Behind the Iron Curtain part 29 – Crime

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.

Today, if I want to see the official crime rate in my country, I can just go to google and look it up. There are even handy pre-made comparisons with USA to be found. When I was a child, this was not the case, and essentially nobody knew what crime rate the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic actually has.

But it was not due to the nonexistence of internet as some might think. It was due to state’s secrecy about matters that might speak unfavourably about the regime.

Part of our education were occasional visits of schools by party dignitaries, local law-enforcement officers or border patrol officers etcetera. On several such occasions the talks veered into the territory of law trespassers and sometimes some kid has asked “how much crime X happens”? Invariably, the answer to this was “that is a state secret”. So nobody, except a few officials, had a chance to know pretty much anything specific.

But I do not want to talk about some generic crime rates today, I want to concentrate on one specific crime and how it was used to control people – unemployment, or, as it was officially called, “the crime of parasitism”. Under the regime, everyone had a right to a job, but that came with the duty to have a job. Every able person had a duty to work and it was literally against the law to not fulfill this duty.

And whilst it is reasonable to have measures to discourage or perhaps even punish slackers and hangers-on in a social state, that was not the only purpose and the only use of the law. Because since jobs were to great extent assigned centrally, the state had a huge control over what kind of job one can get, or whether one can get a job at all. And therefore political dissidents were sometimes pushed to jobs where it was clear that they are at odds with their qualifications and needs, so they could eventually be pushed towards joblessness – and thus criminalized. It was also a way to completely criminalize any form of sex work, which officialy did not exist so any sex worker was automatically a parasite without the regime having to acknowledge even the existence of sex workers publicly.

In TV there was a regular broadcast “Federal Criminal Headquarters Searches, Advises, Informats” where names and faces of searched criminals were shown so that general populace can help in finding them. I did not give it too much thought at the time – it was just one adult thing in the background – but I do remember hearing the phrase “is searched for the crime of parasitism” quite often. In retrospect today I wonder how many of those people actually were real moochers and how many were slowly and deliberately pushed out of society for being inconvenient to the reigning powers.


  1. voyager says

    If power wants to be rid of you they will find a way. Were these “parasites” then imprisoned or forced into difficult work, such as mining or heavy labour?
    Was unemployment used against the weakest members of society? What about the disabled or those with chronic illnesses? And the elderly? At what age were you allowed to retire? Did the state support this group of people? Were women forced out to work also. What about when they were pregnant? Who looked after the children? (OK, that’s a lot of questions. Sorry. Maybe you could do a post about this stuff sometime.)

  2. says

    @voyager, pregnant, disabled and chronicaly ill people were taken care of, the law about employment was for “able” people. To look after the children there was 72 months maternity leave, after that the mother had to go to work and give the children to kindergarten and school (no home schooling was allowed).

    Retirement age was about 60 years but it was only for those who worked enough years. So those who did not work enough for whatever reason, got into legal trouble.

    And lastly, I do not know the detaily, but some of those criminals were simply imprisoned like common thieves, some were sent to work in mines or other dangerous jobs, but this did not happen towards the end of the regime, but at the beginning. During my lifetime the regime was less draconian, so simple prison sentence it was.

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