Jiří Drahoš

* 1949  

  • “I had been living with my family, or with my wife who was pregnant at that time, in Jižní Město district. I had been summoned to the police station due to my driving license. 'Don't forget your driving licence.' So I got my driving licence and I went to this two-story building with a supermarket where the Public Security station was. And there was this obese policeman whom I produced the summons. He was surprised, stating that I was at the wrong place, as far as the driving license was concerned.' Then this young plain-cloth man shouted from above. He stated that I was there to see him. So I went to the first floor and this man, about my age, started telling me that I was a promising young scientist and that one day I would travel abroad for sure, and that even now, I was attending conferences where scientists from abroad had been speaking, and that they would just like to know their opinion about this country – just to make things better, of course. So I was on alert, as I wasn't so naive back then, and I thought: 'Well, here it comes.' I knew with whom I had been dealing with, as I had read books from Index publishers and Toronto 68, 'Night frost in Prague ' (Mráz přichází z Kremlu) and other publications. And the man didn't seem like introducing himself. So I explained him that I didn't feel fit for such a duty. Well, I just got myself out of it.”

  • “There was this free-thinking atmosphere in Hála's department, so we spoke quite freely all the time. And berating the Communist regime was a common thing to do. Not that we would be yelling such things all around the Institute, but we spoke quite openly in our circle. One felt that he had been living in a quite distinctive environment. We were in this kind of a bubble. And I had this colleague of mine, Karel Hlavatý, an excellent quantum chemist and a great man. And he also spoke quite openly. And the trade unions at the Institute used to organise this event, the union member's steamship cruise. We would go on a steamship to Modřany where the ship would drop anchor and there would be bonfire, we would grill some sausages and we would sail back. Such event happened every year. It was organised by the trade unions, by the ROH. So in the 70s, during the normalization, such a steamship sailed out and our whole department was aboard. We would grill sausages and Karel, under the influence of some wine, forgot that he was no longer in his inner circle. He went into an argument with this young comrade and to put him in his place, he shouted: 'So enter this fire and prove that the ideals of Communism can never be incinerated!' And we all would laugh, even this young comrade who didn't take it seriously. And then we sailed back. And after few days, State Security men showed up at the Academy and they started to investigate what exactly did comrade Karel Hlavatý say. Later, we found out that the young comrade didn't report him, it was someone else who overheard him. So he would turn him in. The State Security swarmed our office. We had to write some kind of a statement. I told them that I was entertaining my future wife and I didn't hear the argument as it wasn't louder than the cracking of the fire. More or less, we all stated that we didn't hear a thing. I didn't know what the others said, but the result was that Karel Hlavatý had been fired from the Institute.”

  • “After that, we were just waiting how it would develop. We knew that Jan Palach was in hospital. And there was just this rumour among the people, why he had done that – as a protest against the occupation and against the whole political situation. Of course, there were people who were shaking their heads, saying, 'what's got into him, for God's sake'. But we kept hoping that he would recover. Then there were hardcore Communist with their opinions. One of them even insisted that the whole incident had been orchestrated by the western capitalists who supposedly told Palach that they would provide him with the so-called 'painless fire'. That he would lit himself up and wouldn't feel a thing. As we were chemists, we knew that such an idea was completely twisted, yet it showed what kind of nonsense the Communists were willing to come up with. We kept hoping that Jan Palach would survive, but in the end he didn't, unfortunately. I was at Jan Palach's funeral – this large gathering in front of the Faculty of Arts, at today's Palach's Square. We went from the Wenceslas Square to the Faculty of Arts. It was a big demonstration. And those reform Communists had been thinking for a while that maybe there was still something to be done, but the determination of the people waned as fast as the torch went up in flames. Which was just awful, but that's how it was.”

  • “We kept telling ourselves that it just couldn't be like this. I had already mentioned my uncle, the skeptic, who kept saying: 'Wherever a Russian would come, he would never leave.' And I just looked at him and said: 'Come on, what do you know after all?' But he was a man who lived through the Second World War. As we kept thinking, at university, at the campus, that the Americans would step forward, that they just couldn't abandon us. We were still hoping that something would happen, so we would protest, we would occupy the UCT. We were protesting, we were even sleeping in the school, all those artists came to support us. Hutka, Marta Kubišová and many others. As they were visiting universities to support the students. But in the end, nothing came out of it, unfortunately.”

  • “I was at my patents' house in Jablunkov during the summer. My uncle Janek was quite a skeptic, he would be telling us about the talks with the Soviets, in Čierna pri Čope, as it was obvious that they were putting pressure on Dubček and all our politicians. So we had a bad feeling about it. After that, there were rumours that Soviet troops were gathering, but we didn't believe it. We thought that those were just stories people would make up. So imagine how surprised we were in the morning of August 21st. We were still in bed when my mother came running from the nursery, urging us to turn on the radio. So we turned it on and we learned that we were invaded by the occupation forces, the so-called allied forces back then, so they could protect us. So on the same day, me and my friends we went to the streets of Jablunkov, turning over direction signs and signposts, writing 'Иван, иди домой'. And there was this commotion in all the cities across the country. So I didn't get to Prague until September when I entered the second year at the university.”

  • “How did you perceive the Prague spring while studying in Prague (Praha)? What was your experience of it?” - “It was quite emotional. Novotný stepped down, there was Dubček, I could still remember that fantastic May 1st of 1968 in Prague, in Na příkopech street, there was this platform from which they spoke. And they were no longer being perceived as those typical apparatchiks, even though they were all Communist party members. Still, we understood that there was this opportunity, that things could change. And there was this mood among the people which was just beautiful. There were magazines like Reportér, you could bring Svědectví magazine published by Tigrid from abroad without being persecuted, thought it was still officially banned. There were great expectations and it seemed that socialism with human face had a chance. But later, it turned out not to be the case.”

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Democracy and freedom are not granted automatically, they are worth fighting for

Jiří Drahoš in 2018
Jiří Drahoš in 2018
zdroj: Post Bellum

Jiří Drahoš was born on February 20th 1949 in Jablunkov to a family of Jiří Drahoš Sr, a teacher born in Proseč near Skuteč, who in 1945, after the war had ended, left for Jablunkov in the Silesian borderlands to teach at a local school. There he married a local woman, Anna Klusová, who had been a nurse. Jiří has one brother, Josef. He spent his childhood and youth in Jablunkov, but he also had been profoundly influenced by his grandparents, as he spent summer holidays with them in Proseč in Vysočina region. His grandfather, Josef Drahoš, was a smoking pipe manufacturer; after the Communist coup in 1948 and nationalization of private enterprises, he refused to join the co-op. After being framed by a former Nazi informer who planted a gun on him and denounced him, he was arrested with his wife and imprisoned in Ilava from 1955 to 1957. His wife received a postponed sentence. Jiří graduated from secondary school in Jablunkov in 1967 and was admitted to the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague (Praha). He had chosen to study physical chemistry as a field of study as it was considered difficult and exclusive. In Prague, he witnessed the Prague Spring of 1968 filled with euphoria and saw the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968 in Jablunkov. In the fall of 1968, he participated in protests and also in the strike during which students occupied university buildings. In 1969, he was deeply moved by the self-immolation of Jan Palach‘s, whose funeral he had attended. During his fifth year at the university, in 1972, he met his future wife, Eva Choděrová, a librarian at the Academy of Sciences born in Vysočina. In 1973, he joined a physical chemistry group at the Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Suchdol, led by Eduard Hála, a non-Party member, who created a free-thinking atmosphere in his department. In 1977, Jíří defended his thesis „Rovnováha kapalina-pára za vyšších tlaků. Generalizovaná metoda výpočtu” and got a Candidate of Sciences (Csc.) degree. In the same year, he won the ČSAV (Czech Academy of Sciences) prize. Since 1978, he had been working as a researcher at the chemical reactor department, in a group dealing with modeling and control of chemical-engineering processes. In 1979, he had been invited to become a State Security informer, yet he had declined the offer without hesitation. From 1985 to 1986, he was a Humboldt foundation scholar at the University of Hanover in the Federal Republic of Germany. In January 1989, he joined protests in Prague‘s centre during the so-called ‚Palach week‘ and witnessed the events of November 17th 1989 with a Canticorum iubilo choir with whom he performed at a festival in Jihlava. After that, he founded a Civic Forum (Občanské Fórum) branch at work, had been elected a trade union chairman and had been promoting the Civic Forum‘s revolutionary ideas during the management meetings. From 1992 to 1994, he was the deputy director at the Institute of Chemical Process Fundamentals, from 1995 to 2003, he had been serving as its director. After that, he was the deputy research director at the Institute till August 2005. Since 1994, he was an associate professor in chemical engineering at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, getting a DrSc. degree in 1999. Since 2003, he has been professor in chemical engineering. From 2009 to 2019, he was the president of the Czech Academy of Sciences. He was a candidate for presidency in the Czech election of 2017. He qualified for the second round held in January 2018 with Miloš Zeman, his opponent, losing by a narrow margin of 2.5 percent of votes. In October 2018, he won the Senate election in Prague‘s Fourth District (Praha 4). He brought up two daughters with his wife, Eva Drahošová.