Tomáš Hradílek

* 1945

  • “In the night hours of that January 1, I was getting ready to depart to Prague where I was supposed to meet my colleagues, Dana Němcová, Saša Vondra and other people. Shortly before midnight, someone rang my doorbell and there was a crowd of maybe fifteen, twenty young people from Lipník standing in front of the stairwell. They came to congratulate me in becoming the spokesman of the Charter 77. They wished me success. This was absolutely unexpected and amazing for me. These people were mostly high school or university students and the girl who organized this is one of the people I will remember for the rest of my life. It was very courageous of her to undertake something like this. It touched me very much and it filled me with new strength and vigor for all of the coming year.”

  • “It occurred to me that if Husák kept placing himself in the position of the guarantor of the perestroika in Czechoslovakia, it was necessary to tell him straight up that this was just absurd, seeing that he had been a representative of the normalisation throughout the whole period. It was just high time that someone told him he should pack up his things and get out of the Castle [Prague Castle, the seat of the president - trans.]. So I and three other people, one of whom happened to be my wife, wrote an open letter in which we asked him in a cultivated way to end his activities as president, to abdicate as the head of state. We reminded him that although he could punish us, he himself had made a similar request to President Novotný to relinquish his function, and there had been no sanctions from that either. And that if, besides resigning as the head of state, he also retired from all his other state and Party functions, we would wish him much health and many happy years of life.”

  • “And although it was the normalisation, there was no electoral duty as such. But God forbid if someone didn’t cast their vote. And so my wife and I decided to take this major step. Because we still voted in 1971, although we went behind the screen and crossed everything out [people were expected to vote publicly and voting behind the screen could bring about persecution - trans.]. But that wasn’t a major step. But in 1976 we wanted to give our little town some introspection and to say that when you don’t like something, show it, at least by not participating in elections that you consider a joke. And so, truly, in autumn 1976 we didn’t go to the polls for the federal, regional, and district municipal elections. Acting on the principle of ‘If Mohammed cannot go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed’, those poor sods from the election committee, who wanted to have a one-hundred-percent voter turnout, decided that they’d bring the voting urn right up to our house...”

  • “And, for example, things went so far in the late eighties that when my daughter had my first grandson and they lived with us, about three times she travelled to the gatehouse of the sawmill with her little baby in the pram, and as I came up to stamp my time card, she thrust the baby into my arms. She ran off, and State Security couldn’t seize me any more, they didn’t dare, in case something happened to the child. And in this way I walked those two kilometres home, they went with me, provoking and insulting me so I’d commit some offence and they could arrest me. But I really did succeed in getting home like that with my grandson, so I didn’t have to spend time in the cell.”

  • “I must admit that when we met up and went to the place we’d chosen, which was close to the main stand, my feet never felt as heavy as during those few dozen metres it took to reach the spot. We knew that people would pass by us first before reaching [the stand]. But when we stopped and unfurled the banner, it was like a wave of bliss. Everything was okay now, we knew that no matter what happened next, we’d unfurled the banner, and now we just had to wait and see what the consequences would be. We were both sufficiently trained for that, that was just a marginal issue. But those steps leading up to the unfurling, those I will never forget.”

  • “One time when I wanted to attend the trial with Michal Mrtvý from Olomouc, State Security attempted to stop me from leaving Lipník. I wanted to go by train, that was round about 1988, and a uniformed SNB [National Security Corps, the police - trans.] officer came to pick me up at the Lipník station. The stetsecs [State Security officers - trans.] didn’t dare lose their cover, although they accompanied me while I was still in the bus. The SNB officer told me I had to go with him, and I refused, saying I couldn’t see any reason for doing so, that I had been given a day off and I had the right to make my own arrangements. He started pressuring me that I had to and threatening me. So I said: ‘Look. If I have to, I have to. But I won’t exert myself to any degree in that sense. Do what you want with me.’ I laid myself spread-eagle right there on the floor of the Lipník station.”

  • “Workers protested en masse against the Charter, against losers and self-promoters, without actually having read any text. That really was an almost demonstrative matter. I just didn’t like that, and so I wrote to the editors of Nové Přerovsko, which was the weekly of the Přerov District at the time, that I had become a Charter signee and that I thus declare my approval of the base proclamation. That unlike those who were protesting against it, without actually knowing what they were actually protesting against, I had full insight into the matter, and I considered it my civic duty, my right, to be involved in such a way in the Czechoslovak Republic.”

  • “Once I was travelling to attend a court hearing. I think that it was with Mr. Augustín Navrátil. I don’t really remember if it was the trial with Navrátil. They had no interest in letting me attend the trial. I was on holiday and they carefully watched every step I made. They wanted to pick me up right away at the train station. I took the local bus to the train station where a policeman approached me. He told me to come with him. ‘Why?’, I replied. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I go with you? I’m on holiday now and can do whatever I want’. He told me not to put up any resistance. I said that I wouldn’t resist him but that I wouldn’t cooperate at the same time. Then I laid down on the ground in the waiting room that was crowded with people. They didn’t really know what they should do with me. Finally, the secret police agents that intermingled with the crowd had to step out and they had to carefully carry me out to their car. While they were carrying me, one of them said: ‘be careful not to hurt him, or it will appear on the Free Europe broadcasting the next day’. But this was in the closing years, it was different by then already.”

  • “That period was extremely thought-provoking for me and my friends. I had excellent study results so me and a friend of mine got an offer to become candidates for the Communist party. We both came from family backgrounds where anticommunism wasn’t the predominant pattern. You could also say that we were both very inexperienced and didn’t have enough information. On the other hand, we were both full of romantic notions of working within the system, making sure that the system progresses from within. We thought that it was our civil obligation to help it. This was the decisive factor for me in becoming a candidate of the Communist party in 1964 and then a member of the party in 1966. From hindsight and based on the information that I learned later on, I have to state that it was a mistake. But on the other hand, I’m openly saying that it is not a mistake that I regret in any way. Because for me, the time I spent in the party was extremely useful for me. It was a time of academic and ideological conflicts between the conservative and the progressive wing of the party and I was actively taking part in all those debates and discussions. It was a time when I basically learned my first lessons in civil engagement and when I acquired civil courage and determination. I learned these things in the Communist party and the Union of the Czechoslovak Youth where I was coincidentally engaged as well.”

  • “By coincidence, it was the idea of Ruda Berez. He proposed that we walk in the First May Parade with a banner. He suggested the inscription ‘We salute the Soviet perestroika’ or something of the sort. I have to say that at first I was afraid. But then I thought why not. But it should not be some reference to the developments in the Soviet Union, but a message to our fellow citizens, to the fellow people. That’s how we came up with the message: ‘the Charter 77 calls for civil courage’. Just a couple of words. And with this banner, we went to the First May Parade in Olomouc, just a dozen or so meters away from the main stage. We stood on the sidewalk, unrolled our banner, and the parading crows walked right along our banner. All of them read it. We managed to hold it up for at least twenty minutes. Then, of course, the police came and arrested us. We were put into confinement for 48 hours and investigated. But then they let us go. I think they realized that we were the same people who had called upon the president to resign. That was a very positive sign. It meant that we were allowed to do this kind of stuff from now on. A couple of years before, they would have put us in prison for several years for the same offence. But now, nothing happened to us. This was a sort of an initial impulse for the broader public.”

  • “In 1976, we decided with my wife that we couldn’t ignore any longer what was happening in the country and wait for things to change. The first step we made was to ignore the elections. We simply wouldn’t vote. In a small town like the one we lived in, that was a colossal problem. They even came to us with the ballot box. We said no and made them leave our flat. The guy who came to our apartment was our friend. It was a major affair. He warned me that I was moving on the edge and that he could no longer protect me from harm. But anyway, as soon as I had learned about the Charter 77, I immediately decided to sign it. I signed it in January 1977.”

  • “Sometimes, they would follow me on my way from work and on my way from work to home and from my home to work. Funny situations took place when they followed me even on walks with my wife and kids. When they supervised our house on the weekends, the house was basically surrounded by them. They had their stand posts in the Jewish cemetery where they slept over night. A car permanently stood in front of our house. There was a block of flats under construction next door and they had their office in a small cabin on the construction site. They watched us directly from the apartment building across the street. They would even light the yard if they needed to. I was astonished what they were ready and willing to do. Most marvelous of all was when we managed to escape their watch. This happened once or twice. For instance when we wanted to honor the memory of Jan Zajíc and they wouldn’t let me go. Even though there was a whole bunch of them here, we managed to escape the encirclement during the night. All of a sudden they were called from Vítkov and told that they could go home because I was in Vítkov and not at home.”

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Celé nahrávky jsou k dispozici pouze pro přihlášené uživatele.

Like a snail that knows how to crawl on the edge of a razor blade.

Tomáš Hradílek in the 1980s
Tomáš Hradílek in the 1980s
zdroj: archiv pamětníka

Ing. Tomáš Hradílek was born in 1945 in Lipník nad Bečvou. The turning point in his life came in the 1960s, when he was studying at the University of Agriculture in Brno. In 1966, he joined the Communist party and became affiliated with its reformist wing. In 1969, after the invasion of the armies of the Warsaw Pact into Czechoslovakia, he left the party. In 1977, while listening to the „Voice of America“ broadcasting, he learned about the Charter 77 and immediately went to Prague to sign it. This cost him his job in the JZD (jednotné zemědělské družstvo - Agricultural Production Comradeship) in Týn and he became a sawmill worker. He was also involved in the activities of the Charter movement and became a member of the association of spokesmen of the region of northern Moravia in the 1980s. That‘s how he was targeted by the secret police. They installed a bugging device in his house and he was arrested several times. He co-authored an important document called „A Word To Our Fellow Citizens“. This document was supposed to mobilize the people to act against the totalitarian regime. In order to inspire his fellow citizens, he acted as a role model and took part in a number of very risky undertakings. Together with Rudolf Březina, he co-authored an open letter calling for the resignation of Gustáv Husák. They also filed a criminal charge for high treason against Vasil Biľak. Last, but not least, they came to the First May Parade in Olomouc with a banner saying „The Charter 77 calls for civil courage“. All these actions received coverage by western media agencies and were broadcasted to the West. In January 1989, Mr. Hradílek became the spokesman of the Charter 77 and further intensified his activities against the regime. He became the co-founder of the Movement for a civil society and the Society of the friends of the United States of America. After the student demonstrations on the Národní třída (the National Avenue in Prague) in November 1989, he co-founded the political platform „Občanské fórum“ (Civic Forum) in Olomouc and in Prague and became one of the leading figures of the revolutionary days in problem-ridden Ostrava. In December 1989, he was among the first twenty deputies that were co-opted to the Federal Assembly and he became one of the deputies who elected Václav Havel for president on December 29, 1989. In June 1990, he became the minister of the interior but he resigned after just five months in service for physical exhaustion. He continued to be a member of the federal parliament till 1992. Today, he is in retirement and fully indulges in his life-long hobby, breeding aquarium fish.