Czechs who won't be robots

Sometimes it seems that Czechoslovakia's authorities will not be satisfied until every citizen resembles the umcomplaining robots imagined by Czech playwright Karel Capek six decades ago. But then one Czech or another declines the invitation and, like Capek's robots, claims a measure of human freedom.

Now the government is once more squelching such dissenters. Aping its mentors in Moscow, it seems particularly afraid of those who may conceivably be the carriers of ideas. It has recently been arresting people on charges of smuggling information in or out of the country -- though Czechoslovakia itself has signed the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights, which guarantees the right to give and receive ideas regardless of frontiers.

Less than two years after playwright Vaclav Havel and others were imprisoned following a Stalinist-style trial, observers are predicting more of the same this summer. Olga and Ivan Havel, sister and brother of the playwright, are among a number of Charter 77 members or sympathizers arrested in recent weeks. The Charter 77 movement, which monitors Czechoslovakia's compliance with the Helsinki human rights provisions, has resisted repression to offer Czechs at least one unofficial voice. The expected trial is thought to be an effort to put a firm lid on even this much of an outlet. East European regimes do not want the liberalizing trend in Poland to encourage dissidents nearer home.

Can the free nations do anything to help their fellow human beings in Czechoslovakia? One thing is simply not to let the mood of out- of-sight-out-of-mind prevail. After all, those who seek freedom of thought anywhere are part of the battle for it everywhere. Governments and news media ought to press for any trial to be open in keeping with international standards. It seems a particular opportunity for Washington to make itself heard, since the Soviet-dominated Prague regime fits the communist "totalitarian" model which the Reagan administration regards more severely than right-wing "authoritarian" governments. But those Czechs who refuse to be robots call to the conscience of all.

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