Bratislava - Former Czechoslovak conservative communist leader Vasil Bilak, one of the five officials who asked the Soviet army to suppress the Prague Spring reform movement in 1968, died at the age of 96 during the night.
V Bratislavě zemřel v noci na 6. února ve věku 96 let bývalý vysoký funkcionář Komunistické strany Československa Vasil Biľak (na archivním snímku z 31. března 2000). ČTK Mišauerová Jana
CTK received the information from Slovak Communist Party chairman Jozef Hrdlicka.
Bilak was bed-bound recently and his family was caring for him, Hrdlicka said.
Bilak was a secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC) and chief party ideologist in 1968-1988.
Czech historian Oldrich Tuma said Bilak played an exceptionally negative role in Czechoslovak history.
"There were only a few as negative figures as Vasil Bilak in Czechoslovak public life from 1956," Tuma said.
Tuma said Bilak was repeatedly convincing the Soviets that a military intervention was urgently needed in Czechoslovakia and that the hardline communists can then restore order.
"He played the sad role of one of the quislings," Slovak historian Peter Jasek said.
Czech Communist Party (KSCM) chairman Vojtech Filip said Bilak was undoubtedly one of the initiators of the invitation of the Soviet troops in 1968.
"The present time has different views of this invitation," Filip said.
Czech Civic Democrat (ODS) MP Marek Benda described Bilak as "one of the most horrible protagonists of the former regime."
Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) said Bilak is a symbol of the repressive totalitarian communist system.
Bilak was the last surviving signatory of the "letter of invitation" that officially justified the military invasion of Czechoslovakia.
He was charged with high treason and breach of the law on the protection of peace. His prosecution started in 1991, but it has not been completed as Russia did not hand the original of the inviting letter to the Slovak court.
In 1992, Russian president Boris Yeltsin gave a copy of the letter to Czechoslovak president Vaclav Havel.
It was allegedly Bilak who handed the letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. He claimed he did not even sign the letter, however.
The Slovak Prosecutor´s Office interrupted the proceedings against Bilak in 2011.
According to Pavel Bret, head of the Czech Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Crimes of Communism, the Slovak bodies disregarded the results of the investigation previously conducted by the Czechs, who gathered evidence against Bilak.
While on the Czech scene reactions to Bilak´s death resulted in a sharp exchange of opinions between political parties´ representatives today, in Slovakia politicians have not commented on the event much.
"Everyone makes mistakes. Vasil Bilak clearly ranks among significant personalities of the Slovak history," Hrdlicka said.
Bilak´s funeral will take place in Bratislava next week. The Slovak Communists have invited their foreign counterparts, including the Czech Communists (KSCM), to attend, Hrdlicka said.
Former dissident and post-1989 Slovak prime minister Jan Carnogursky said in an Internet discussion that Bilak had been one of the Communist hardliners and that he led Czechoslovakia into isolation.
Bilak was one of the main contributors to the official Czechoslovak communist interpretation of the events of the late 1960s, known as Lessons Drawn from the Crisis Development and explaining the need to intervene against a counter-revolution. Many people were then dismissed from the KSC and from their work within the consolidation process.
In the 1980s, Bilak was one of the sharpest opponents of Mikhail Gorbachev´s "perestroika" policy in Czechoslovakia.
In December 1989, shortly after the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Bilak was expelled from the KSC. He nevertheless remained a convinced communist for the rest of his life.
In 1997, he said the communists should have used armed forces to prevent the Velvet Revolution that toppled the communist regime in 1989.
Living in his villa in Bratislava, Bilak did not appear in the public in the past few years and he did not communicate with media. He was writing his memoirs, among others.
His son-in-law Jozef Sevc was Slovak Communist Party chairman in 1998-2006.
Bilak was born in a village in northeast Slovakia in 1917 and he was orphaned at the age of 11. He trained to be a tailor. His political career started in the early 1950s, after he graduated from a school for communist senior officials.