Miloš Hajek, summer 1993
Interviewer — Ctibor Lacina, on behalf of Metta Spencer
MILOS HAJEK: What do you know about the Obroda?
CTIBOR LACINA: Very little. Only that you were in the chair at the end of the 80’s, am I right?
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, I was the elected chairman from June 1989 and I kept the chair until we ended in 1991. We’ve handed the archives over to the Social Democrats, but I have a lot of material at home so I can lend it to you or to Mrs Professor for copying. …
CTIBOR LACINA: Great!
MILOS HAJEK: So I will start with the questions if you have no other idea.
CTIBOR LACINA: Okay.
MILOS HAJEK: “For example, some of the Soviets who worked in Prague at the journal Problems of Peace and Socialism in about 1968 became interested in some of the economic reforms proposed in Prague and became convinced that their own state had to be changed.” Well, I was not in touch with these people at that time but I know that Jurij Karjakin was in the editorial office until 1964. He advocated the publishing of Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” It was his last year here in Prague in 1964, and I know that he was later expelled from the Party because of some petition in support of some dissidents. So, I was in contact with him but it was rather an accidental contact.
Next you say here: “The Italian communists working at the journal were not afraid to have contact with Czech dissidents . . .” I can say more about that. There was Michael Rossi until his death sometime in the 70’s here. He saw me and not only me quite regularly. And he saw us and me even during the “normalization era”, he died I think sometime in the first half of the 70’s. For example, he carried my manuscripts to Italy. Luciano Antonetti came after him, who did not live here, he had just an apartment here, but he came here two or three times a year. He always visited me and he also translated all my publications into Italian, if they came out. Also Vaclav Slavik, Rudolf Slansky, Jiri Hajek.
CTIBOR LACINA: Could you tell me something about this Slavik?
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, Vaclav Slavik, he was a secretary of the Communist Party, in 1968 he was a member of the secretariat, then he worked as a construction worker at the underground. And Antonetti was at the end of 1987 together with a deputy editor-in-chief of Unita who was called [Foad] visited Dubcek in Bratislava, and they had an interview for Unita, which came out at the beginning of January 1988, he interpreted for them. And even when Dubcek was in Italy, there is a photo in Bologna, with [Oket], and this is Antonetti, who was interpreting. In 1988 the cooperation was already very, I would say, close. Unita published about 10 articles of Czechoslovak dissidents at that time. I wrote for them Hybl wrote for them, Slansky, Pithart, Kadlec and others.
CTIBOR LACINA: What were the articles about?
MILOS HAJEK: The articles were about Czechoslovakia usually, e.g. my article was about the replacement of Husak by Jakes.
CTIBOR LACINA: But it concerned also the reform in the Soviet Union I suppose?
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, certainly.
CTIBOR LACINA: And were the topics mainly economic, or rather political?
MILOS HAJEK: Both. Kadlec and Slansky wrote particularly economic subjects, I wrote exclusively political subjects, Pithart, and Hybl as well. I know that Hybl had a polemic there with [Roi] Medvedev, who said that the Prague Spring came a bit at the wrong time as the situation in Russia was rigid at that time. So, Hybl disputed this. That much about the Italians.
Italians were not the only ones who helped us in Problems of Peace but it was, I would say a sort of material help. There was a deputy of the English, his first name was Berg, he had such a Jewish name . . . but I can find this name for you. He helped mainly with the historical samizdat, the historical studies, he transported the things abroad.
CTIBOR LACINA: Do you think that some contacts also occurred between the Italian communists and the communists from the East Block? I mean mainly from the Soviet Union, with Moscow. As Metta Spencer says here: “Later, Western peace activists sometimes acted as brokers of ideas. That is, they became acquainted with Eastern European human rights activists and conveyed some of their ideas to institutions and conferences in Moscow.”
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, certainly. I know for example that this Rossi was on very good terms with Kariakin, and not only with him. I know that the Italian communists went to the conferences in Moscow. For example at one conference in Moscow, I can’t tell you which one, which concerned also history because [Paolo Spriano] was there, and he said about this there: “We expected that you would produce some good history of Russia and the Soviet Union, and we didn’t get any so we wrote one ourselves. Understandably their works about the Soviet Union were absolutely unacceptable for the Russians and so no book was published there.
[MH showed me some books published in Italy one of them was from a conference which took place in [Urbino] in May 1989.]
MILOS HAJEK: The Russians were already there but I was not allowed to go there so I send it there by mail.
In Italy, The History of Marxism was published, you can see several volumes here, it is an international history, Germans, the French contributed there and others. From the Russians only Roi Medvedev and I learnt, when I was in Moscow in 1990, that they translated this internally there and they gave it to people to read, and also Gorbachev was given it to read. I have also three chapters there.
CTIBOR LACINA: So this was about the contacts of the Italian communists with the Soviets. Could you say something about the general questions.
MILOS HAJEK: Well, I can say that I belonged to the opposition within the party from the 60’s. I was an associate professor of the Communist Party College, and in 1964 Hybl was dismissed from the school and we protested, and 11 others were dismissed, without much other consequences because I went to the Historical Institute then. We continued to be engaged in political activity, especially in journalism. On the one hand among historians. . . . We were on good personal terms with the economists who were responsible for the reform, concretely Karel Kouba is my friend. I knew Sik as well but we got in personal touch only in 1968.
In the 70’s and 80’s a group of the former activists of the Prague Spring, the reform communists, met regularly, from the beginning every Tuesday, then every other Wednesday. These meetings took place first in the apartment of Zdenek Mlynar, then in the apartment of Jicinsky, in mine, and at the end of Rudolf Slansky. The participants were Slansky, Kadlec, Erika Kadlecova, Slavik, Dienstbier, Dobrovsky, Jiri Hajek, Simon – this is what comes to my mind now. There were about fifteen regular people altogether. I belonged to them. We had already been the signatories of Charta 77, of the first document.
CTIBOR LACINA: Did you have some contacts with people abroad at that time?
MILOS HAJEK: Comprehensibly we had some. For example this contact of mine with Antonetti was not secret in any way. Understandably, he had some troubles with the secret police, and they even let him know that if had not met me that he wouldn’t have any troubles with the visa and so on.
CTIBOR LACINA: And with the dissident’s in the Soviet Union it was not possible I suppose?
MILOS HAJEK: With dissidents? No. I know that Firsov visited me in about 1975 which was quite daring from him, he worked in the Institute for Marxism and Leninism.
CTIBOR LACINA: What was his first name?
MILOS HAJEK: Fred, Fridrich Firsov but he was brought to my place by Nichola Rajman, whom he had known since studies. But he came on condition that he wouldn’t talk about politics. Only about the history of Cominternists, we were both specialized in this field. And this was my only meeting with a Russian in this all period. And I don’t know either that anyone of the people who took part in this Wednesday meeting would meet someone.
CTIBOR LACINA: Zdenek Mlynar, was in touch with the Russian communists, wasn’t he? I know that he studied in Russia. . .
MILOS HAJEK: Well, Zdenek Mlynar emigrated in 1977 – I don’t exclude this possibility but look: Any foreign contact was kept secret. Antonetti was an exception, understandably, but even here it was observed that we didn’t speak about such sensitive things in a room with bugs. There were bugs in our apartment. The correspondence with Mlynar, with our exile, or with other dissidents in the West went usually through embassies. The then attache at the German Embassy [did this], I know there was something through the Finnish Embassy. Also through the American and British Embassies, I don’t know about that.
CTIBOR LACINA: And this was still before Charta 77— or after Charta 77?
MILOS HAJEK: As far as I know after Charta. But I don’t want to say that there was nothing before Charta.
But there was a certain principle of conspiracy that we talked about it as little as possible. For example I knew that if I wanted to send something abroad I could give it to Rudolf Slansky and he arranged it. But I didn’t ask how . . . I personally, but it was already at the time when we didn’t hide these things so much, so I was several times at the German Embassy where I asked them to send this and this. And I regularly went to the Italian Embassy from the beginning of 1988, where I sent things I was sure Antonetti and Pelikan would get them. So these were the contacts with the people abroad.
And about the Soviets: At the end of 1987, we were invited, I don’t know how, to a peace seminar in Moscow, and Venek Silhan with Jan Urban went there. Venek Silhan was arrested at the airport, and Urban was not the signatory of Charta at that time yet. I saw him only several times when he came to Rudolf Slansky. So they let him go there, and he was the only one from Czechoslovakia who succeeded in getting there. There were only few people from these countries at any rate. So he even went to see Sacharov, and from that time on he had a regular contact with Sacharov, he telephoned with him. So this was the year 1988/89.
CTIBOR LACINA: Was he an economist?
MILOS HAJEK: No, Jan Urban was a teacher of history at a secondary school somewhere in Southern Bohemia. When Charta was signed the teachers were summoned to condemn it. And he refused to condemn it so he was sacked immediately, and he worked as a bricklayer for a long time until 1988 when he became self- employed as an editor of Lidove noviny.
CTIBOR LACINA: Was Jan Urban a member of Obroda?
MILOS HAJEK: Yes.
CTIBOR LACINA: So, you tried to implement what was happening in the Soviet Union at that time, which was more progressive than the perestroika in our country, so you tried to implement it into our politics . . .
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, that was the stimulus for us, that was I would say our raison d’etre that it is possible to entre the political scene not only in the field of human rights, as we had been doing with Charta, but with some concrete policy: You say you are for perestroika, so do perestroika . . .
CTIBOR LACINA: Do you think, or can you demonstrate somehow that this Jan Urban acted as a mediator of ideas between the Moscow reform groups and the Czech reform groups? That is, was there some transfer of ideas?
MILOS HAJEK: No, not that.
CTIBOR LACINA: But you told me he was in regular contact with Andrei Sacharov . . .
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, they telephoned each other all the time.
I’d like to add one more thing: The whole dissent was, still before 1988, in not secret contact with The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe because for example as soon as the document of Charta 77 was accepted it was telephoned to Medek in Vienna, or to Radio Free Europe. And it also concerned Radio Svoboda so that it was broadcast in the Soviet programme as well. And from February, or March 1988 Radio Free Europe was not jammed any more.
CTIBOR LACINA: I’d like to go back to your contribution to The 20th Century Crossroads about Gorbachev. You wrote there that there was a great analogy between the reforms in the Soviet Union, and in Czechoslovakia, or in Hungary. Can you support this with some literature let’s say, or with some statement that the Russian economists had some contacts with the Czech or Hungarian economists? or ideologists, it doesn’t have to be economists . . .
MILOS HAJEK: I don’t know much about economists but I would say the Russian economists, at least the more progressive ones, knew all the Czechoslovak economic materials from the 60’s. I know that from Karel Kouba who was in Moscow still sometime in 69 or 70, until he was sacked . . .
CTIBOR LACINA: And could you mention some of the economists?
MILOS HAJEK: I remember a name Lysichkin from 1969, or 70. He was a great fan of the Czechoslovak reform.
CTIBOR LACINA: Did he play some role then in the 80’s?
MILOS HAJEK: I don’t know, I am afraid. He played some role but I don’t know what. And then I know about the end, it may have been about 1988, maybe 7, or 9, so then Karel Kouba was invited to an international conference which took place in Moscow, where he was seated beside the Soviet chairman, they greeted him as an architect of the Czechoslovak reform, and asked him to write an article for them, and when he said: “But our authorities won’t agree with it.” They said: “We don’t care a hoot.”
Unfortunately, I am already very sclerotic, and I can’t remember the name of the economist . . . It was the director of the institute of academy for the world socialist system.
CTIBOR LACINA: But this Kouba will certainly know it. Could you give me his telephone number?
MILOS HAJEK: He is very busy you know, and he doesn’t like to be disturbed. But I can obtain the mame for you another way.
CTIBOR LACINA: Do you think I could call him and ask him if he could tell me something about the whole thing. Because he would probably know quite a lot . . .
MILOS HAJEK: No, you see he is really very employed . . . But I can obtain the name of the Soviet economist for you.
CTIBOR LACINA: Do you know did Gorbachev had contacts with Sik or someone?
MILOS HAJEK: No, no, Gorbachev was no economist either.
CTIBOR LACINA: Or someone from his economic team . . .
MILOS HAJEK: I don’t know.
CTIBOR LACINA: These were rather non-governmental circles as you say, these people Karel Kouba met in Moscow . . .
MILOS HAJEK: This conference was not governmental conference.
CTIBOR LACINA: You have written there in one of the passages that Gorbachev declared openly that he didn’t know any concrete prescriptions for how to do the politics, or how to go on, which must have been quite courageous from him to say he didn’t know how to carry on, so that we can’t exclude the possibility that the Prague Spring could be some prescription . . .
MILOS HAJEK: I believe it was but I don’t know the economic aspect of the thing, I know it rather from the second hand. I know that many intellectuals in the institute of the academy at the universities knew the documents of the Prague Spring, and they knew clearly from 1968 what it was about. For example this Karel Kouba – there was a great number of people who literally apologized to him when he arrived there, who greeted him warmheartedly. I myself know a guy who arrived in Czechoslovakia in a Soviet tank in 1968 as a correspondent of Izvestia to write about the counterrevolution. And he wrote back to them that there was no counterrevolution here. So they called him back and expelled him from the party. He worked in some scientific institute, his name is Boris Orlov. He still writes, and was once the chairman of the Social Democrats, but it’s a small party. So there were such people in 1968 . . .
CTIBOR LACINA: So the awareness was there about the Prague Spring. . .
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, it was there. And I first realized that sometime in summer 1986, when Gorbachev had a speech in which he used the word “democratization”, which had been taboo so far, and it was one of the thesis of the Prague Spring: to democratize. So I could see it was going this way . . . And even more conspicuous it sounded in the speech he had in January 1987. Many people were saying then: “This is already the Prague Spring.”
CTIBOR LACINA: The Obroda was in fact an organization which wanted what was happening in the Soviet Union to have effect on the Czechoslovak politics in the 80’s. Do you think that it was a two-way process then. You have a question there if some of the members had contacts with some Soviet politicians, or people interested in politics . . . Were there such people there? Or was it rather like that you read the Soviet literature, and newspapers?
MILOS HAJEK: That primarily. But we informed them about all. We sent the first document, the first letter which was addressed to all communist, and social democrat parties we sent it directly to Moscow through the Soviet Embassy . . .
CTIBOR LACINA: What year it was?
MILOS HAJEK: It was February 1989.
CTIBOR LACINA: Could you show me the letter?
[MH ABOUT OBRODA: We established the Obroda on 16 February 1989, on that day we asked Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic for registration. But Obroda, or the members were not all former communists, or reform communists. For example the company which went to Rudolf Slansky every other Wednesday was only half communist. But later many people who had been outside the dissent . . . joined Obroda.]
MILOS HAJEK: I can’t find the letter. But the declaration of us you are holding in your hand was published in Russia, I have even had it in my hand but it was no normal samizdat – it was printed – but something like a semi-samizdat. Various things were published there at that time but not officially yet. One of the Soviet diplomats told me later, already after our revolution, that the line of the Obroda had been the most acceptable to them in comparison to the line of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. I haven’t found the letter but you could find it in the archive of the Social Democrats . . .
CTIBOR LACINA: I would like to ask you if you could say something more about the Obroda, and about the contacts with the Soviet Union. You said that the contact were in a written way. . .
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, we sent them all the documents, and as I’ve said we delivered the first declaration directly to the Embassy, and the other documents were handed over to APN. I was there about twice but Lubos Kohout used to go there. So they received all of our documents . . .
CTIBOR LACINA: And this was from February 1989 till November 1989?
MILOS HAJEK: Yes.
CTIBOR LACINA: How many documents were there? What amount?
MILOS HAJEK: A lot. A lot, and starting from summer we also phoned everything to the Radio Free Europe, et al. and as far as I know the Radio Free Europe broadcasted almost everything. Except one case. It was I think in September or October 1989 we wrote an open letter to all members of the Communist Party. Where we wrote about this:
“Your leadership claims to do reforms but do not do them, so try to urge them to do them.” It was very brief so that it would be readable to everyone. We sent it out in several thousands of pieces, and we sent it understandably also to the Radio Free Europe, BBC, and the Voice of America. But although Jan Urban, who did these telephones with the Free Europe, had quite a good, smooth contact with that Mrs Cerovska, so he demanded: “Why don’t you broadcast it?” they did not broadcast it. And among the other – BBC, and the Voice of America – only one gave a brief report about it. But no one broadcast the text. We estimated how many people would hear it …
CTIBOR LACINA: Do you think it was because that would mean the renaissance of the Communist Party here, and that they didn’t want it to go through the Communist Party.
MILOS HAJEK: Probably yes. We didn’t expect the events of the November 1989 but, no one expected them probably.
CTIBOR LACINA: Still about the Obroda, you worked there as a chairman but when exactly, sometime at the end of 1989.
MILOS HAJEK: From June. You see, our relation to the power was this: We didn’t want to be only a movement like Charta for example, we wanted to attempt to make another step to break into legality. We were an organization which asked the Ministry of the Interior for registration: Here are our programmes and so on, so do what you can. And they were afraid to prohibit us but were afraid to allow us.
Concretely, before the February 16 they called Mencl, who was the chairman of the preparatory committee, from the Central Committee CP and told him: “Don’t do it. Stop it.” And he said: “It’s too late; it will go on.” So they invited him to a negotiation. So we discussed it should he go or shouldn’t he and we said: Go! It was already after February 16. So he talked with this Bouchal, and he told him that the politburo had read the declaration, discussed it, and disapproved it. And when he asked whether they would permit us he said it was a matter of the Ministry of the Interior. There was only one thing positive about it and that was that the Bouchal said: “We regard this discussion as the beginning of a dialogue.”
So we said: Okay, so we will see. We summoned a first meeting of a committee to a pub, to the National House at Vinohrady. We reserved a salon and so on, and when they got there they found that the salon had been booked for someone else and that a swarm of policemen were around. I was not there at that time. So they went to an apartment and they let them be there. We summoned a plenary session for June 17, all people from Prague and also from the country. We announced it at the district national committee, we booked a room in Drancy in Dejvice. They told us a day before they banned it, an officer from the Interior Ministry came to Mencl’s apartment, and a chairman of the district national committee wrote a letter to him. So we arranged it in Jan Urban’s apartment, there is a big room there where about 90 people can sit together, and they did not disturb it there. Drancy was surrounded and people had to show their passes but their didn’t disturb it in the flat.
CTIBOR LACINA: What were your duties as the chairman of the Obroda?
MILOS HAJEK: Well, what the chairman usually does — I signed all documents, and when we had the executive committee, which was about 13-15 people that gathered every week, if we had the representation assembly – it gathered practically only once before November – so it was my job to summon them …
CTIBOR LACINA: And how many people were there altogether?
MILOS HAJEK: We counted that we had about 400 people before the revolution.
CTIBOR LACINA: And 200 of them were as you said the former communists of 1968.
MILOS HAJEK: There were more of them. I figure that the former communists were about 80-85 per cent.
CTIBOR LACINA: But these 10-15 per cent had never been members of the Communist Party. Were they young people?
MILOS HAJEK: Yes, they were young people. That was this Urban, Hradilek, Nemec, and so on.
CTIBOR LACINA: And you wanted to collaborate with Jakes and his regime but you didn’t want to enter the structures, or you wanted only to lead a dialogue with them . . .
MILOS HAJEK: Well, we knew there would be no reform with Jakes. I have written in the article published in Unita literary that the replacement of Husak by Jakes was utterly a step to the worse, then to the better. But it would be silly to say: “We will talk with you if you remove Jakes.” It would be naive.