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Dana Němcová (1934) - Biography

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I felt responsibility to my children. I did not want them to ask me one day: Mom, why did you let them do all this to you?

Dana Němcová (née Valtrová) was born in the north-Bohemian town of Most. In 1953 she went to Prague to study psychology at Charles University. While there, she met Jiří Němec, the future psychologist, philosopher and well-known Catholic intellectual. They married on July 2, 1955 and raised seven children. After a short period of relative liberty during the second half of the ‘60s, Czechoslovakia was occupied by the armies of the Warsaw Pact. In the summer of 1968, Dana and Jiří Němec loaded their children into a friend‘s Trabant and drove off to Austria to wait and see what would happen, whether "socially dangerous elements" would be arrested or not. As this was not the case, they soon returned home. The normalization period began - and Dana Němcová recollects: "In those times we looked for people who held similar views to ours. We wished to have someone to join up with, and we came upon the underground music culture. They were young, long-haired musicians who had given up on a professional career. The age difference was, surprisingly, of no matter. In those days, people were grouped more according to their opinions than their ages." When the Communist regime started criminalizing members of The Plastic People of the Universe and other underground musicians, and when they brought them to trial in 1976, Dana and Jiří Němec were among those garnering support for the accused from notable anti-regime figures of the Czech scientific community and of Czech culture. Support for the PPU de facto caused the founding of Charter 77, of which Jiří and Dana Němec were among the initiators and first signatories. This act had immediate consequences. State Security (Státní bezpečnost - StB) called Dana Němcová to her first questioning on her birthday, January 14, 1977. She refused to comply, and so the StB came to her house: "They tried to be persuasive, asked me to talk, seeing as I had children... I don‘t know what happened to me, because usually I try my best to get on with people, but I just couldn‘t take that silently. I shouted at them that I had signed the Charter precisely because I had children, and I banged the door so strongly that the plaster fell away." She subsequently lost her job (the same applied to Jiří Němec, who worked as a night-watchman from 1977 onwards) and was subject to house searches, repeated summons for interrogation and constant harassment. Nonetheless, one year after Charter 77, Dana Němcová, together with other Charter signatories, founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted (Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných - VONS), which documented cases of persecution and sent reports of them outside the country. In 1979, she was arrested and spent half a year in custody. In October, she was convicted of subversion of the state and placed on probation. Jiří Němec spent several months in prison in 1980; a few years later he went into exile. In January 1989, at the beginning of "Palach Week", Dana Němcová was arrested on her way to the St. Wenceslas Monument to lay flowers as the speaker of Charter 77. After the November revolution, she was for a short time a member of the Federal Parliament. She went on to head the Committee of Good Will (Výbor dobré vůle) of Olga Havlová and to work for the Counselling Centre for Refugees (Poradna pro uprchlíky). In 1990 she received the international Pax Christi Peace Award; eight years later she was given the presidential Medal of Merit (Za zásluhy), and in the year 2000 she received the Austrian Central European Prize (Mitteleuropapreis).

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