What Would Milada Horáková Do?
OP-ED by Katia Sokolov
This weekend the Czech Republic will commemorate the death of the great Milada Horáková. The importance of this day should not be trivialized. It comes to honor a very special and influential woman who will remain an everlasting symbol of freedom, strength and honor; and, this is why
Horáková was born at the turn of the century in Prague, when it was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The Dual Monarchy was one of Europe’s most powerful multinational states and a very innovative place to grow up as a child.
Unfortunately, this time of bliss was interrupted by World War I and left the area divided.
Horáková was studying law as she watched these turn of events.
Soon after completing her degree, she worked at the welfare department and advocated for women’s rights in a perhaps unexpectedly supportive environment of the newly born Czechoslovakia, led by Tomáš Masaryk.
Czechoslovakia continued to astonish the world in many fields including in the production of goods and in a variety of arts, a trend that lasted until the Munich Agreement in 1938. The “agreement” essentially surrendered the Czechoslovakian border to Germany, making an invasion inevitable and undefendable.
Nazi occupation destroyed Czechoslovakia and everything it stood for. From it however arose the underground movement, which Horáková would join. With the help of the resistance, asylum seekers fled the country. Horáková and her husband would pay for their courage.
She was sent to Terezín - a concentration camp in Czechoslovakian territory - after being arrested by the Nazi regime. Instead of being executed however, her sentence was reduced, and she was transferred only to be released by allied forces in 1945.
After the war Horáková returned to a Czechoslovakia ideologically in conflict with her beliefs. The communist leadership gaining power was likened to the Nazi regime in many ways, which led her to resume her pre-war activities.
She was eventually arrested again and accused of treason. In prison she was tortured up until her Kangaroo court trial fighting for justice until the bitter end but standing up against her charges.
Nevertheless, Horáková was found guilty and was sentenced to death in 1950. Many pled on her behalf, but to no avail. She was hung shortly after.
What would Horáková do?
In honor of her sacrifice and inspiring story, I decided to watch the movie about her struggle, Milada (2017). Even though the movie is three years old, it is even more relevant today than it was then. It seems impossible, but to me it feels like a cautionary tale of not only what was, but what is to come.
In today’s reality, we keep seeing more and more the oppression of people, the corruption of governments and the tearing of the social fabric, not only in the Czech Republic but worldwide.
Perhaps taking to the streets is not enough; perhaps we all need to be more like Horáková and perhaps Horáková is trying to say something to us in her final letters.
“I understood that my task here in the world was to do you good . . . by seeing to it that life becomes better and that all children can live well.”