Secretly taken photographs, some published here for the first time, show the lengths Czechoslovakia’s communist authorities went to to spy on their own citizens.
These are some of the thousands of images snapped by Czechoslovakia’s secret police during the 1970s and ’80s using tiny hidden cameras.
Czechoslovakia at the time was in the “normalization period” that followed the 1968 invasion of the country by Soviet-led forces. The military takeover was ordered by the Kremlin after Czechoslovakia’s government attempted to ease restrictions on speech and implement other political reforms. For ordinary citizens, “normalization” meant a revived effort by the regime to assert extreme police control.
One of the favorite tools of the communist police were miniature cameras, often hidden in briefcases, used to document what they called “enemy activity.” In reality, this usually meant critics of the regime were photographed as they were going about their daily lives.
Czechoslovakia’s totalitarian police network also went to elaborate lengths to capture video footage of targets.
Some reports reveal the extraordinary lengths agents went to in order to record potentially compromising information. One “tail” operation by secret agents racked up a bill for several beers and meals as they followed a well-known musician through a night out. Their report described the musician “speaking loudly” with a group of friends outside a bar at 1:15 a.m. before he and a young woman “went behind a fence next to the Maj department store…”
Although imprisoning dissidents was less common by the 1980s, the regime could easily ruin people professionally by making them unemployable in their fields, and blocking entry to universities for their “enemy” children.
In 2003, a list of 75,000 people who worked for or collaborated with Czechoslovakia’s secret police was released to the public.