Václav Trojan Interview, Prague Sept 1993
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
I was there for an HCA meeting. Trojan showed me his research lab at the university, where he was developing machines for translations to the blind.
Trojan: Some people would know from Central European Independent Press Agency — Peter Uhl. There were non-governmental contacts. I think Professor Frantisek Janouch and some other people had some semi-governmental contacts to Sakharov. He emigrated to Sweden and is the chief of the Charter 77 Foundation in Sweden. He started in Moscow and knew Professor Sakharov. I know that he was at least twice in Moscow and had some interviews with Sakharov. Call Václav Zuak can tell you more about that. He is a very close friend of mine. But if you ask whether Charter 77 had some contacts with people in Russia, yes there were some, but not many. Dissidents in Russia supported the idea of Charter 77 — not only dissidents but people whom Siklova calls the Gray Zone.
MS: I spoke with Dienstbier yesterday and he said we didn’t have direct contacts because people would go to jail, but we had intermediaries.
Trojan: Yes. I didn’t say that Charter was influenced by Russia. I don’t think so. But Charter was closed for a long time. There was some kind of solidarity of Charter people because of a common enemy. Afterwards Communism continued in a very conservative way while in Russia there was perestroika. And Charter began to dream that it was possible to reform the regime and the movement was not so well defined as before. I think one of the reasons of Charter was the Soviet invasion of 1968, and afterwards the Russians never expressed any direct opinion of the invasion because they knew it was very hard for them to issue. But in many aspects, as for example, Yakovlev at Izvestia.
MS: You are thinking of Yegor? There are two Yakovlevs. You mean the journalist.
Trojan: Yes. He was here, as far as I know. I think some people from Charter met with him. I’d say it was perhaps 1989, but I’m not sure. Going back, I think I signed a letter. We wanted, before the anniversary of the invasion, we wanted the SU to express that they had been mistaken. If they would do it, it would bring the immediate fall of the Stalinist government here. They did it just in some very fuzzy way, they didn’t express it directly. But I would like to mention another kind of contacts. For instance, Yevtushenko was in Prague in 1989 or 1988 and he was one who signed the letter protesting against Havel’s imprisonment. What is the name of the man who directed space research?
Trojan: Yes. Anyway Yevtushenko was here and I met with him in the corridor and tried to inform him what happened here. It is not true that there were no contacts. There were some contacts.
MS: But earlier: There must have been 20 people who had been here at Peace and Socialism became in the very core of perestroika. Obviously they had some discussions and formed a different point of view. I don’t think that Peace and Socialism itself was bold, but they got ideas from someplace. I understand they were influenced by Czech intellectuals but I don’t know who they were.
Trojan: I think they would have been people from the Gray Zone. I cannot name anyone, though. Sometimes university teachers who perhaps met people from the Soviet staff here but I don’t know about those contacts. Some of them went to Russia at times. I could name some very very — but I cannot say. It was perhaps at the level of the party.
MS: Were people in the dissident community aware of the variation within the CP? Were there people in the party who would privately express favor of Charter?
Trojan: I think 80% of the members of the party I met during the past twenty years, perhaps I don’t know some examples of people who wouldn’t privately sympathize with Charter. Almost all of them had been not identified with the regime, but of course there was a hard core of the party whom I never met — like Jakes, etc. They had a completely different kind of view. The best answer is that they took Charter very seriously. They perhaps even over-estimated it. They were afraid of Charter, they knew that Charter touched some sensitive point of the program and that Charter claimed nothing more than dialogue. It was no attempt to directly de-legitimize the regime. It was just calling for what they signed in Helsinki in 1976. They signed it as officials of the government and they understood that it was very difficult to answer this kind of question. They knew that Charter basically was true and most Communists in private conversations didn’t really identify with the the government. Perhaps there were some older people, but I don’t know old communists. They were influenced by the pre-communist time.
MS: Were you an academic the whole time?
Trojan: I worked in the research institute of computers for twenty years. I was not at the university. I signed charter. I was fully identified with the document.
MS: Most people who signed it lost their jobs.
Trojan: Yes it was very unusual. There were four or five chartists there where I worked and, all except Václav Benda, all of us remained in our jobs. He was excluded, but it was perhaps his decision. IN the institute of computers there were, I think, two basic reasons why we remained in the job. It was very unusual. We were perhaps indirectly supported by the Russians because they needed computer research. If we were excluded from the job it would be very difficult for the institute because all of us had been quite important for the research, and all other completely scientists were completely identified with us; they just didn’t sign it. We knew the distance between the Soviet research and the Western research — 7 or 10 years gap. Our work was just to re-work something that had already been done. We dreamt of being able to visit the real computer research, to participate in that. We were not allowed to travel. I think that in my institute, I don’t know anyone in the scientific side, from the party, who wouldn’t indirectly support us. When the people from the Russian Academy came, the group was headed by Akademician Shurabura. He was a Crimean Tatar. He was chief engineer of Riaf, the project of mainframe computers for Comecon. He was testing our computer. All the Chartists in the institute were strictly informed that we must not meet with him. We were jailed in our rooms and were not allowed to go to the room where Shurabura was meeting. Anyway, Shurabura himself, across the institute, called us and spoke with us completely privately and separately.
MS: What did you talk about?
Trojan: Computers and he didn’t say anything openly, but I think he somehow supported us that we should remain at the institute. It was a meeting with a bottle of wine and we discussed in a light way. He was interested, for example, in the history of the Vlasov people in Prague. Perhaps you know that at the end of the war, the Vlasov troops very much participated in the liberation of Prague. Their destiny is very tragic. They were almost all killed. The Vlasov army was people who escaped from the Red Army during the war to the German side. Vlasov was a person who understood that Stalin was even worse than Hitler and when he chose between the two evils he decided to go there and fight with Hitler against Stalin. He didn’t identify with Hitler but then he fought at the end of the war against both Hitler and Stalin and almost all of them were killed. The liberation of Prague was by the Vlasov people. They did it to join the US. Army, not to be caught by the Russians.
MS: When did Shurabura come?
Trojan: I think he was here twice, once before Gorbachev came in and once afterward. He was a very official person. I think some kind of contacts had been present, but basically we didn’t look to Russia for a long time. At the end, some of them were seeking some kind of chance in perestroika, but basically nobody really (among the people I know) was dreaming of the possibility of reform. Charter people didn’t believe in that. There were some people and perhaps they can tell you much more about contacts to Russia. One of them — I can’t remember his name. It was a group of reform communists from 1968 — Obroda. Obroda. There were many people in it, like — the chief was Milosz Hajek and I think there was Tissage(sp?). They were people from the reform wing of the CP of 1968. Almost all of them had been excluded from the CP and many of them had lost their job. Some of them may have had contacts with Russians. But your question— about officials — I don’t know. I had a feeling that the Soviet embassy was very conservative. I wouldn’t trust —
MS: Do you know anyone who worked at Problems of Peace and Socialism and who still lives in Prague?
Trojan: I could try to find some information for you in the future.
MS: That journal seems to have had a low profile here in Prague.
Trojan: It was the center of the KGB. That is why most people hesitated to be in contact with them.
He walks with me to the street to buy cigarettes and we pass the place where supposedly someone was killed during the demonstrations of 1989. He recalls it, speculating on whether the Russians organized the velvet revolution. He mentions that he had seen the “body” covered in the street, and it was supposed to be a student named Martin Šmíd, and that death is what brought out a huge protest that triggered the rest of the revolution. But then they formed a group to conduct an inquiry about the deaths (there were no deaths, so far as he knows, though certainly the police bloodied lots of students) and the investigation established that Martin Šmíd was not killed. The “body” was that of a secret police agent whose name is known, who evidently pretended to be killed. As soon as they had established that much, the investigative group stopped the inquiry. It was not an official group but some citizens.
Trojan: It was the police who made the student demonstration come here. It was very strange. I am emphasizing that I do not want to say that the present government was somehow connected to it, but it should be explained. We had an interest to do it because it was quite clear that afterwards there would be some new demonstration. They had allowed one demonstration before, in 1988. And then in January (1989???) in Wenceslas Square it was I think even worse than here.
MS: Who was the secret police agent?
Trojan: It was not any kind of boss.
MS: The committee found that much out and then disbanded without pursuing the matter? I had heard a rumor from Stanislav Holec a long time ago that there was supposed to be contact between CIA and the KGB.
Trojan: Yes. There was contact between Gorbachev and Reagan at that time. I cannot imagine that such people as Arbatov — but it is a construction, I cannot say.
MS: You connect this with the lustration policy.
Trojan: The anti-communist policy has two policies — political law. It is not really legal law. If it is legal they must investigate the guilt of individual people. But as a political law it is channeling public opinion.
MS: Maybe away from where it should be?
Trojan: Perhaps. It is hard to say how much is psychological. As to the result, I don’t know whether it is intentional or not, but as a result of that, no procedures have been started because it is not the goal to investigate individual cases. So it is keeping the very important procedure for any legal way of doing that. You cannot just say that a member of the CP is guilty of everything that happened here.