Czech 'long-hairs' cleared after 57-year-old tangle with communists

According to the Supreme Court, the 1960s authorities failed to respect the key principles of a democracy when trying to forcibly cut people's hair.

ČTK

Written by ČTK Published on 04.10.2023 16:46:00 (updated on 04.10.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The Czech Supreme Court (NS) has overturned the verdicts against 14 men who were arrested at an anti-communist protest in Prague in September 1966 and were chastised for their long hair.

A bad hair day for the authorities

The young protesters, who were derogatorily known as máničky for their atypically long locks, were chased by police with scissors with the aim of giving the demonstrators an impromptu haircut. 

During the communist period, long hair was deeply frowned upon and was seen as being too “alternative” and Western; deviating from the regime of the time.

Around 130 people took part in the September 1966 protest rally, chanting slogans such as "Down with the Barbers" and "Give us Back Our Hair." 

During a subsequent trial at the Prague 2 District Court soon after, 14 young men who participated in the demonstration were convicted, and seven of them were sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to 16 months.

In totalitarian Czechoslovakia, men with long hair were often not allowed on the tram or in the cinema. They often were not allowed to graduate, found it difficult to find work, and were harassed by the police. A haircut would be enough. But preserving their inner freedom was worth these problems. -Source: Memory of the Nation

Minister of Justice Pavel Blažek filed the lawsuit – citing undemocratic actions – at the NS.

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No respect for democracy

"The contested decisions must be regarded as incorrect and unlawful because firstly, they do not respect the fundamental principles of a democratic society (guaranteeing, among other things, the individual's right to freedom of expression and assembly) and secondly, they were made in violation of the then valid criminal law," the NS ruling reads.

While the NS addressed specific complaints in favor of Martin Maryska and Miloš Turek – who were at the protest – the ruling also applies to the other 12 men who were convicted and were included in Blažek’s complaint. It is worth noting that eight of these individuals have since passed away.

The long-haired men were reportedly shouted at, 'Máňa [a woman's name in Czech], where are your breasts?' ...and the term 'little girl' took hold -Source: Memory of the Nation

Rehabilitation will be accompanied by appropriate material compensation. As such, defense lawyer Lubomír Müller, who represented Maryska and Turek, advised them to apply for compensation from the Justice Ministry.

Müller argued that while the conduct of the young men may have had a certain impact, it was absolutely unacceptable and illegal for the police to chase them through the streets and forcibly cut their hair.

The NS's decision to annul the verdicts in this landmark protest case brings long-awaited justice to these men who were wrongfully prosecuted and convicted over five decades ago. As the country strives to uphold the principles of democracy and protect the rights of its citizens, this ruling is a significant step forward in reaffirming the importance of free expression and assembly.

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