Tomáš Kábrt

* 1965

  • "Then suddenly the police maneuvers started and I, who was instinctively standing at the entrance door to possibly give a warning... They suddenly burst in there and the person who was in charge was probably misinformed. He grabbed my shoulder and said, 'Hey…' He was so excited. 'You show me which one is the Kábrt, and I'll let you go.' I was in a good mood, I said: 'He went behind that curtain over there.' - 'Thanks.' And they went. And I could leave. I took someone else into the car and we drove off. I left it there to its fate. Then everyone wondered that they had spent the night being interrogated and where were you? I laughed that I was at home. 'Everybody kept asking about you.' I say, 'They let me go.' Then they suspected me of being an informer. That was the reverse side of that conspiracy. As Adam Michnik said, conspiracy is demoralizing. One always looks at others with suspicion.'

  • "It was the same with the eavesdropping. I had a studio where people used to hang out, and they probably installed a bug in there around the time I was arrested. Next door at the school they set up a room for the eavesdropping. But the janitor from that school was a friend of mine, so he told me right away. That was the situation of those peers, we were connected. We grew up in a regime that we didn't choose and we grew up in that resistance from a young age. It was a matter of course to unite against communism and cooperate. We had also seen this with parents. They kept emphasizing that you mustn't say this anywhere, we only say that at home. It was absurd that all these people were constantly pretending, lying, making things up. They did it to each other. No occupiers did it. It was an incomprehensible situation. Of course, he [the janitor] told me about the eavesdropping right away, so I told everyone who went there. And when we were there, we made these calls for the eavesdropping. For example, we played some music and pretended to be somewhere else. We had dialogues from books by Ken Kesey, by Kerouac. Such a Gesamtkunstwerk, radio plays for an audience in an eavesdropping room. I bought the record (Hlasy vodních ptáků) Voices of Water Birds, we played it on the gramophone, we splashed water in the basin to it, there were frogs croaking, birds making all sorts of noises and we were having fun as if we were by the water: 'How is the water? Is it good? Is it warm? Are you going? Maybe one more time.'"

  • "We did this kind of guerilla action. It was that people in those districts woke up one morning and there was whitewash or washable paint all over the walls, fences, all sorts of places so they couldn't sue us for vandalism - today's graffiti, that's in a different league - there were simply signs saying 'I'm suffocating'. These two words. Which was a reaction to the environmental news. It was an important topic in Sokolov area. At the same time, it was the feeling of our generation. I made it even better by the fact that it happened to be May Day, so I went to the May Day demonstration. There is a cultural center in Sokolov and a huge square in front of it. It looks like a sort of marshalling yard. That's where the businesses and schools started. On the staircase of the community center was a red tribune, on which stood the district representatives of the regime. Those little critters that made people's lives miserable. And people came to wave at them. I climbed over the tribune, the staircase continued there. There I had a breathing apparatus and the sign 'S.O.S. - I'm suffocating. I was wearing a white shirt, I spread my arms. I stood there. The district secretary of the Communist Party gave a speech. He didn't see it. I was standing over him. He only noticed a murmur [in the crowd], the square fell silent. People were waiting to see what would happen. Nothing happened for about a minute, suddenly some of those leather coats ran at me, suddenly they emerged. They were so fat, I was a 20-year-old slim boy. So, I ran away from them. We ran between those schools and businesses and zigzagged there. Me with the breathing device. We're used to it now, but back then it was such a… artistic event. They ran after me, we meandered through people. The secretary stopped his speech, there was some noise. I had it prepared in advance that I ran inside of one house, there was a door knob on the door. That's where I shut the door. They stayed in front of the door. I left that house through the back exit to my friend's place and we talked about it there. Only a few days later they caught up me somewhere. I know that the prepared verses for the protocol were 'totally lost in the crowd'... I don´t remember anymore. I remember the poetic beginning. It was about how one suffocates."

  • "After the military service I returned there, I went to work in the office, I did supply from imports. That was also a big joke. For example, paperwork had to be provided for everything and the documents that it was not produced in the country or in a friendly socialist foreign country. Then the currencies had to be sort out, because the money that was used to pay here was only printed paper that was not valid elsewhere in the world. For example, a group of electricians in the mines needed a pack of rechargeable C batteries for their measuring device. They came to me. I had to write to all the manufacturers of C batteries, even though I knew that rechargeable C batteries are not produced anywhere in Czechoslovakia. Then I urged an answer. It took about half a year for them to answer. They didn't answer at all from Bratislava. So, I found out when there would be a nice concert in Budapest, and I went to Bratislava on a business trip to get the paper there that they don't produce rechargeable C batteries. At the same time, I went to Budapest and to my friends, because we were quite connected in our generation. We also had keys to each other's apartments with people from Poland and Hungary who were similarly oriented. When I got the paper, I could - when I had all the papers together that it wasn't being produced, I asked for foreign exchange funds. This again lasted a quarter of a year. This had to be included in the budgets. There were five-year plans that didn't work, so they kept being reworked. The gentleman in charge of foreign exchange was looking out the window when I got there. I asked how far my proposal was. He said he was doing some plans. He looked out the window and wrote some number. That's national planning. Finally, when they approved the foreign exchange for it, I wrote to two or three battery manufacturers in Germany. And within a week the packages from the Germans arrived. There were a few free sample packs of rechargeable batteries in each and they asked how many wagons we needed. So, I wrote back to them that we didn't need anything anymore, that we only needed one package. This is how I saw the socialist economy. I was twenty, it was clear that it couldn't work."

  • “We printed it ourselves, using screen printing, for example. It is a process which you use when you print some designs on T-shirts, for example. There is actually a kind of a frame, and there is a mesh inside, you place a stencil with the picture on it and then you place it on the T-shirt and you roll over it with a squeegee dipped in paint, and the design would transfer on the T-shirt through the dense mesh. Then you let it dry. And we actually used a typewriter and a copy paper, because if you wrote something on a typewriter and you wanted to have more copies, it was not like today, when you set twenty copies on your printer and it comes out in twenty copies, but you had to type it twenty times on a typewriter or to take a copy paper and insert a so-called carbon paper in between, which was a black paper made from coal, and you would alternately place the carbon papers and copy papers into the typewriter. And if you hit the typewriter keys with great force, you were able to make up to five copies and if you had those black carbon papers in between, it would print through on the other side, too. But this would not be enough for our magazines, and so we used the copy paper. If you hit the keys really hard, it would actually punch holes in the shape of the letters through the paper, which was very thin. And we would then place the page with the typed-out letters on the mesh, and place it on a sheet of paper and then roll over it with the squeegee dipped in paint, and the letters would transfer onto that paper.”

  • “There is an art gallery in Karlovy Vary and we saw some film where there were some millionaires walking in between the paintings in a gallery, holding glasses in their hands and talking, and having some party, and so we decided that we would do something like that, too. Together with the girls we dressed up nicely, and we prepared food, sandwiches, desserts, and a violin trio. Friends joined in and we came to the gallery and we told to the ushers: ‘There is the party here today, don’t you know?’ And they said: ‘No, nobody told us anything.’ We replied: ‘Well, help us then. Have a sandwich here.’ So they took the sandwiches. We spread the food there and we had a party in the gallery. Music was playing and people were eating and drinking and walking among beautiful paintings. And when it was over, we packed the stuff and walked away.”

  • “It was some time around 1979 or 1980, actually, the punk movement originated in Great Britain and the first so-called punk appeared here. I had classmates like that, too, and I befriended them. I did not consider myself a supporter of any fashion style, but I know that the authorities did not like them, because the punks died their hair and so on. The policemen would stop them in the street and wonder why they had green hair, and the punk guy would reply that he was in an indoor swimming pool and that they probably added too much chlorine into the water.”

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Normalization was not done by any occupiers. People did it to each other

Tomáš Kábrt in U stadionu pub in Sokolov, 1980s
Tomáš Kábrt in U stadionu pub in Sokolov, 1980s
zdroj: archive of the witness

Tomáš Kábrt was born on February 15, 1965 in Sokolov, where his parents immigrated from Náchod area and Pilsen for more affordable housing and work. He graduated from the Secondary School of Economics in Karlovy Vary and tried unsuccessfully to be admitted to the University of Economics in Prague. After his military service, he started working in Sokolov in supply, he was in charge of supply from imports. Later, he worked as a freight forwarder for long-distance transport. Already from his high school years, he devoted himself to the publishing of the samizdat cultural magazine Západočeský průser, and later added the more politically oriented Stres. He founded the band Luncheon Beat and wrote lyrics for the better-known band Beatové družstvo. In the texts, he expressed his opinions and attitudes towards the regime. He was involved in many independent cultural activities, from exhibitions to theater performances to various performances, which were supported by the recessionist association Ananas. In 1988, he and his friends obtained a secret report on the state of the environment in Sokolov area, which they published in Stres magazine and drew attention to it with numerous „I‘m suffocating“ signs throughout the city. Tomáš Kábrt also contributed to the visibility of the campaign by performing with the sign „S.O.S. – I‘m suffocating!” during the May Day parade on Sokolov square. He was never prosecuted, but many times he found himself interrogated at State Security or in a pre-trial detention cell. In November 1989, he was the coordinator of the Sokol Civic Forum. After 1989, he became involved in the post-revolutionary events in Sokolov area and managed the preparation of the first free elections in Sokolov. He participated in the establishment of the Sokolov daily editorial office, founded the Sokolovská beseda association, which expresses itself on burning public issues. He works as a journalist and lecturer in schools. He is a preacher of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.