Dagmar Helšusová

* 1950  

  • “We had, in fact, been living among people who were not living 'normalised' lives. And that was an offense. A serious one. Our children had a hard time at school. As I would never forget that as there was this parents´ evening, our little Terezka was maybe in second grade back then, the teacher would tell me that I had to 'search Terezka´s schoolbag' as she found this mouldy snack in it. And I would tell her: 'And you searched our Terezka´s bag?' And she would say: 'Of course I did, as she had this moul...”, and I would say: 'We don´t do that at home... We don´t search each other´s pockets, or handbags, or any private things...' 'But you are her mother...'! But she would probably throw the snack away, all I could do was to tell her, 'Search your bag,' but that was her private space. So they would think I was this terrible mother, even all those mothers around me, some weird chick that would leave a mouldy snack in her child´s schoolbag. And our Lenka, well, we were afraid, as she didn´t have this confidence, she wasn´t self assured; and she had long hair and in the fifth or sixth grade she had her hair cut and leave just this long ponytail. And she came home crying, saying that the deputy head teacher told her she had to cut her hair, that she couldn´t go to school looking like that. And that her mother should come to school. And as I had this long hair back then, I would ask a friend, who would cut my hair and make me this long ponytail. And I went to ask the deputy head teacher as to why there was a problem with my daughter´s hairdo. So the kids indeed had a hard time at school.”

  • “We would see this quite exciting day, the Christmas Eve of 1989. As this police captain would seek me out, I think his name was Malina, and tell me there was this prison riot and the inmates were demanding to speak with the Civic Forum representatives. And he knew my telephone number, probably from my old Secret Police file, so he called me. On the Christmas Eve, as I was wrestling with a carp, so I started looking for someone who would be willing to accompany me. So I asked Honza Šolce, who agreed, and Láďa, Miroslav, Šafka. So on the Christmas Eve we went to prison. And that was quite scary because as we were getting near, there would be those bedsheets hanging from the windows and all the inmates were pushing themselves beyond the bars. And as they saw the car was coming, they would all begin to roar: 'They are coming! They are...', so it was like a thunder. Ten we saw the guards, the boys were sweaty with fear, as they had never seen anything like that. And Honza Šolc would say: 'Well you can´t go there with us! Go home, try to maintain peace, call our wives, we will call you so you could come to pick us up.' So I would just leave them in that prison. I had bad feeling about it, as I would never forget the moment when we would get out of the car, as it would get to you, as the whole prison went roaring: 'Here we are now!' Quite an absurd situation. Václav Havel could use it in one of his plays. So I would leave them and I would be afraid for them through the whole evening. I had been telling myself that hopefully they would be able to get out of there. And they did, they managed to do that, they would come home late in the evening, but obviously it wasn´t a pleasant experience.”

  • “On November 18th, this play by Hrabal had to be played in the Small Theatre in Liberec (Malé divadlo Liberec), 'I served the king of England', in which my husband had a role. And Petr Palouš would be the director. So I wanted to go there with my daughters, but there would be this phone call from my husband, he would tell me not to go there as something was going on. And for me, it was like he would tell me, 'you have to come immediately'. So I would tell the kids that there woud be no play tonight, so they should just stay at home, and I would go to the theatre. And Petr Palouš would give a speech, and as he had those first statements made by Praha´s theatres, he would read them. In fact, Šalda theatre had been the first to join the theatres in Praha, so the actors and the whole staff, everyone would just stand there on the scene prepared for the play to begin, stating that they won´t play tonight. And that Petr could discuss that with the audience. And I saw how fast the people would get up, they wouldn´t protest or anything, they would just get out real quick. And felt quite sorry for them as there were people among them I respected, but I could understand they were afraid, given their status and profession. So they would just run away from the theatre. And maybe eight people would stay, the ones I would never forget, as Dr Hrom, Mr Vašek and others. But the history would sweep all over us in the end. As I let me add just one more thing. They would contact me, these people, stating that they have been working on something, and they told me they have already spoken with this actor from the Šalda Theatre, I wouldn´t say his name, who would tell them how people would stand up in excitement and applaud, but that wasn´t the truth at all, the people were scared and they would remain scared for quite a long time. They would just run away, they wouldn´t stand up at all, and I think that we shouldn´t forget that, and we shouldn´t glamorize things that were happening back then.”

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    Liberec, 20.09.2019

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In November 1989, everyone was afraid

Dagmar Helšusová née Gregorová was born on December 1st of 1950 in Kamenický Šenov. After she started her studies at the University of textile and engineering in Liberec in 1970, she had been allowed to go on a study visit to West Berlin. During her studies, she tried to get involved in organising the cultural and social life at school. However, she couldn´t handle the atmosphere of the ‚normalised‘ university and eventually she would drop out. At that time, she had been living with Zdeněk Sýkora, a famous Czech painter. Later, she would marry Václav Helšuš, an actor, with whom she would raise two daughters. During the period of ‚normalisation‘, the pair befriended people involved in the dissident movement. Because of that, Václav Helšuš´ acting career had suffered and the family had been under Secret police surveillance. In November and December of 1989, Dagmar Helšusová participated on the revolution and co-founded the Civic Forum (Občanské Fórum) organisation in Liberec. She had been helping to organise discussions at the local theatre and to spread the news to schools and factories. After 1990, she got involved in local politics and was elected as a representative of the Civic Forum (Občanské Fórum), the Civic Democratic Party (Svobodní demokraté) and later for the Party for the Open Society (Strana pro otevřenou společnost). She dedicated her life to librarianship. She founded the Young Reader Festival (Festival dětského čtenářství), later known as Children´s book fair (Veletrh dětské knihy).