Prague Spring Supporter Defends Cautious Reform

BACK in 1968, Zbynek Vokrouhlicky was Director of the Czechoslovak Union of Youth, and a rising star in the communist establishment. Then Soviet troops invaded, crushing the Prague Springtime experiment. Mr. Vokrouhlicky disapproved of this ``fraternal help.'' For that transgression, he was fired from his position and expelled from the Communist Party in 1969.

Out of work for almost a year, he finally found a job as a lawyer in an industrial design firm. It was a ``good job,'' he recalls. Many of his well-educated friends ended up as manual workers, stokers, janitors, and window-washers.

Today, the former party star is making a comeback. In December, he was named vice director of the official Committee on Human Rights. Vokrouhlicky credits his partial rehabilitation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: ``All of a sudden, there's a Soviet leader who will let us make the type of reforms we envisioned back in the 1960s. We must make the most of the chance.''

His Committee on Human Rights, he says, is working to liberalize laws restricting independent demonstrations and religious and press freedom. It is also fighting to free political prisoners and to open a dialogue with independent organizations such as the Charter 77 human rights movement.

The Chartists are skeptical. They see Vokrouhlicky as a type of Trojan horse - an intelligent, well-meaning man who has been coopted by a corrupt regime.

``Vokrouhlicky lives a two-faced life,'' complains Charter leader Vaclav Maly. ``In public, he attends the [Vaclav] Havel trial and fights for human rights. In private, he insists that we must respect inhuman laws.''

Vokroulicky counters that the Chartists are unrealistic. Much better to work within the system to win gradual improvements, he says, than to fight for impossible dramatic changes.''

``We in our committee defend human rights with small, careful, concrete, reasonable proposals to the government, basing ourselves on strict observation of present laws. The Chartists want everything changed - right away,'' he says.

``People are still afraid to be involved. I'm trying to break down that fear, but it's so deeply rooted.''

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