LAST SUNDAY was the fifth anniversary of the death of Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself afire to protest the Soviet occupation of his country. The press of subsequent events has blurred the memory of the Czechoslovak people's effort in 1968 to build a genuinely communist society, where freedom, equality, and brotherhood--ideals nations have acknowledged as desirable since 1789 but seldom pursued at any time--could become a reality. Sunday's anniversary is a reminder of that effort.
It's also a reminder of the Soviet Union's continuing betrayal of its own revolutionary tradition, a betrayal manifest both in internal repression and enforced domination of neighboring peoples. Soviet citizens still have no secure civil liberties, 40 years after the Soviet government adopted a new constitution that said they could be safely extended even to counter-revolutionary classes. Soviet "socialism"--the administration of industry by a small and often venal class of bureaucrats--is a hollow mockery of the Bolsheviks' dream of industry run for and by its workers. And Soviet foreign policy, far from the Bolshevik-professed support of struggles for freedom everywhere, consists largely of an extension to eastern Europe of the repression visited on citizens of the U.S.S.R.
Soviet repression has been drawing extra attention in the West lately, because its most prominent recent victims--a nobel laureate in literature and a Jewish minority--make congenial copy for western newspapers. But President Nixon's idea of detente--which didn't extend to letting the Chilean people choose a government without interference--evidently includes muting American criticism of East European governments. Radio Free Europe won't even be broadcasting Alexander Solzhenitsyn's new book, though a few years back it would have been all over the airwaves. It's a small thing, maybe, and probably doesn't make much difference, but it's typical of Nixon's support for totalitarianism around the world.