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Milos Jakes, Czechoslovakia’s Communist leader during Velvet Revolution, dies at 97

Milos Jakes, the former leader of Czechoslovakia’s Communist Party, in Prague in 2017. (Vit Simanek/CTK/AP)

Milos Jakes, the Communist Party leader swept from power in the former Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution of 1989, has died. He was 97.

The Communist Party confirmed his death late Tuesday without providing any further details. It was not immediately clear when he died.

Mr. Jakes was appointed the party’s secretary general in 1987 and served as one of the country’s last Communist leaders. He resigned as party boss in November 1989, a month before writer and liberal political activist Vaclav Havel took office as Czechoslovakia’s last president.

A leader of the Communist Party’s conservative wing, Mr. Jakes was an uncompromising opponent of liberal reforms, including during the “Prague Spring” of 1968, which was crushed in August of that year by troops from the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations.

Mr. Jakes was part of the hard-line regime that took over following the invasion, and orchestrated purges of about a half million reform-minded Communist Party members.

He had been general secretary of the party for only two years before the Velvet Revolution, led by Havel, ended 40 years of communist rule.

Mr. Jakes inadvertently gained notoriety in the run-up to the revolution when he described the Communist Party as “a fence post,” a symbol of its isolation in Czechoslovak society. His speech in July 1989 was subsequently leaked, prompting one of the main slogans of the hundreds of thousands of protesters that gathered in Prague and other cities later that year.

“We don’t want a fence post,” they shouted.

Mr. Jakes was replaced as party boss by Karel Urbanek. In farewell remarks, he declared that the country was “at a fatal crossroads,” and admitted that he and the government had “underestimated completely” the liberalizing attitudes in nearby countries such as Poland, Hungary and East Germany.

Even after decades in retirement, he remained critical of the 1989 revolution and the perestroika reforms led by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union.

“Perestroika opened the room for unbound openness,” he told the Russian news site Gazeta.Ru in 2017. “Everybody said whatever they wanted, criticized what they wanted, and instead of unity, this led to ruptures.”

Mr. Jakes was born in Ceske Chalupy, now part of the Czech Republic, on Aug. 12, 1922. He joined the Communist Party after World War II and soon rose through the ranks.

Mr. Jakes was later put on trial for treason for supporting the Soviet invasion in 1968, and was eventually acquitted.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

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