought criminal charges in Germany against 67 Czechs and Slovakians they deem responsible for the deaths of people trying to escape to the West across the former border with Czechoslovakia. 30 years after East German student Hartmut Tautz was killed on the Austrian border when soldiers set dogs on him, no one has yet been convicted of causing his death. Commentators hope justice will now finally be done.

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Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

The time for convictions has come

Hopefully there will be convictions now, Mladá fronta dnes writes in view of the charges pressed by the German historians:

“Although there were hundreds of deaths on the border you can count those who have been convicted on the fingers of one hand. And no one cares. ... It will be interesting to see what happens with the charges being pressed in Germany. The Germans have long atoned for the crimes committed on their Iron Curtain. The punishment for the most senior officers was indirectly confirmed in Strasbourg by the European Court of Human Rights. We will see what happens now.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

No justice for the dead

Just before the anniversary of the death of Hartmut Tautz, Luděk Navara, an editor at the Czech newspaper Mladá fronta dnes, was notified by the public prosecutors' office that none of those responsible for Tautz's death would stand trial and that their crimes were statute-barred. Navara comments:

“If the Czech judiciary doesn't know how to deal with the deaths on the Czechoslovakian border, a different approach must be taken. It would be good if the problem of the hundreds of victims who died along the Iron Curtain was approached as one that we must solve together. Let us not forget: this Curtain stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. … Is the quest for justice and to punish the guilty to end with these three unsatisfactory letters from the public prosecutor's office? The dead had relatives, people who loved them. They haven't even received copies of the three letters.”

Dennik N (SK) /

Border guards acted voluntarily

To this day none of the border guards involved in the incident have shown any sign of contrition, Dennik N remarks bitterly:

“Shooting people or setting killer dogs on them just because they wanted to flee a dictatorship was - and is - a crime. If the guards had been posted against their will and would otherwise have been punished for refusing to obey orders, it would be a different matter. ... But these officers wore their uniforms voluntarily. They opted for a life full of perks which they would never have had as civilians. They aren't bothered by the fact that they weren't defending their country or its population but rather serving a criminal regime. It's no surprise that these people still have no sense of guilt and that they are trying to get off the hook by saying they can't remember what happened.”