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The End of Treason (or the Beginning?)

To paraphrase a famous line from Tolstoy, those loyal to their country are faithful in the same way. They fight in armies, pay their taxes, and vote in elections. Among the disloyal, however, each becomes a traitor in his own way.

Take the American and German postwar experiences. The US has not seen a treason prosecution since World War II, and Germany has, arguably, abolished treason in the traditional sense, retaining only a general crime of sedition designed to protect the government from overthrow by anti-democratic forces.

Now focus on the postcommunist states, where a new wave of treason trials seems about in the offing. The prosecution in the Czech Republic of two 78 year old men (Milos Jakes, and Jozef Lenart), both veterans of the Soviet invasion of 1968, and the four-year-long trial in Vladivostok of Grigory Pasko, a Russian naval officer, suggest the earliest stages of a cycle where injured states respond to perceptions of betrayal with charges of treason.

Why does treason appear to be dying in some countries and coming alive in others? Some history may help here. As originally defined by Parliament in 14 th century England, the Anglo-American version of treason includes a whole range of acts that threatened the Crown. To even think of murdering the King (then quaintly called ``compassing'') was punishable by death. Counterfeiting and rape of the Queen (contaminating the blood line) were thrown into the statute to assure that the King's currency and his House were safe.