PhDr. Petr Kolář

* 1962

  • “The most powerful thing was the atmosphere of happiness, relaxation, and incredible euphoria and pride; a combination of pride, joy, and happiness that we had made it, plus the ‘velvet’ aspect of it. I know that many people criticised it later – we should have been more radical and really wiped them [communists] out. I was proud of the ‘velvet’ course it took: ‘We’ve got bare hands! We just want our rights. We don’t want to fight or kill.’ That was a special state of the soul and society, which made the people who previously had lived in fear and greyness look each other in the eye and smile. People would give way to one another and were kind. It didn’t last too long, but the early days in November, December and the beginning of 1990 were incredible in how things suddenly started happening.”

  • “I wanted to stay at the Academy of Sciences, but when they came to me and said, you’re a young promising comrade and you should accept candidateship for CPC membership, I was trying to evade it using silly excuses such as I wasn’t feeling mature enough and so on. They put a gun to my head: ‘Either you’ll become a membership candidate and will be allowed to get your degree and work here, or just leave.’ Being on a scholarship, I made my living working for my ‘small’ doctoral degree, sitting at the secretariat of the Head of the Institute for Ethnography and Folklore, handing out toilet paper to colleagues, and bringing the Director Mr Robek boiled pork for lunch from a shop in Myslíkova Street. I was like an office assistant. I wanted to work on my degree; I would get to become ‘CSc.’ – a ‘candidate of sciences’, which is equal to PhD in today’s terms. But when forced to make the sacrifice and become a CPC candidate, I didn’t want to join the party and just left the Institute.”

  • “I was spending the summer holidays with grandma in Ostrava as always. One night, grandma and grandpa suddenly woke me up in the middle of the night, sat me on the window sill, and looked outside. Tanks were rolling by. I remember grandma and grandpa being silent, astonished. I was excited – I found it interesting: tanks were rolling by; I was six years old. I remember that when I came back to Prague after the holidays, I saw burned out cars and various wreckages here and there. The National Museum façade fascinated me – it was all dimpled from the shooting. I remember that – I do remember the holes in the National Museum façade.”

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    Praha, 13.07.2021

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    Praha, 27.07.2021

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They put a gun to my head: Be a candidate for Party membership, or just leave

Petr Kolář in 1998
Petr Kolář in 1998
zdroj: Archiv pamětníka

Petr Kolář was born in České Budějovice on 27 September 1962. As his parents Marie Kolářová and Josef Kolář were still students, he spent a large part of his childhood with his grandparents in Ostrava. Their upbringing ingrained in him the principles and values that informed his adolescence, and he did not abandon them when he grew up. He experienced the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies of August 1968 in Ostrava. His father, a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC) since youth, quit the party after August 1968. This affected Petr Kolář’s life later on – a university would not admit him because of that. He completed his secondary education in 1981 by graduation at the grammar school in Baumanské square. He wanted to study history and become a teacher, but the regime would not allow him even though he managed the admission tests very well. At that time, his name appeared in the list of those who were not allowed to study because of their parents’ political stances. With that, he was eventually admitted, further to an appeal lodged with the Rector, to the Scientific Information and Librarianship programme at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. Later on, he added a curriculum in ethnography. Having successfully passed his state final examination, he joined the Institute of Ethnographic and Folklore Studies of the Czechoslovak Academy of sciences (CSAS) in 1986. He was eventually forced to leave because he refused to join the CPC. He worked in various positions inadequate to his qualification. Ondřej, Petr and Jaroslava Kolářs’ first son, was born in 1984; they lived in Prague together. They decided to emigrate from Czechoslovakia to Canada at the turn of 1987/1988. Petr Kolář left for western Germany, intending to arrange the arrival of the rest of the family through the Red Cross. Their son fell ill, so he eventually came back. He served in the military in České Budějovice from 1988, and was reassigned to Kladno later on. He took part in many anti-regime demonstrations in 1989. He was working at the Peace and Disarmament Issues Research Centre of CSAS. Following the Velvet Revolution, he joined the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Vilém Prečan, the director of the Institute, arranged an internship in the USA for him in 1991. He went on to stay in London later on, and spent the first six months of 1993 at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo. He was the Head of the Department of Fellow Countrymen’s and Non-government Contact of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993–1995, and of the Third Territorial Department for Eastern and Southern Europe from the next year. He left for Sweden as the Czech Ambassador in 1996. He resigned from his position in 1998. He worked as a consultant for European Integration and the Balkans at the Office of the President of the Czech Republic until 1999. He was the Czech Ambassador to Ireland in 1999–2003, to the USA in 2005–2010, and to Russia in 2010–2013.