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Ota Sik, 84; Expert on Czech Economy

August 25, 2004|From Associated Press

Ota Sik, the architect of economic liberalization during Czechoslovakia's ill-fated 1968 Prague Spring, died Sunday at a hospital in St. Gallen, Switzerland, after a long illness. He was 84.

Czechoslovakia's communist government adopted Sik's economic ideas in 1965 to restart stagnant industrial growth. His new economic model called for limited reforms in the Soviet system, including less central planning and a more liberalized market economy. His plan was described as a third way between communism and capitalism.

Sik, who was head of the economics institute at the country's Academy of Science, was appointed vice premier and economics minister in April 1968 as part of Premier Alexander Dubcek's reform campaign to create "socialism with a human face."

Dubcek's campaign was crushed when Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia on Aug. 20, 1968. Sik, who was out of the country on vacation at the time, settled in Switzerland and taught at the University of St. Gallen for nearly 20 years before retiring.

When the country's communist regime collapsed in 1989, new President Vaclav Havel invited Sik to join an advisory board of prominent citizens. Sik retained his left-wing views and criticized the country's economic plan, saying the elimination of state subsidies would wreck many large enterprises that had flourished under the communist government.

"I cannot share a view which anticipates a quick rise in unemployment to hundreds of thousands or millions of people," he said in 1990.

He estimated in 1989, with some accuracy, that it would take at least 12 to 14 years for Czechoslovakia's economy to catch up with the more prosperous Western nations. The two states born when Czechoslovakia split in 1993 -- the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- finally joined the European Union this year.

Born in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, Sik studied art in Prague. After Germany invaded western Czechoslovakia in 1939, Sik was active in the resistance until being arrested and sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. After the war, he studied politics and social sciences at the University of Prague.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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