Michael Randle (British support to dissident Jan Kavan), 1992

Interviewer — Metta Spencer
In Bratislava.

Metta Spencer (S): This is Michael Randle. We are talking about a Polish guy he met in Toronto who was with the Polish Institute for International affairs.

Michael Randle (R): That’s right. And he had been an advisor, one of the advisers to the Polish government at the talks in Vienna on disarmament. He was very open-minded, and I kept in touch with him afterwards. And I met him again in Warsaw in November of the same year, very briefly, because he happened to be out and this conference was on. We just overlapped by half a day, so we linked up again. And he was very interested in the idea of “defensive defense”, and he did give a talk at one of the plenary sessions of that conference about confidence. And at the end of this talk he was actually asking people if somebody could explain to him exactly what that notion of “non-offensive defense” or “defensive defense” was.

S: Did you say, “Read my book.”?

R: … (59) There were people there who had explored this idea much more thoroughly than I had. Anders Boserup.

S: I did an interview with Anders Boserup for Peace Magazine.

R: Well, It was very likely that. Yes, at that time. The guy’s first name was Janusz. But that’s a very common Polish name.

S: Did everybody get thrown out eventually? I mean, would he have…, by now he would no longer be in a position…

R: Well, I don’t know whether that institute still exists.

Janosh Prystrom was his name. I think it was Prystrom.

S: It wasn’t the MBFR conference, was it? We had a conference on MBFR in Toronto.

R: No, I don’t think so. It was about April, 1987.

S: So, how much autonomy, do you think, Poles had with regard to the military? I mean, could they even have influenced WTO policy?

R: In the end whatever the decision of the Soviet Union was would have to be followed, but there were various initiatives – on disarmament, etc. – taken by the Polish government. Well, the famous one is the Rapacki plan of the late 50’s. Long time back. And I’ve certainly read an article that suggests that that was a genuine initiative coming from the Poles. It wasn’t just a way of putting forward a Soviet point of view. It really was an attempt by the Polish government to try and cool things down a bit. So I think, probably, though of course the Soviets dominated the whole Warsaw Treaty Organization, it would be surprising, in a way, if there wasn’t some possibility of input… I have no idea whether that idea of sufficiency in defense originated in Moscow as a result of some discussions with some of the Western peace people who were putting forward that idea, or it was built in Eastern Europe. I really have no idea.

S: On the “defensive defense” thing, I’ve asked a number of people, and there’s a stronger case to be made for that than for anything else, as coming from the West.

R: Yes.

S: But I also talked to one Soviet general, Lev Semeiko, who said he thought of the same ideas and sent it up the line independently. In a way, it’s an obvious thought.

R: Well, and especially the Russians around the Soviet Union were under such pressure trying to keep up economically with all this arms race, it would make some sense for them without radically changing their whole society.

S: But what sort of people were you talking to during that period? I mean, you said, a lot of dissidents.

R: I was basically in touch with quite small groups of people like “War Resisters International”, and people like Jan Kavan in Czechoslovakia.

S: Did you come to Prague early on?

R: I made several trips to Prague. I came to Prague first in December, 1970 on behalf of Jan Kavan, and stayed with his mother, Rosemary. And this was to try and establish some kind of bridge to bring in literature and so on. And then in January, 1971, myself and a friend adapted a van in which we brought in the first consignment of books. This was an actual trial, bringing in equipment – duplicators and so on.

S: How did you disguise things?

R: It’s interesting. Jan had no idea I was involved in George Blake’s escape. And for that we adapted a van, and created a false space behind the … … that supported the back. But somebody who did know I was involved in it and also knew Jan and knew that he was wanting to get stuff in and out of Czechoslovakia put Jan on to me. And so we adapted the van, and I drove that first one to Brno in January, 1971. The person whom I contacted there was Jaroslav Sabata.

S: Really?!

R: Yes.

S: Jan gave you his name?

R: Yes. That’s right.

I can’t say that I had a lot of discussions and so on. There’s a journal which came out in Britain that Jan was associated with, called “Labor Focus on Eastern Europe”. So I was reading that. And when “Solidarity” was closed down in 1981, “War Resisters” was asked to comment on it, and I helped to draft a lot of things for “War Resisters” on our reaction to what was going on in Eastern Europe, especially concerning “Solidarity”, and so on. I mean I wasn’t in regular contact with them in that sense. My main contact was with Jan Kavan. I helped him to raise money for Palach Press. He set up his regular run with the van. They realized that if they kept going in and out of Czechoslovakia with the same number plates, that would arouse suspicion. So, it was easy enough to change the number plates, but then the documentation had to be changed in order to match with that. And I had a small printing press, so I forged the green papers, blank green papers, so you just could fill in [whatever you needed to]. I spoke to him last year about this. And he said it had been well done, because the Czech authorities had never found anything.

S: How thorough were they in checking things? Did they ever suspect anything?

R: I only drove twice in that van. I went to Czechoslovakia twice on behalf of Jan. Then, later on, in 1979, quite independently I went there for a UNESCO meeting. And I made some contacts with some friends of his in Prague at that time. But other people were driving the vans in after that. They had various people who were cooperating in that venture. They got away with it until April of 1981. And then they were tipped off by somebody inside the opposition of Czechoslovakia. And the van was stopped and searched.

S: What do you make of that?

R: I don’t know the full story of that. But I can easily see that if somebody is suspected and they are interviewed by the secret police, they are told, “Either you tell us what you know, or you you’re gonna be going down for a long time.” So you can see that people could be put under pressure to give things away. But I don’t know whether it was true or not in that case. I don’t know the circumstances. But anyway the van was stopped, so he was not able to use that system again. But he did use other ways. He can certainly tell you about that.

S: It’s hard to see how anybody can listen to those stories about him and believe any of the stuff.

R: I think that the idea that Jan was a collaborator with the secret service is absolute nonsense. And I don’t have any hesitation about that. I’m absolutely sure of it. There was a big fuss recently in Britain. There was an article in the “Observer”. It just didn’t make sense. I mean on the one hand it was saying that Jan Kavan and the Palach Press were the main link between people like Havel and the West. On the other hand it was making all these suggestions that he may well have been a collaborator all the time with the STB. One of the subheadings of the article was “Generation of British radicals Hoodwinked.” Suggesting that the man had hoodwinked us all?

S: What kind of evidence do they bring out?

R: Well, the files of the STB have been opened now. In 1969 or 1970 Jan was studying in Britain, and he was representing the Czech Students’ Union in Britain. And he did have dealings with a man at the Embassy called Vaichek (?) who officially was an education officer.

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The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books