Report on the State of Czech Freedom 1989–2019

The teacher was left by his wife at the same time of the Velvet Revolution. He was free at least…

That was in 1989 and I had just been born. My parents even took a photo of me with the slip that said “I am voting for Václav Havel” and sent the picture to Prague Castle.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops that had been occupying the country, a large number of stray cats remained in the Milovice barracks. It seems the locals shot them dead.

“Our homeland is not flourishing.”

The match of the century at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1988 set the seal on the new course. In the final Czechoslovakia beat Russia 1-0. The only goal was scored by a player called Svoboda (“freedom”).

“There IS justice after all!”

Freedom burst forth everywhere, like the foam from champagne.

Two-thirds of those in prison were amnestied.

The first McDonald’s opened.

“Thank you for making it possible.”

But not everyone managed to get champagne. The economist Václav Klaus, Havel’s successor, ascribed this to the operation of the market’s invisible hand.

The teacher was incapable of breaking free of his wife’s invisible hand.

Unseen cats are prowling about the Milovice barracks.

At the end of his life Václav Havel made the film Leaving, in part the story of how he was replaced as president of the republic by Václav Klaus, and how painful for him to bear his earlier ideas had become. The climax of the film comes when Havel pops up from the depths of the pool in the garden and says to camera: “Thank you for switching off your mobiles. Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred. You may switch on your phones again.” Then he dives back down underwater, among the lilies.

“In 1989 freedom arrived. Let us rejoice” – pointed out one communist member of parliament.

After Havel’s death his name was registered as a trade mark. The licence to use it costs almost 30,000 Czech crowns.

Václav Klaus was followed as president by Miloš Zeman, freedom was followed by security, quintessentially Czech anti-Roma sentiment was followed by fear of refugees.

That was when I began to feel like an alien in my homeland. And went off on as many Erasmus scholarships as I could.

“We need a firm hand here!”

And nobody spoke of love.

A songwriter, who during the revolution sang that freedom was the most important thing of all, wrote a song in which he urged that Zeman should die. “I sing of whatever I want.”

The country’s most aggressive populist movement took the name Freedom and Direct Democracy.

The biggest protests since 1989 are taking place at this very moment. In the words of the student leader: “The revolution of the restrictive system took place all too rapidly. Society is still not – not even today – ready for freedom of thought.”

Yes, things will get better. For sure.

Virtually the whole of agriculture is in the prime minister’s hands, he bought up all the media with any influence, and as for his son, he has secreted him in Ukraine, in case he is called upon in court to give evidence against him about conflicts of interest. He was the first to flourish independently of his communist past and also achieved enormous success as a capitalist entrepreneur; he got into politics largely by taking up cudgels against the criminals at the time.

There is no transparency about the situation.

Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart is one of the greatest works of Czech literature. It was written by the Baroque polymath John Amos Comenius. The pilgrim goes forth into the world to find his place in it and to seek the meaning of life. Ultimately he finds it in the house of his heart, in God’s arms… so did one of the teachers tell the story.

The more of our world is taken from us, the more we shall be able to find inner freedom

“So there IS injustice after all!”

Comenius was forced into exile because he was a Protestant, his wife and children fell victim to the plague, and a considerable number of his manuscripts went up in smoke…

To be free in a world that is not free.

Perhaps the teacher knew all this, he just proved impossible to live with.

“Svoboda is God! Svoboda is God!”

So I went away.

The defender Svoboda also left his homeland, because he believed in ice hockey. He became a top player in the NHL, the American hockey league. And when he scored that winning goal in Nagano, he was the only one to decline to celebrate in Prague and immediately fly back overseas. The trainer even quipped that perhaps his Czech was no longer up to scratch…

Sorrow is my father, Loneliness my mother.

The chief obstacle standing in the way of my freedom is myself.


Translated by Peter Sherwood from the Hungarian translation by Erika Vályi Horváth, published within the Pestext Festival Fanzin, Autumn 2019.