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January 10, 2017

Visiting my sister in Minnesota, saw this photo of our mother Nadezda circa 1950s Prague, where she was a "person of interest" and subject to frequent harassment by the StB, the local version of the infamous KGB. She herself wasn't politically active but was suspect by association because her father Vladimir fled the country after the 1948 coup. He literally ran for his life, slipped across the border in the night, otherwise he might have been executed for his vocal opposition to the Communists. Shortly after, our grandmother Bozena tried to escape with her children--my mom and uncle, 15 and 10 at the time--and was summarily imprisoned. The only woman among the "politicals," she was made to do the laundry and scrubbing, an attempt to break the spirit of what The Party regarded as a high-falutin' bourgeois. The experience ruined her knees for life but couldn't dent her pride. The warden took a liking to her and she earned an early release, to put it euphemistically. She was allowed to emigrate in 1965 after 16 years separated from her husband, then my mother and father defected in 1968 at their first chance. After the Velvet Revolution, some of the secret police files were released online. You can see their names at left: Zejglic/ova. This is how it happens. A coup is followed by purges, state intimidation keeps the rest in line. The authorities make their lists and bureaucrats dutifully work their way down them, just doing their jobs. Those 20th century methods seem almost quaint by today's standards of total surveillance where shadowy agencies have a breathtaking scope of data on everyone and handy algorithms to prioritize persons by perceived threat. In a police state, no one is innocent. Here we go again.