INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR EDUARD GOLDSTUCKER
INTERVIEWER: Right, Professor Eduard Golsdstucker, can you please tell me first of all how much influence did the Soviet thaw and the de-sterilisation process have on Czechoslovakia?
PROFESSOR EDUARD GOLDSTUCKER: Well, it had of course an immediate effect, but it was hidden from the eyes of the public. That means as soon as , after his historic speech, '56, started very discreetly releasing political prisoners from Siberia and God knows where from, here well the necessity was realised in the leadership that something of that sort must come here as well, but they were very hesitant because they were the last to perpetrate this horrible drives of executing innocent people for trumped up charges and they tried to minimise the necessity and to put it off as long as possible. So they started speculating various versions. They said yes, Swanski [?] was hanged by rights, he was a criminal, he started the whole fatal mill which caught him up and so on and everything remains as it did. But they started discreetly releasing people. I was one of the first. By 1955, before the twentieth congress in Moscow, in nineteen fifty five, at Christmas, I was released and rehabilitated. The same supreme court which two and a half years before sentenced me to life imprisonment and almost had me hanged, came to the conclusion at Christmas '55 that the indictment against me was illegal and as I did not perpetrate any punishable offence, I should be released immediately and that was my rehabilitation. That was Christmas '55. Two months later, the twentieth congress came. In Czechoslovakia it did not generate pressure strong enough to change the policy of the party leadership, because the country had well comparatively very good standard of living, the best of those people's democracies as they were then, and the leadership succeeded in suppressing any movement of... demanding change of policy. There were demands of immediately calling an extraordinary party congress, but that was suppressed. The first public voice against the lack of liberty came from conference of writers in April '56 with Seifert and Harubin deploring the lack of freedom in this country, but it was immediately suppressed on the spot, because one of the participants of that congress of writers was the writer who was president Zapototski and his Minister of Information was present and they immediately suppressed that and they eliminated Seifert from public life until '68, when I brought him back, I'll tell you how, and we started development in this country which went against the direction of the development of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union tried as much as they could to de-Stalinist society and we maintained our leadership, maintained the Stalinist grip, because a) there was no pressure in the country against them and b) they felt very vulnerable, because they committed a collective crime, a horrible series of collective crimes, which were very recent in time. The last execution of a political prisoner on trumped up charges took place in July '54.
INT: So then what were then the main causes of pressure when they did begin to shift in the direction of the form what were the main causes...?
EG: You see the main causes, the main cause of pressure...
INT: Shall we start the answer again.
EG: The main cause of pressure was the lack of freedom, unnecessary for this country. This was a country which still did not forget it's free democratic past of the period of 1918, 1938. It was the most democratic country in central Europe and it was the most Westernised country, that is why the repression when it began was so brutal here, more brutal than any where else. And the pressure was that came out of the realisation that that system in this country could very well exist with a far greater amount of freedom, of democratic freedom, democratic life and the pressure went in that direction. We are a well developed country, in your Soviet empire the most developed, and we want to live according to that level of our development. And our intellectuals prepared already various sketches, various plans for later democratic freedom in this country and they prepared the plan of an economic reform but the party leadership didn't want to listen to any thing of that until the economy collapsed. The new five year plan which was installed from the first of January '60, I think, in 1961 collapsed in that sense that a country produced a miners' general produce and only then was the leadership willing to listen to voices demanding a sort of economic reform. They adopted the idea, but they watered down any actual economic reform so that nothing came of it. The problem was decentralise the economic management from centre to I don't know, to great enterprises and so on and so on, but the leadership did not want to get rid of any particle of their power, so they water it down and it became clear that without a thorough democratisation of the whole system, you cannot have an economic reform and that was the link between the intellectuals and the free intellectuals and the economists, lets say.
INT: So why then did things move so quickly once Novotny was removed? What was there in...?
EG: Oh, before Novotny was removed it was a long history, you know. That was... it was history from '56 or '57, he was elected... re-elected until '68. That was a long story, long history. The realisation that Novotny should be removed from the highest position in the party ripened only in about the middle of '67, and then there was half a year of interrupted meetings of Central Committee debating this. And Novotny well, taking resort to all the possible tricks he thought he had.
INT: Well to be more specific then, the writers' congress that took place in '67 what at that stage did you think was possible and what at the stage were you asking for?
EG: Oh, at that stage we were already our way, so to speak. You see from '56 when the twentieth congress and Khrushchev's speech and so on, a movement started, all those presidents and so on, but at the it could not be suppressed any longer, because the de-Stalinisaton movement in the Soviet Union created an uncertainty in the minds of our rulers here, as everywhere else in that empire, uncertainty in that respect that they were very anxious not to use repressive powers so freely as they did before, that was a restriction on them and although they went on with their Stalinist position for a very long time, they retarded de-Stalinisation in this country for at last seven years, because only in the spring of '63, they put before the Central Committee of the party the case of the political trials of the fifties. There the Stalinist repression or the Stalinist conservatism was burst really. You must know that from '56 the direction of the Czechoslovak development, political development went in an opposite direction compared to Soviet Union. There you had de-Stalinisation, as it was. We know it was not radical enough by far, but still it went on step by step, while here, our leadership maintained as much as possible its Stalinist position, you mentioned the writers congress in 1967, but there was one in between in 1963, and I took part in both of them and in 1963, the writers were so desperate about the censorship - I'll explain why - that they demanded the introduction of legal censorship, I think it for the first time in literature history altogether, and they demanded the introduction of legal censorship because until then, censorship formally did not exist. It had no legal rights to exist, because censorship was introduced as a secret department of the police, working on direct instructions from the Party Secretariat, not on the base of any law or any parliamentary decision, but directions from the Secretariat which came every day. Today you must so on so on so on. And as it was illegal, it was inapreprehensable, the writers could not get to grips with it so to speak, it couldn't be found. So writers demanded the introduction of legal censorship because they hoped that that would be bound by certain legal prescriptioand would be responsible for its... wewhatever it would do to suppress literature. And censorship was introduced in 1966, but again there was a very, well, presentable law of censorship, but in the reality again, the censors were instructed to work on the basis of party instructions and the censorship was even worse than before. By 1967, that congress, you mentioned, debated the problem of censorship as one of the main problems on the programme. I made a little speech against the censorship and when the speeches had to be published, so those who spoke against the censorship were asked to change their speeches for the publication. So we refused that and our speeches were published only in '68. But the problem is why literature acquired such an importance. You see, because in those years, from '56 and especially from let's say '63, the writers began to play a very important role in society, as, well, the most listened to part of that society, because in a totalitarian regime, a writer can become a very important political phenomenon, because in such a system every word which differs from what is prescribed is very conspicuous. In a democratic society, the writers utter various views and nobody takes much notice, or there are so many views that they create a, well, what, a consensus or anything, but in the totalitarian system, when you use a word which differs from what the government or the power expects you to utter, then the audience, the listener the writer, the readers, immediately take it up as something, as an event. So in 1968, already from the fifties on, the most influential written journal in this country was the weekly of the writers' union Literali Novyni and in 1968
INT: So the writers... the '67 writers' congress.
EG: '67, well it was taken up with the censorship because it proved to be even worse than the illegal one, and secondly there it came to an outburst of criticism, because by that time things were far enough to enable the writers to speak out very clearly and they did...