Rudolf Zukal, interview in Prague, 1993
Interviewer — Ctibor Latsina, on behalf of Metta Spencer
RUDOLF ZUKAL: When one saw the differences he started to think. And so I got among the reform communists. For one thing because of my nature, I always said everything openly, you see, so I got among the reform communists, and my tutor for the dissertation was the former minister of finance Sucharda, who was also later fired, a professional, and when I rubbed shoulders with these professionals so in the end I was an advisor at the presidium of the government. And when the reform was to be promoted, I was told to enter the political life, and so I became a member of the presidium of the university communist committee, of the revisionist one which was wiped out later on, that I as an economist was to promote these ideas – practically, economic ideas of the Prague Spring.
You might be interested in this: Look, the political reform in our country then was led by Professor Sik from the Academy of Science — intelligent, educated man, etc., who, really, triggered it off. But I as a pragmatic economist, as I worked at the department of foreign trade, I would say that in the political struggle he advanced more and more into the politics, very assertively, forcefully, but it was not practicable economically. So I belonged to the other wing led by Professor Kadlec, then the Minister of Education, who was also expelled later on, which was more pragmatic so as to say, who said: It’s not possible to transform everything at once, we have to do it gradually, etc. So I was the leader of a group who were in charge of the convertibility of the Czechoslovak Crown. If you ask me if the Prague Spring would have been successful or not, I am not able to answer after those years 100 per cent correctly. What was incomprehensible to me, and what will never ever come back is, I would say, that 80 per cent of the nation, who had been harassed by the Communist Party, subscribed to these ideas and supported them. It was something incredible. You can see it in the economic figures, in the collection for the state treasure, when people were giving money, gold, when people were going to voluntary work, when people worked hard and believed that the situation was going to improve. This is one thing that we will never be able to restore, and which could indicate that it might have been successful.
Second, it was at a time when there was a world economic boom, you see, and it’s much easier to make politics in such a situation than today when Klaus makes politics in the economic depression. So these were the pros why I believe that the political reform of 1968 should have had success.
On the other hand, we have to realize that it couldn’t have carried on as it did that, gradually, a considerable part would have had to pass to private ownership, because this form of ownership, although it is, I would say, harsher, more rational, has some result.
Owing to my activity, I was, unlawfully, dismissed from the school as an anti-socialist element. Even though I appealed to law against it I lost everything, and I had to take a job in a position where I would be isolated from people, and I was driving a bulldozer for nineteen years. And so I got, through the economy, to the dissent. When I was working at the ponds, I was staying in a caravan during the week, when I was working with Prof. Silhan. You see, there were practically nine university teachers coming there, two of them were professors. I was not given the title, although I had defended it, three associate professors and Ph.D.‘s, so we were highly qualified, and we were not allowed to earn more than a certain limit. So, in fact, I never worked on Friday all that time. But I had to be there because I worked so hard during the four days, and on the fifth day, I was studying. Since I was not able to work in my field – foreign trade – I took on macroeconomics, and I started with that I proved, on the basis of statistical yearbooks, that it was a nonsense. And I wrote it to the Central Committee – on the basis of official statistical yearbooks, I started to write, from 1972 on, “A Contemplation over the Statistical Yearbook”, and I always evaluated it that it was far from being so. And that’s how I got in the sphere of harshly pursued people.
CTIBOR LATSINA: You found out that it was far from being what, concretely?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Well, that the figures did not correspond with reality.
CTIBOR LATSINA: So that they were making them up?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: No, they weren’t. They kept them secret. Look, for instance I could compare how decadent it was. In 1968, the gross national product grew at a rate of 7 to 8 per cent a year. And now it ranged from 1 to 2 at maximum. And at the end of the 80’s it was going down. Work productivity was declining. Bureaucracy was growing – unqualified management, you see. These were figures which were disturbing, and which they were unable to refute. They called on me several times – Look, for example one great hit of mine was when I wrote a monograph – I think in about ’79 – “The Fortune of the Czech Intelligentsia”, when I, on the basis of statistical yearbooks, calculated the approximate rate of emigration. The way I did it was that I took the number of people who were born, the number of people who died, the number of people who moved out, and, suddenly, I got the number of people in the individual years who simply disappeared – well, they emigrated, you see? So, I calculated, got the result, and there was a colossal mess out of it. I published it normally in the samizdat, and it came out in Listy, and then two men called on and asked me who had given the figures to me. I was held in Bartolomejska Street all day and I had to show them that I had figured it out. And in order that you understand it I was registered as an informer for that, because they probably had to show some results so that some of these discussions were included in their activities, and I am registered as an informer there then. That’s why it is necessary to take these data about the agents with a pinch of salt. If you don’t know, I was also registered as an agent in 1962. You don’t know that? I will tell you.
In ’62 one of my schoolmates was chosen for Hohshule f_r . . . in Vienna, and he went mad before that. And I was a substitute, and although I had two small children I had to go there. And when I got there I found out that a schoolmate of mine was there. I visited an international club where there were Americans and foreign students, who, surprisingly, studied Russian and the socialist system, etc. So that they were either prepared for diplomacy, or for reconnaissance.
CTIBOR LATSINA: I didn’t understand one word, you said you had to go there?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Yes, I had to. Otherwise, the place would be forfeit. It was an exchange, so I had to go there, against my own will, two small children, . . . I was there and I had an affair with a married lady there. The schoolmate came to me, and told me: Look there are these and these things, I am personally interested in what you are talking about, what the Americans want of you, or you are going home. You can imagine what I felt like. I would be sent home. So I talked with him about this subject – I point out I knew immediately he was from the Ministry of Interior. One of the Americans, for instance, wanted to study in Prague, so I did my best to talk him out of it. Indirectly though, he visited me in Prague several times, but I talked him out of it, that it was not worth it, etc. And I am recorded as an agent – no, as an ideological collaborator – that is in the reconnaissance. Whereas, on the other hand, I am kept as an enemy person of the second degree.
. . . You are probably doing one mistake. One dogma, which
was valid, was the leading role of the communist party. You see, and this was untouchable. And Gorbachev never wanted this. If they, owing to their own stupidity and the external circumstances, when they didn’t know what to do with the economy, when they were unable to revive the nation, they saw they had to something about it, and then it started to fall apart, and it hasn’t been solved to date.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Of course but we are discussing here about different things a bit. You are talking about what is practicable, or what was impracticable. But I am interested in one thing and that is whether Gorbachev might have been influenced by these ideas – this means not whether the ideas could have been successful, but we have to take Gorbachev not like an enlightened Tsar, in the sense that he would be omnipotent, omniscient, but rather in the sense that he was a man who had probably some intentions with the Soviet Union, if he had some intentions. We might say that no one knows so far –
RUDOLF ZUKAL: – enlightened communism. Enlightened communism.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay. But to date no one knows what he wanted to do because he tells nobody.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: And he lost control over it, too. Look, I will tell you something. I’ve talked with Zdenek Mlynar, who highly evaluated intellectual power of Gorbachev. That’s all right, but you have to realize that a genius in a certain environment, if he tries to achieve something, will end up like a fool. And a fool, with his ideas, if he comes at the right time, may become a genius.
CTIBOR LATSINA: But how do you know who is a genius and who is a fool?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: According to results.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And what are Gorbachev’s results like? Has he proved to be a genius, or a fool.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: He proved to be a man who wanted to carry out something that was impracticable, and he helped to disintegrate it there.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Which means –
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Particularly in the sphere of foreign policy, he, under the pressure of economic reality, was the first to consent to disarmament, because they were not able to cope any longer. He had to accept certain freedom in factories, etc. And that’s how it started to disintegrate.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay, but what were his intentions like? Do you think –
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I wish I knew that. Maybe he will write some memoirs, the memoirs will be biased because they will be subjective, and he will make himself better than he is. Gorbachev will really enter history because he broke the Soviet Union, but he definitely did not want to do that.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay, now we got to a certain base. You say he didn’t want to do it, which means that he was an enlightened tzar, and this means that he wanted to maintain communism, or let’s say the idea of communism, the leading role of the Communist Party . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Centralized planning, elimination of bureaucracy, rationalism, the release of incomes to a certain extent, so that people could earn according to their abilities – that’s what he saw clearly. To eliminate the power of party bureaucracy – that’s what he certainly wanted because the government of imbeciles – imbeciles are the enemies of every system . . .
He wanted to maintain the leading role of the Communist Party, to eliminate the irrational extremes, when everything had to be decided in Moscow, and this triggered the nationalistic movements and so on.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay. Now, what was the matter [in Czechoslovakia] in 1968? At the beginning?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: At the beginning the same.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Which is conspicuous correlation . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Which is conspicuous correlation. I can tell you that when you read the Action Program, which was adopted, so there is still preserved the leading role of the Communist Party. But it was said there: The Communist Party – that makes all the difference – has to deserve this leading role in the society, and not to enforce it.
CTIBOR LATSINA: When was the Action Programme adopted?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: In 1968. You can easily obtain this Programme, and there is described, precisely, the first stage of the Prague Spring, all the ideas in the economic, philosophical, social sphere. I am very sorry I got rid of my archives because this could be very interesting for you . . .
CTIBOR LATSINA: You say that “The Lesson from the Critical Development” could be important for Prof. Spencer.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Yes, in the way how the dogmatic communists, that is the Brezhnevists, reacted to that, to this Action Programme. Mind you, you have to look at this Action Programme from a historical point of view. Today, you may laugh at some of the thesis, because there was the leading role of the Communist Party preserved, and I repeat, it was stated there that the Communist Party have to win this role, in the positive sense of the word, to convince people, so that they would follow them. And, really, I can tell you, as an economist, that 80 per cent of the people followed them. . . . And where they saw the danger for the rigid Stalinist system shows “The Lesson from the Critical Development”.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And do you think that Gorbachev drew a lesson from it?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Certainly. Look, it’s hard to say whether he studied it or not but . . .
CTIBOR LATSINA: But the question is whether the “Lesson” was from the development in our country, or whether it was from the interference of the “Allied Troops”, the armies of the socialist block. Do you get what I mean? If this was only the justification of our occupation by the Soviet Union.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: There are denounced individual economic, philosophical thesis. In contrast – thesis against thesis.
CTIBOR LATSINA: All right, but the first theses of the Action Programme drew inspiration from the ideas of the citizens of a certain country who wanted to change their country. Whereas the ideas of the “Lesson” stemmed from a completely different source –
RUDOLF ZUKAL: From an endangered system of power.
CTIBOR LATSINA: I think one might say from the occupying forces, or from the collaborationists.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: It was certainly read and approved of in Moscow. I will tell you something concerning the Action Programme – when you read it, you will smile because it is twenty years old – the Action Programme, I had a share in the economic part, was worked out by the best brains available then, with immense enthusiasm, immense will –
CTIBOR LATSINA: Could you name some of these people?
CTIBOR LATSINA: I can enumerate all the economists: Sik, Kadlec, Kozusnik, Kouba. Most of them are also named then. Really the biggest brains which were in the individual fields worked on that – with the conviction that they were doing a good thing. And we were still convinced that the social system could be reformed. Today, when I consider the ideas I have to laugh that I was naive. That it was not feasible – to preserve most of the state enterprises – today I know, and I can see it in the West countries, too – that state companies are administered by bureaucracy, are not so flexible –
CTIBOR LATSINA: When did you realize that?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Well, according to the results of the economy.
CTIBOR LATSINA: That means?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: When I study the Western economy, I can see it. Most obviously in the development in West and East Germany.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay. The question is now whether this was clear to you before Gorbachev got into power in the Soviet Union.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Partially. But not to such extent.
CTIBOR LATSINA: But it did not appear so naive to you as today?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: It did not appear so naive to me as today. . . . It’s interesting how one changes his opinion. I tell you again that I grew up in poverty, I experienced the hardship of the capitalist system – maybe also owing to that my father was a communist. When the communists came – we were liberated by the Soviet Union – so the generation, intelligentsia, in this country were convinced that they were building up a better social order. Let’s take the election in 1946 – the communists won 40 per cent. The communists boasted the best intellectuals, ranging from writers to scientists. The people, the generation were convinced that they were building up a better society.
You can’t imagine the number of hours I spent on voluntary work. And I realize subsequently that I was a pawn manipulated for the benefit of the bureaucracy. As long as there is no opposition, every ideology degenerates, the same way the Church degenerated . . .
If you take the programme of the Communist Party after 1945, it was a programme, even if I look at it 50 years later, it was a progressive programme: To nationalize the biggest companies, to eliminate the huge property differences, use it for the benefit of the populace, cost- free education, cost-free health service, to support the middle class – but then we liquidated them. Why, no one in the socialist camp carried out such a complete socialization as Czechoslovakia; we didn’t have a single self-employer. Compare it with the number they had in the East Germany. Here it proved to be a piece of rubbish. Set up a big company made up of cobblers, immediately, it has bureaucracy, it loses control, etc.
If you read the programme, you really find a number of splendid ideas, and a substantial part of the nation subscribed to it – they voted voluntarily for them. No one forced anyone in 1946.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Sure, but they got only 40 per cent, they didn’t get the majority . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: You must not forget that Moravia was Catholic.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And Slovakia, too.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Slovakia too.
CTIBOR LATSINA: In fact they gained a majority only in Bohemia.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Okay, but no party has ever got more than 40 per cent here.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And do you think that the February 1948 was a coup, or what do you think?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: It was a coup, but an intelligently made coup, because whichever way I look at it, it was a coup carried out within the bounds of the constitution. . . .
. . . Andropov was an old man, conservative, etc. Second, he had been the chief of the KGB so that he had the best information, he must have known the defects of the system precisely, and he tried to eliminate them already. When Chernenko came after him, it was, I would say, a compromise between the more liberal communists and the hard- line communists, because Chernenko had no idea what the matter was. Then the liberal wing won, which means they elected one of the youngest secretaries because Gorbachev looked as a rookie in the politburo. Everyone was sclerotic 70 years plus there.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And why do you think the liberal wing won? Were there economic reasons behind that?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I repeat again that they saw that the West was ahead of them in armament, in economy, that they had to do something. That even the concentration of the economic power was not able to keep up with the more progressive economy. That’s the way it is. This was the main reason. They were not able to compete in the armament –
CTIBOR LATSINA: So, for the economic reasons . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I am a former Marxist enough to say that the material is more decisive than the spiritual. Only a few enthusiasts will prefer the spiritual to the material. I am among them because I spurned a lot of big posts in the past. But most of the nation, 95 per cent of the nation will prefer material aspect. And look what in our country, especially in the market economy, is decisive. How deeply the prestige of intelligentsia had fallen, and how sharply upwards goes the prestige of the so-called successful entrepreneurs, whose success I doubt because now we have a period when you come into big money, a question of connections and so on, money laundering, . . .
. . . Don’t forget that the Prague Spring was 20 years before Gorbachev. But the Prague Spring was in an environment which was completely different from the Soviet Union. I repeat again, our intelligentsia is on a high level, we belong to Europe. Our manual workers are highly qualified, I am still being persuaded about that by the West, which means it was completely different from the situation in the Soviet Union. Don’t forget that, in our country, the national issue played no role. Only in the Action Programme, there it turned out that we Czechs preferred democratization, whereas the Slovaks wanted federalization. We were saying: First democracy, and then we can resolve the national relations, it was the first case of a clash. And that’s why Slovakia, I would say, betrayed the Czech lands when the occupants came here. These two things can’t be compared, neither as far as the time, nor as far as the make-up of the actors is concerned.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Very well, but we are withdrawing from the original question, and it was that Gorbachev might have been inspired be the Prague Spring, in spite of that the Soviet Union never went so far, and even could not go so far for some reasons. But the reasons why it didn’t take place are not important now. The thing is now that in 1985 Gorbachev found himself in the position of the General Secretary and was responsible for the future development of the country. And the problem was that the economic situation of the Soviet Union was very poor. They could not keep pace with the armament in the West, so that Gorbachev probably looked for some way how to improve the Soviet Union economically.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: To improve, to boost the concern of the people. You are probably doing one mistake: That you believe that the Prague Spring was something unique. The Prague Spring only loudly demanded the primitive, fundamental human liberties. You see, when you look at it – primitive, fundamental human liberties – to eliminate the upward mobility ceiling, to eliminate the privileges of the communists, to ensure that the qualification is the decisive factor. These are primitive points which were embodied in the Prague Spring.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Did something like that occur in the Soviet Union in the 80’s?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I don’t know I am no expert at this. Probably, since these ideas are universally valid thanks to the Helsinki Conference, they had to release this, but don’t forget that it may have worked in Moscow, but where else?
. . . many ideas of the Prague Spring are universally valid. The question of personal freedom, the freedom to travel, the freedom of education, you see, this was all promoted there – employment according to qualification, the elimination of the dictatorship of the party – this is universally valid.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay, but where did these ideas come from?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: These ideas are common knowledge. I will tell you my view of where it came from. Don’t forget that when the communists came in 1948 they completely liquidated the intellectuals who did not go with the communists. Totally. They raised their own intellectuals. I belong among these intellectuals – convinced about the rightness of the communist ideas. With more education they gained a wider horizon, they could see it wasn’t the way they were taught it was. They rebelled against the rule of the party, they rebelled against the curtailment of personal freedom. And during – if you take it from 1948 to 1968 that is 20 years, plus the fall of Stalin, the display of the dirt in the Soviet Union. People started to think that it was far from being what they were told: Soviet Union – Our Model. We saw that for example in the economic sphere we were becoming the smithy of the Soviet Union. That we did not manufacture according to our natural and qualificational conditions but according to what the Soviet Union needed, and the rebellion occurred. The intellectuals formulated, for the first time, the ideas which are universally valid, and rational –
CTIBOR LATSINA: Where were they universally valid? It means that the ideas came from –
RUDOLF ZUKAL: From learning. As an economist, I ask this question: Why the West, the decaying West, has better economic results than this system?
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay. So you want to say that – you look at it as an economist, of course – so these ideas, i.e. the freedom of travelling, the upward mobility discrimination –
RUDOLF ZUKAL: The freedom of choice of subjects at universities –
CTIBOR LATSINA: This was, you mean, for economic reasons . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: From the viewpoint of understanding, education, and I’d also say from the disillusionment with the ideas of what was in the Soviet Union.
CTIBOR LATSINA: All right, and do you think that the Czech intellectuals came to this conclusion by themselves, or that they wanted to have the same rights as in the West.
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Sure, to be quite open, of course that we wanted, when we saw the higher standard of living, better opportunities in the West . . . Apart from that the Western propaganda encouraged this. People were going abroad and could make comparisons. And don’t forget that the world was really divided, and there were these things. But there occurred the erosion of the primitive thoughts of the Sovietization of the Czechoslovak society. And given that we had really belonged to Western Europe, we were about the first to learn that this model did not fit us. I am not able to say why the Hungarian rebellion took place in 1956 but I tend to think that there were nationalistic questions and, I would say, problems of tough treatment at work. Since Hungary started in 1956 but it was rather different there, too. There were bloodshed and killings there, whereas there were no dead in our country, except for the 170 people who were run over or shot dead by the Russians.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Mr. Cestmir Cisar told me that you were contacted by a high Soviet officer . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Well, I can tell you something about that. When I was in Vienna then, there were also Russian students learning German. The man was a Latvian. He was a director of a museum in Riga at that time. Every year he wrote me at Christmas, etc. When the pickle took place and I was fired, he came to Czechoslovakia, was very cautious and saw how the land lay. I learnt from that immediately that he was examining the mood of people. By the way he was here – he was lecturing, because he was a professor of the Scientific Communism he was lecturing at the University of Politics. When he came here in 1988, he was here about three times. I was always very warmhearted to him, and told him, because he knew me, openly my opinion of what I thought about it.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Wait a moment, you say that he visited you when you were fired. It means it was sometime at the beginning of the 70’s . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: He did not visit me. He came on a visit to lecture in Czechoslovakia. I don’t know when exactly it took place. He was about three or four times here. The most interesting visit was the one which occurred in about 1988. . . .
Look, this is so-called “Black Book” which they were after. It was published by The Academy of Science, and the police confiscated it. I, as a prominent person then, had it – few people had it because it was published in a small number of copies. And when he arrived my wife reminded me of it, and I lent him the book, and he read it, you see, didn’t comment it but was very interested in it. From which I deduce, logically, that he was surveying the situation here in Czechoslovakia.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Yes, and for the first time it was in the year . . . ?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Well, before they took the book away from me, I don’t know it might have been in 1973 or 1974. Because then I lost it. But the most interesting was when he was here last time, it was about 1987 or ’88.
During the last visit, because I always complained to him about the situation in the Soviet Union, during the last visit he himself expressed his wish to talk to people like Cestmir Cisar – that’s why he reminded you of it, Vladimir Kadlec. With the dismissed people who had studied in the Soviet Union, at the same tim, however – and that’s what is interesting about it, at the same time he was invited to the University of Politics, where he lectured on Scientific Communism, and after a week, he was staying for one month, after a week he asked me if he could move to my place. I told him: Why not.
He moved from the care, I would say, of the University of Politics in order to be able to contact these people without making it so obvious. I introduced him willingly to all these people, and we had an open debate, as we normally debated, from which I assumed that he was surveying the situation, which every reconnaissance does, so that he had these tasks probably.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Could you give me the name?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Asmanis, Professor Asmanis. A very nice guy, his wife was a daughter of a Russian General. But what is interesting is that he had been a PhD of Scientific Communism, and he continued to be a professor – in Latvia, which is anti- Russian, and he wrote me a letter how surprised he was at the people who had been buttering up the Russians that they were swearing at them now. But that he continued to be the head of the department! Of sociology I believe.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And why do you think he wanted to know something about the Prague Spring? Why was he interested in it actually? It was in the 70’s already . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Obviously, he was surveying the situation. The Russians must have known that this nation was in opposition to them, and he simply surveyed the situation. He exactly knew what sort of opinion I had, where I was working. He knew all of that, and in spite of that he moved from the university to my place. The reason he gave for it was that my wife made such excellent cakes, and that he wanted to have greater freedom.
CTIBOR LATSINA: But I quite believe that!
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Look, in every age the reconnaissances are working and surveying situation. This is only conjecture. But if you move out of the University of Politics and move in with me, and speak with the Czech dissidents who studied in the Soviet Union, and were all fired, because they learnt what it was really like in Russia, so he went to pubs with them and held debates with them. Because they were fluent in Russian, whereas I speak like a primitive.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Have you ever asked him why he was interested in it?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I asked him. He was interested, as an ideologist in these opinions. He clearly knew, he told me for instance: I don’t know how this regime could dismiss you because I know you as a diligent, honest, open person . . . But why? He said that he was interested because he worked in the sphere of ideology, philosophy, and sociology, and wanted to know the consequences for example. Look, he claimed to me for instance when he came here first time – I recall it only now – that there were funerals of hundreds of soldiers in the Soviet Union who were killed in action here in 1968. I told him: Why, there were just two drunk Bulgarians killed – they made them drunk and shot them dead, and both of them who shot them got 13 years in jail afterwards. These were the only dead. The ones who were dead here were run over, and hanged. And I told him myself when I went to Moravia how six soldiers had hanged in Vysoke Myto, how I stopped in their barracks. They ran away, you see, and they hanged them. So I stopped and vomited. I told him all that. And he argued with me and told me it was not true. I showed him this way that it was manipulated that it was a counter-revolution here.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Okay, and you believe that he was interested in it rather for personal reasons, or —
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Don’t ask me this, don’t ask me this. Both. One thing is absolutely clear to me: You are too young to understand that: If someone from Russia, or from Czechoslovakia went abroad at that time, he had to observe certain norms, or else he never travelled abroad again. If someone went out from Russia – this is a logical contemplation – and stayed in the lodging house of the University of Politics and went to see a dissident who was supervised by the State Police, then it is probable . . .
CTIBOR LATSINA: Could you tell me something about the “third way”?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Okay, the question is what you mean by the term “third way”.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Of course, I would put it this way: You told me there were two chief reformers – Sik and Kadlec. And this Kadlec had rather more pragmatic views, what were these views based on?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Sik, as he became the leader of the reform, spoke rather more in a more populist way. You see, he promised certain things which, rationally, were not workable, whereas Kadlec was proceeding from the real facts and was more down- to-earth. And I, given that I am not a political, theoretical economist, but I was a sector economist, belonged to the second group. For instance I worked in the sector of currency convertibility. They were saying: We will introduce the currency convertibility in, let’s say, three years. No. I proved that if everything went all right in five, eight years at the soonest. You see – I was a pragmatic.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Sure, but you wanted to say that Sik was more interested in politics . . .
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Yes, in the position of power. You see he was assertive, he was, but some of the things he couldn’t have fulfilled. They were rather populist. But they were effective, he excited people, stimulated people, but the realization would have been much harder.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Do you think that Gorbachev, or his economists, or the economic advisors surrounding him, were interested in the ideas of Sik?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Certainly. Certainly, because if nothing else, there were about three or four books published in Russia criticizing Sik.
CTIBOR LATSINA: When did the books come out?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I don’t know.
CTIBOR LATSINA: Approximately. Before Gorbachev?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Before Gorbachev.
CTIBOR LATSINA: All right. But the question is now whether the Russians knew the real ideas or whether they just knew what was bad about them. Do you understand what I mean? I would like to know whether they knew these ideas as such, and if they did, whether they, in the 80’s, after Brezhnev’s death, when some reforms started to be considered, whether they were interested in them from the positive point of view?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: Look, I can’t tell you this, because I worked on a bulldozer and I didn’t follow the Soviet literature as I had no time for it. I would say: They didn’t pursue the Czechoslovak ideas, but they pursued rational ideas in order to put the economy in order, and the rational ideas were said 20 years before. You see, this is nothing new, nothing of discovery.
CTIBOR LATSINA: And when this Asmanis visited you in 1987, did you speak with him about what was happening in the Soviet Union then?
RUDOLF ZUKAL: I was swearing, you see, and he did not defend it much any more. He told me: “Look this is a question of power”, he spoke rather like a Latvian already, “I have problems with my dissertation, for being a Latvian …” You see, there already emerged the problems: Moscow is far away, I am a Latvian. So he had problems where to defend the dissertation of his. What it was like I don’t know, I didn’t care. I can’t tell you, really.
But I tell you again that many economic ideas in the Prague Spring were normal, rational ideas which were promoted: like the introduction of currency convertibility, like the elimination — I speak for myself — the elimination of the state monopoly in the foreign trade, to allow competition, to allow certain unemployment, to dismiss some slackers … But mainly what was pointed out was the unqualified interference of the Party bureaucracy.