Pushing Boundaries

Approaching 1989, the Communist governments in East-Central Europe were like the residents of a continuing care facility. Some governments – in Czechoslovakia, for instance – appeared to be very sturdy and, although quite elderly, were capable of living independently for some time. Others, as in Poland, were already in assisted care, needing the help of the opposition to stay alive. By the end of 1989, of course, all of the Communist governments had weakened to such an extent that they urgently needed hospice. They would eventually expire, one after the other.

The process of deterioration began, of course, before 1989 and was the result of millions of acts of everyday rebellion. In Czechoslovakia, for instance, dissidents like Vaclav Havel refused to tailor their lives to the dictates of the state. But rebellion took other forms as well – like reading the samizdat works of Havel or participating in clandestine conversations.

For many journalists, the rebellion took the form of pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. Miroslav Krupicka was a radio journalist who’d been working at Mikroforum for a couple years before the Velvet Revolution in 1989. I met him in 1990 when he was part of a delegation of Czech journalists visiting England and then interviewed him later the same year in Prague (summary at bottom). In 2013, at a bar near the National Theater in Prague, he told me about the days before 1989 when he and his colleagues tried to enlarge the space for free expression in the official media.

In early 1989, for instance, he did a report on the peace movement in Czechoslovakia and included an interview with a representative of the dissident peace group, the Independent Peace Association.

“The representative of the association spoke very wisely, gave quite a well-balanced speech,” Krupicka told me. “He said that peace is very important for both West and East. But he was not supposed to be in the official media. The program was broadcast. The next day, in the early morning before I came to work, my editor got a call from the Central Committee. Perhaps by chance one of them listened to the program or they had someone monitoring it — who knows — but they found out about everything. They said, ‘You have to talk to the producer who did this and tell him he can’t do this or else there will be problems.’ We had a small meeting and he told me I couldn’t do this again. ‘I understand what you meant,’ he said. ‘We are living at a historic time. But this was over the line. This was too much.’”

Sometimes, however, the boundaries couldn’t be pushed. In the summer of 1989, Krupicka visited North Korea and witnessed a very rare act of rebellion when participants at the international festival of youth raised banners protesting what had recently happened in Tiananmen Square. Because of the presence of foreign journalists, the North Korean authorities did not crack down on the courageous festival participants. But Krupicka knew that if he reported on the protest, it would simply be edited out back in Prague.

Today, after a stint in the 1990s at BBC World Service, Miroslav Krupicka is the editor-in-chief at Radio Prague. We talked about the heady days of journalism during the Velvet Revolution, the key political issues that journalists covered in the aftermath, and the few Czech stories that still command attention today.

Miroslav Krupicka with Madeleine Albright

 

The Interview

 

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

 

I was probably at work at Czechoslovak radio. The news came in that the Berlin Wall was collapsing. Everyone went to the radio. I remember that at that time when something happened, there was a place at the station for news from the wire services. We had a West German and a Czechoslovak press agency — from these sources, we started to read the news. It was official by then. Then we talked about it at Mikroforum. Later came the Velvet Revolution, but that was another chapter.

 

What did you think would happen? Did you think the fall of the Wall would have immediate impact here?

 

We were not quite sure. I was hesitating. I was not convinced — and neither were my colleagues — that the same sort of thing would happen in our country. Very few people believed it then. I remember it was quite interesting when the East Germans started fleeing East Germany through Prague. It was an interesting time for a radio reporter. They left their Trabbies, their plastic cars, in the streets of Prague. They were selling them very cheaply. But we didn’t foresee the collapse of Communism.

 

When things started to happen here a week later, what was your involvement as a journalist?

 

On the 17th of November, I was not in Prague. I was in West Germany. It was a strange story. We could somehow travel to the West if you produced foreign currency. You also needed a special exit permit to leave the country, which I had. So I decided to go with my friend to West Germany for this weekend, from November 17 to 19, to Munich and Nuremberg. And on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, we listened to the Bayern 3 radio news in German, which said that there were some gatherings in Prague because a student Martin Smid had died at the demonstration. We said, “If this is true, then something serious is happening. If someone was killed, the people won’t leave it at that.” We returned to Czechoslovakia on Sunday the 19th. It was around midnight when we went through Prague by car, and we met groups of people with flags. When we saw that, I said to myself, “The regime cannot survive this.”

Then on Monday, I went to work at Czechoslovak radio, and it was very busy. Everyone was talking about the experience on the street. Havel and others set up a coordination center and there were groups of people in various factories, everywhere, establishing chapters. There was a group of people forming Civic Forum at Czechoslovak radio, and I joined them. The first thing we did was to ask for a space on Czechoslovak radio for the voice of the street, where people on the street could talk. We fought for this for a few days. The director of Czechoslovak radio had to be persuaded. He finally agreed five days later, and this Civic Forum broadcast began. I was engaged in that activity, broadcasting news every day, going into the streets and recording people’s voices: students, activists like Mr. Havel, and others. We were trying to bring the news to people as soon as possible.

Then there was the general strike. In the first few days it was still not clear whether the revolution would develop as it started. But little by little, the Communist regime collapsed. They did nothing. They were afraid of the people. They were afraid to crush the movement with tanks. Luckily there was no massacre. It took about a month to assure ourselves that we were really becoming a democratic country again.

There was a big difference between the cities and the large towns, and the countryside. We went to the countryside to report on the situation there, and many people said, “This is about your students and intellectuals in Prague. It has nothing to do with us. We have other problems. We don’t believe that the regime has collapsed. We have to go with the old way, there’s no other way.” One of my colleagues was assaulted by a big man in northern Bohemia. It was a town with a coal mine, so this was probably a coal miner. When my colleague produced a microphone and started to ask him a question, the man hit him a few times.

 

Weren’t there also a lot of people coming to Prague from the countryside?

 

That happened at the time of the big manifestations, which was not every day. Also for the general strike, people came in from the countryside. But it wasn’t everybody. It was the revolutionary people, the ones who formed the Civic Forum groups in factories and institutions.

As the Communist Party collapsed, it withdrew the general secretary of the Party and started talks with Mr. Havel about forming a new government. Within about a month, it was clear that things were going the right way.

 

Was it difficult for you to be a journalist at this time in terms of objectivity?

 

We were very revolutionary, everybody was, and it was a really fantastic feeling. We didn’t sleep in those days. We stayed overnight in the radio building working from early morning. I’d been a journalist for about two years at that time. I really didn’t have to change anything. There had been some self-censorship, but we were quite normal journalists. We knew very well what we could write and what would cause problems. On the other hand, it was the time of perestroika and we pushed the border further and further.

I had a boss responsible for the Mikrofoum broadcasts, and when we were pushing the borders or went a little over the line, he would have problems. He would get a call from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and they would say, “This is not possible.” And he would come to us and tell us, “No, sorry, we can’t do this.” Usually it was too late because it was already on the air.

So, we were pushing this self-censorship further and further. It simply disappeared within the first few days after November 17. I tried to be objective and report on as many things as possible because it was a time rich in events. Something was going on every two hours — news from the government, or the Communist Party, or the police. The police were being pushed to investigate what happened on November 17, why it happened. I don’t feel that I was more or less objective than before. We simply lost the self-censorship.

The media was also changing. It took a few months before everything changed at Czechoslovak radio. The director was kicked out about two weeks after the Velvet Revolution. A new person came in and introduced new bosses and managers. Some were good, some not. A number of the Communists from 1968 had been expelled from their jobs in the early 1970s and were trying to get compensation for what they lost. Those that returned who were in their fifties and sixties couldn’t cope with the business of radio. There were some sharp discussions with them. Some left; some stayed a couple months, some a couple years.

The change was much quicker in the press. The newspaper Rude Pravo [Red Truth] became Pravo; they only took out the “Red.” It still publishes today. It’s left-oriented like The Guardian, and it’s not bad. They at first kept to the Communist Party line because they were the organ of the Party, but then they separated from the Party. The other magazines and newspapers cut themselves off from the Party and started publishing the real news. It was a question of a few weeks, unlike radio and TV, which was a few months.

 

Can you give me an example before 1989 when you pushed the boundaries and your editor received a call from the Central Committee?

 

Yes, I’ve got a couple examples. For instance, the peace movement. There was one official peace committee, subsidized by the Czechoslovak state before 1989: the Czechoslovak Peace Committee. I knew the president, interviewed him a couple times. He was a very nice guy. But there were a couple other dissident organizations. One was the Independent Peace Association. It was full of young dissidents, whom I knew. In early 1989, I decided to interview a man from the Independent Peace Association. I didn’t tell the main editor that it would be this person. There was another editor on duty who was like me and understood what I was doing, and he said I could include the interview.

The representative of the association spoke very wisely, gave quite a well-balanced speech. He said that peace is very important for both West and East. But he was not supposed to be in the official media. The program was broadcast. The next day, in the early morning before I came to work, my editor got a call from the Central Committee. Perhaps by chance one of them listened to the program or they had someone monitoring it — who knows — but they found out about everything. They said, “You have to talk to the producer who did this and tell him he can’t do this or else there will be problems.” We had a small meeting and he told me I couldn’t do this again. “I understand what you meant,” he said. “We are living at a historic time. But this was over the line. This was too much.”

Another example was a few months later. A friend of mine got a fellowship from an international institution to do reportage in the East – Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine — about how history was viewed in these countries. He was supposed to produce a book, which he did. He was traveling around, like you, for a couple months, and he interviewed a lot of people, especially historians, including Roy Medvedev. He interviewed him about his views of Soviet times: Stalinism, World War II. It was all very interesting stuff. When he returned, he offered this material to me because we were friends, and he said that perhaps we could do a small series on Czechoslovak radio. I said yes.

We selected a few excerpts – just two or three minutes from the interviews that were particularly interesting — about the Stalinist purges in the 1930s and after Stalin’s death, all the milestones in Soviet history. It was about five minutes in all: three minutes of interviews and two minutes of commentary. I did three pieces including pieces on Roy Medvedev and Dmitry Volkogonov. We thought that it would be fine since this was coming from Russia and they were official historians in the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

But it was a problem. We started the series, but after the second piece, again there was a call from Central Committee of the Communist Party. The call didn’t call from the federal censorship institution at that time. There was a cultural department in the Central Committee that dealt with press and media. They probably monitored the media and said when something was too much. The editor answered the call and had a good defense: “This is history from historians in the Soviet Union, you can’t ban that.” They said, ” We interpret it differently.” But in that case, they didn’t dare stop it. It was a warning only. I persuaded the editor to broadcast the last piece in the series. And nothing happened. It was in summer 1989, and no one called again.

 

You mentioned that you were in North Korea in summer 1989 to report on the youth festival. What kind of stories did you report from there? And what was your impression of the society there in comparison to Czechoslovakia?

 

There was a big difference, of course. We were still reporting at the time of Communism. So we were supposed to report the official program of the youth festival: the opening of the festival, the ceremonies, the sport events. There was a rich cultural program. We had gatherings with our delegations. We had tours around Pyongyang, and twice we went outside of Pyongyang, for instance to visit Kim Il Sung’s birthplace. But of course it was very official. The reports were uninteresting. Still, it was the time of perestroika, so we tried to put in our reports some small hints about the North Korean regime. We said, “We are always followed by our Korean comrades. They are afraid of losing us.” The radio station where we went each evening to record, edit, and send our stories to Prague was like a barracks, heavily guarded by soldiers. It was strange that the radio station was such a heavily guarded object.

Our first impressions of North Korea were quite good. Everything was totally clean. Everything was very new. There were a lot of new cars. All of the participants received presents. We each got a box with a watch from Kim Il Sung. But after a few days you started to open your eyes. We realized the measures that were taken. There were soldiers everywhere. You were followed by some kind of secret police. We went further from the city center and we started to see normal people. We tried to look in their flats. We saw the poor equipment they had inside. We saw the people’s clothing, which were uniforms. The bus stops were very strange. There was a small shed at the bus stop and no seats. People in uniforms were all squatting on the ground. They were very often eating just rice or maybe some rice rolled in some kind of leaf. We tried to talk to people, but they didn’t speak any languages. They were very shy. They were afraid of talking to anyone. Some of them turned their backs. Little by little you stated to see the other side of this glittering, well-polished city. We went on a trip outside of Pyongyang by bus. We met a few groups of people in the countryside who looked very poor — very poorly dressed, very skinny. The further you went, the fewer cars, the less civilized the life.

We weren’t supposed to spend the official currency. There were two sorts of currency given to the festival participants — red won and blue won. With the blue won you could buy things at special shops, Western goods only. With the red won, you could shop in a certain category of local shops. We didn’t have access to their normal yellow won. The system was very strange and funny for us. We eventually understood that there were special goods imported from abroad, from Japan, specifically for the festival — not for the local people to buy. We asked the people who were supposed to follow us and guard us. Our guard spoke Russian. But he was ordered not to answer any curious or normal questions. We got very few answers. He would say, “I don’t know” or “I can’t speak about this.”

On two occasions, there were demonstrations against the Chinese regime. It was shortly after the Tiananmen massacre. The youth groups from Poland and Denmark organized these demonstrations within the parade of all of the participants carrying banners and national flags. Some of those groups were socialist or Communist youth from Western Europe. They protested the massacre. They were carrying banners: “Is it the beginning of the end?” and “We cannot allow such a massacre.” It was quite courageous of them. We didn’t know what would happen. There were soldiers. They could have been arrested. But nothing happened. There were so many international reporters that they were afraid of doing anything. That happened at least twice. They even shouted slogans like “No More Tiananmens.”

 

Did you report on this?

 

No, we didn’t. This would have been considered over the limit. We only sent ready-made packages to Prague. It would have been censored in Prague.

 

Before 1989, you said you’d been a journalist for two years. Why did you decide to become a journalist?

 

I studied languages, including Spanish, at university. We tried to travel to Spanish-speaking countries, but it was very difficult. We could only go to Cuba, which was very far away. During my university studies, I didn’t manage to go anywhere. But during the last year of my university in 1986, I was offered a job as an interpreter for a work brigade of the Socialist Union of Youth, the one and only youth organization in Czechoslovakia. They sent a group of about 20 people to Nicaragua to help at the time of coffee harvest and provide moral support during the civil war. We went for 2.5 months in early 1986.

When we returned, I was so full of experiences and different thoughts that I wrote an article and sent it to a Czech magazine. After some small alterations, they published it. Then I was contacted by a reporter from Mikroforum. “I saw your article,” the reporter said, “It was very interesting. Let’s have an interview live on the radio, with people calling in to ask you direct questions.” I said why not. My friend who was also in Nicaragua and I spent about an hour on the radio program. Again we knew that we couldn’t talk about everything, but it was interesting anyway. It was also very successful, for there were a lot of calls. The reporter said to me, “I understand that you are leaving university this year. I don’t know what you are going to do, but if you don’t have any other fixed idea, then you can work with us.”

I kept this in mind. I started another job at the university. After almost two years, I left that job, which I didn’t like, and I went back to this radio station. They said, “Let’s try some freelance cooperation.” It was very hard. Freelancing was officially banned. You had to have a permanent job on your ID. Without confirmation from your employer that you were employed, you would face problems. For almost a year, I worked as a freelance reporter and journalist for Mikroforum. There were no vacancies at the time, so they couldn’t employ me even if they wanted to. After 10 months, I was accepted as a permanent employee. It was a coincidence more than a decision.

 

But it’s been a career that you’ve remained in.

 

Yes. I’ve done some radio producing with BBC World Service, with the Czech department, which was closed. Late in 1998, I got this job, which is managerial. I write from time to time on the Internet. I don’t do radio reporting any more, but I try to be in touch with journalism.

 

Back in 1990, when I talked with you here in Prague, you gave me a political overview of the situation in Czechoslovakia. In your opinion, what did Civic Forum do right and what did it wrong in that first period?

 

You could look at it from different angles. Civic Forum had people from different backgrounds, different political opinions. The common denominator was that they opposed the Communist regime. Some were slight oppositionists, and some were dissidents like Mr. Havel and the people in his circle. It’s hard to say what could have been done better. Everyone tried their best. They filled in the page that was allocated to them by the Communist regime. Some people say that it could have been done in a more professional way. Perhaps. But it was the beginning of something that was not expected, not very well planned or prepared. Given this setting, it was done quite well. There weren’t any big mistakes. They pushed their members into the provisional government. They elected Mr. Havel as president in December 1989. All the main goals were achieved.

Then there was another period for the Civic Forum in summer 1990 when the first elections took place. Civic Forum was one big party. There was the Communist Party, which got 10 percent of vote. There were some smaller parties. But Civic Forum was one big party and governed everything. Between 1990 and the next general election in 1992, the Civic Forum started to disintegrate because there were different political movements. There were the right-wing people with Mr. Klaus. There was the middle of the road stream with Mr. Havel. And there was the left, the social democrat stream, which eventually became the Social Democratic party. The Civic Party (ODS) is still in power now, on the right wing. Mr. Havel wanted the middle stream to remain the Civic Forum and keep it alive. But they couldn’t manage it. There was nothing left in the middle, finally.

 

One thing we talked about in 1990 were the hunger strikers who wanted to ban the Communist Party and turn all the assets over to public control. You didn’t give an opinion at the time. Some people have told me that this was a mistake. What do you think?

 

My feeling was that it was a good decision not to ban it. Half of the people would probably say it was good, half bad. We all felt or were convinced that the Party would destroy itself within a few years, that it would be so diminished it would vanish. That didn’t happen. It is actually stronger now than before, but this has more to do with today’s politics and the social policy of the current government. Honestly, I met a few people who just happened to be in the Party. They did nothing wrong. They led an honest life. They never harmed anyone. It was a good decision not to ban the party.

 

Most people said that the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993 was a big surprise. In 1990, when there were some protests in Slovakia, I asked if they were protesting the economic reforms. And you said, no, they were nationalists and wanted an independent state. So, did you expect the split?

 

Yes. I had a girlfriend in Slovakia in 1989-91. I went to Slovakia to see her, in the far east of Slovakia. It was a long trip, a full day by train. I talked to the people on the train, mostly Slovaks. There were all kinds of people, country people and intellectuals. There were discussions at that time about politics and of course about whether the Slovaks wanted the split or not. Sometimes we had arguments. I said a split wouldn’t be good for all kinds of reason. They said, “But we should be left alone. We have to do it on our own.” It was quite obvious to me that it was just a question of time when this split would happen. And it happened. People here were not in touch with life in Slovakia. They thought maybe that it was just a small group of people who wanted to disintegrate the country.

Another question was whether to have a referendum. If there had been one, a majority of Slovaks would have voted yes. In the Czech Republic, I don’t know. But the only result I could imagine was that Slovaks wanted independent. All political parties in Slovakia had that in their programs — strong autonomy or separation.

 

An interesting development over the years has been the decline of Vaclav Havel’s reputation within the Czech Republic. There was a lot of criticism within the country in the latter part of his career as more and more questions were raised about his governing decisions. People called him naive. I asked you, 23 years ago, if you thought that he was naive, and you said that you didn’t think he was.

 

No, I never considered him naive. What he didn’t accept was basically the party system. He always pushed civil society above all. But the party system became a reality. The parties soon began to clash with him because of the different decisions he made, for instance around the split of Czechoslovakia. This is where we differ. Mr. Havel thought it wasn’t inevitable, the split, that there should have been a referendum. I have a different opinion. I thought it was inevitable.

Then there was his amnesty when he became president. He released something like three-quarters of all prisoners. Those prisoners started committing crimes when they got out. The same thing is now happening with Mr. Klaus, who wanted to do something big at the end of his presidential career. He released 40 percent of prisoners, which was similar to what Havel did. Havel was heavily criticized for that. He believed that everyone should have a chance to find a place in the new society. This particular idea probably didn’t materialize because criminals, most of them anyway, always commit crimes.

When Civic Forum split in 1992 at the time of the elections, I was already in England. Havel and his friends remained alone in the center, in civil society, but there was no political stream around them. It was a very abstract idea for the people. They listened to the parties about social welfare, privatization and all that. He didn’t have a specific political program. The various movements of civic society were at first unified but then there was a process of splitting, and he was left alone with this idea. He sometimes talked about his sympathies for specific artists. He supported the Greens openly, and that didn’t survive very long. Most people listened to him as a moral authority, with his speeches.

And they had to admit that he was right in saying that we have too much consumerism, too much economically oriented politics, that we don’t have any human politics, that we forget about old people, that we should support culture. He wanted the government to give a percentage of the GDP to culture. The government said, “We are not a rich society and we cannot afford to support culture.” Most people supported many of these arguments. But he never transformed it into real politics, or a real political party. To speak and promote your ideas, you don’t need a party. He preferred to communicate directly to the public through his writing or through his speeches. It suited him well to do it this way.

 

In 1990, we talked about the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, which was one of the initiatives of Havel before the revolution. But you were a little skeptical of the assembly 23 years ago. You said that it had become a new managerial organization.

 

I don’t remember what I said. I don’t even remember what I thought about it! But it was part of the time. It didn’t materialize. It was one of the platforms for dialogue. In the course of the time, which was so rich in various events and happenings, it was sidelined somehow and vanished. Probably at that time, I thought it could be something, but it didn’t happen.

 

When you were reporting from London, it used to be that the Czech Republic appeared in the Western media more often — Havel, Klaus and economic reform, the split. Now there doesn’t seem to be much coverage of the Czech Republic. What should the international press be following that they’re not following?

 

Not much. The international media usually focus on problems. The Roma problem, for instance, is nothing to boast of. The Roma people are fleeing. They cause problems elsewhere: in France, Canada introduced visas because of them. Then there’s the issue of cage beds for the mentally ill. A woman working for a British charity dealing with these problems gave a speech that caused quite a crisis between the Czech Republic and Britain. She pointed out that we are a country that treats the mentally ill in an old-fashioned and inhumane way. The Czech Republic does occasionally use these cage beds. They are banned in some countries, they are not used in most countries, and they are used in a couple countries like the Czech Republic.

Havel has died. His time is not forgotten, but it’s far away. There is less and less of Havel in the society here, in the media, in the world media. Apart from that, there is nothing really big in this country. We can’t boast of our politics. There are a few notable sports figures, a few intellectuals and writers, some of them still living in exile like Mr. Kundera.

 

So the journalists are not missing anything in their coverage?

 

I wouldn’t say so. We are in the process of becoming a functional, stable country. It would be nice to have some more good things to boast of. But there is nothing much to report on.

 

Perhaps Milos Zeman might make some statements that will launch the Czech Republic back into the international headlines. His anti-Islamic comments, for instance, surprised me. There are very few Muslims in this country.

 

I don’t know if that will attract international attention. Klaus always tried to be controversial, giving his particular opinions on global warming and climate change. Many times, he managed to attract attention at international forums. But whether Zeman behaves like this? Could be.

 

When you look back at how you looked at the world in 1989-90, has your worldview changed in any major way over the last 20 years?

 

We all had bigger expectations, probably. We thought that things would be easier. We would introduce Western democracy. We would vote every four years. We would have a functional government. We didn’t think about corruption, which is a big problem in this country. We definitely thought that 20 years later we would be further along. If you asked me where we would be in 20 years, I probably would have said that we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Czech Republic and Austria. But we now see how difficult it is and that we have a long way to go.

 

Three quantitative questions: when you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed since then, how would you evaluate the changes on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being least satisfied and 10 being most satisfied?

 

Probably 7.

 

Same scale, same period of time: your own personal life.

 

8

 

When you look into the near future, how would you evaluate the prospects for the Czech Republic, with 1 more pessimistic and 10 most optimistic?

 

6.

 

Prague, February 15, 2013

 

The Interview (1990)

 

I met with Mirek Krupicka at a critical time in my stay in Prague. I had conducted several interviews but was frustrated with the lack of analysis or even a good integrated presentation on the situation. My contacts were all quite busy (Peter Uhl required a two month waiting list!–he is now head of the Czech Information Agency) and some people simply didn’t bother to show up at the appointed times for the interviews. Krupicka too is busy, as a reporter at Mikroforum radio covering youth and general issues for Forum program (previously Civic Forum program). I had met him as well in England.

 

First Krupicka sketched out the political spectrum for me:

 

Left:

Communist Party: 1 million members; 10 per cent ofvote; still possesses a tremendous amount of money (10 billion crowns treasury compared to the Socialist Party’s 10 million!); no other political group wants to join with the CP despite its large membership and treasury.

Democratic Forum: reform Communists; probably won’t reach the 5 per cent cut off needed to get Parliament members.

Social Democrats: 4-5 per cent

Socialists: 5-8 per cent; he didn’t think that the SD and Soc. parties would come together because historically they remained apart

Greens: 6-7 per cent; popularity has dropped since February

Agricultural Party: a few per cent; he considers this party the political organ of the Slusovice cooperative, a former cooperative farm that has, with government subsidies, been transformed into a extensive market-oriented import-export corporation (for many Czechs, Slusovice is synonymous with government corruption, shady deals, and the failed economic policies of the past); party supports continuation of agricultural cooperatives.

 

Center:

Civic Forum: roughly 30 per cent following nationwide

Christian Democratic Union: composed of three parties, People’s Party, Christian Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Movement; 20 percent following

 

Right:

Free Bloc: composed of three parties, the Republican Union, Free Democrats and the Revolutionaries of St. Wenceslas (anarchists)

Republican party: far right, supports immediate expulsion of Vietnamese and Cuban guestworkers; not very popular

He also predicted that the present Czech prime minister, Pithart, would become the next Czechoslovak prime minister.

 

First I asked about the hunger strikers. They were primarily from two groups–the St. Wenceslas revolutionaries and a group of workers from the CKD factory. They were calling for the return of Communist Party assets to the state and the ban on its participation in the upcoming elections. Havel recently announced that he opposed a ban on the Communists because he was against “collective blame.” He also said that a recently formed parliamentary committee would handle the property question. In December and January, apparently, activists occupied the local Party buildings in the 120 districts. Most of these party buildings had been built with state funds and therefore they are now being altered for different purposes (e.g. schools). Some, however, were built with real Communist Party money and if these had been occupied, they were subsequently returned to the party.

I asked about the Civic Forum. Krupicka said that CF’s program was very close to the Christian Democrats: a centrist program of fast privatization, strong social policy (since Czechoslovakia has already had a tradition of strong social welfare and social democracy) and sound environmental policy. The only major difference between the two parties is the CD’s emphasis on religion and traditional values. The CD wants the reinstatement of religious press, religion in schools and probably new abortion legislation (they have tactically declined so far to take a public stand on this issue).

Economic reform would begin quite soon with price increases for travel. Prices for staples would rise, he thought, at the beginning of the next year. Privatization, meanwhile, would also begin soon. The first stage would be destatization and the establishment of joint stock companies with preference given to workers. Then foreign companies would be allowed to buy shares and establish joint ventures. I asked about the Klaus plan for distribution of bonds to the public (see press clips) but Krupicka said that this plan was criticized by economists and Klaus dropped it from his latest press conference. I asked about the demonstrations I had heard about by people in Bratislava protesting economic austerity measures. No, he said, they were protesting for Slovakian independence. Such nationalists represent, he thought, 10 percent of the Slovakian population. In general, he thought that Czechoslovaks supported fast economic change over slow change.

I asked him what he thought the biggest misconceptions the Western press had about Czech politics. The most important, he said, was the Western portrayal of Havel as naive, purely intellectual, removed from the real world, and ignorant of hard politics. True, Havel was inexperienced when he first came into office and, for instance, didn’t handle the press very professionally. But that changed quite quickly and he has become quite politically mature. True, people in the countryside might not understand Havel the intellectual and prefer an older and more conservative politician in the George Bush model. But they might be getting over their shock.

Other problems exaggerated include Sachergate. I don’t know how much the Western press has covered this but here it is. A month ago, Ladislaw Lis formerly of Civic Forum asked Minister of the Interior Sacher for an explanation of what the Ministry was doing. No one was even sure if the secret police had been disbanded. Sacher, a former leader in the National Front’s People Party, promised to answer. It took him three weeks. In the meantime, Hromadko also of the Civic Forum criticized the Ministry for not doing enough to remove the imbedded security structures. Finally, Sacher responded but not directly. First he released the security registrars of Hromadko and Lis and revealed that both had collaborated with the security apparatus during the 1950s when both had been in the Party. Immediately, CF attacked Sacher and said that this was not a serious response to the criticism and that such records should not be revealed ad hoc but a parliamentary committee should handle it. The struggle that emerged, contrary to Western coverage, was less of a struggle between parties (CF and People’s Party) than a struggle between individuals (Sacher and LIs/Hromadko). Finally, a week ago, Sacher gave a more detailed account of his Ministry’s activities. Furthermore he sacked two vice-ministers, blaming them in fact for reform problems (these two have subsequently undertaken legal action to clear their names). Finally, Sacher appointed a new vice-minister, Rumel, who is a respected journalist, editor of the new journal Respect, Civic Forum leader. Civic Forum is reportedly satisfied with both the appointment and Sacher’s subsequent accounting. But CF still criticizes the attempt to muddy the records of Lis and Hromadko, saying that many intellectuals in the 1950s were forced to collaborate, that many tried again in the 1960s to reform the system and were again thrown out of the Party and that 30 years of suffering was quite enough.

Other problems exaggerated by the Western press include the growing divisions between punks, gypsies and skins; and the present state of the Civic Forum (it is not been hobbled by the leavetaking of Havel and Dienstbier).

I asked about the current parliament (actually it just recently completed its last session before the elections). Civic Forum and its supporters held roughly 25 percent, the Communists 40 percent and independent parties (former CP allies but now quite reform-minded) 35 percent. Although this session did not draw up a new Constitution, it did pass some significant laws including new economic provisions concerning private business, cooperatives, taxes and new election laws.

We then discussed foreign policy. The Soviet troops will be out by June of next year. Czechoslovakia is not as adamant as Poland or Hungary about leaving the Warsaw Pact. Czechoslovakia doesn’t want to give the Soviets more problems than they already have in the Baltic republics. Most Czech parties agree about the need for neutrality, collective security, good relations with East and West, and the need to balance power arrangements in Europe. Rather than establishing a pan-East European pact, the Czech government prefers a series of bi-lateral agreements.

Finally, Krupicka expressed some reservations about the Citizens Assembly. He thought it was mostly a blue ribbon commission–the work of some European “personalities.” It might influence Czech foreign policy but would probably not influence international relations.

 


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