Miloš Rejchrt

* 1946

  • “Some people were horrified by the dual language and its destructive effect on children’s characters. I hadn’t shared this feeling at all. It was this simple – at school we would study Russian, wear Pioneer neck scarves and learn poems: ‘Ourrr Ostrrrrava, cheerrring with youth, without terrorrr and forrr sunny morrrrnings you grow and rrrumble…’ I had a speech impediment so I used to recite it like this at contests. But once we’d come home we would drop the scarf and live in another world. It was clear to me that the real life was happening inside the family, not at school. That was the place to learn math, poems, to hear lectures on Lenin defeating the cruel Tsar and so on. Well, why not. I was pretty well immunized. I didn’t see it as conflicting to live in two worlds – at school with the communist ideological charge and then in the family. Those were simply two parallel worlds and only later did I realize that they were in conflict.”

  • “It was fairly typical for the era. There was the existence of a ghetto, a sort of a reserve. A reserve in which all the inhabitants – Christians and the like – were able to live independently to some extent. They would allow us to retain some rituals and habits. There was even need for some personnel taking care of those people. That was the purpose of theological faculties – to look after the herd so that it would be basically content in the reserve and also so that visitors from the outside world could see how well treated was this animal species. For instance, the communists would allow children from pastor families to study theology. It was supposed to stay within the family. What they liked best was that there was a slight incest aspect to it. Most importantly, it all head to stay within the reserve borders and not spread further. I didn’t live to see the era of communist eagerness to destroy religion and liquidate church. It was rather about holding them under a lid or behind the fence in the ghetto – they were even allowed to fool around there a bit.”

  • “My colleague, pastor Šiler – I worked as a boiler operator back then – told me: ‘A thing happened to me. I rode a tram and suddenly saw a man sitting there. I thought, isn’t it former foreign minister Jiří Hájek? I asked him and it was him. He even got off the tram with me and told me that what is currently happening in Helsinki is a big deal which should be made use of. That there were new covenants on human rights and that this was a great opportunity.’ It was for the first time that I had heard of the Helsinki process… I and my friends were very skeptical about it, seeing it as a new world division, a continuation of the Munich Agreement. We thought they were about to divide the world once again and that we would end up permanently fixed into this Sajuz sphere of influence. Helsinki were in our mind just a confirmation of those borders… This is how we saw it. And suddenly I heard that there was another interpretation to it. I heard it at second-hand and was very intrigued by it.”

  • “At times, I was distracted. For instance, posters were suddenly hanging around Lausanne, claiming that Pavel Tigrid was about to come over. So I attended his talk. It was interesting but he made me a bit angry. I was struck by his speech on the unreformability of communism. Fine, then. But he said that whoever would try to humanize it would end up invaded by tanks making sure to curb the effort. I found this outcome somewhat self-serving since it claimed that ‘there is nothing to do there, it is already lost, so let’s try to change things and live where it is possible – that is, here.’ This was his reasoning of emigration. It was in the fall of 1968 when it was clear that some things were still happening. The unions were planning a strike to support MP Smrkovský and I saw Tigrid as giving up all hope and effectively saying: ‘It is meaningless. What is happening in Prague is no good because it is going to end up bad anyway.’ I didn’t want to come to terms with this – that people in Prague were doomed to death penalty or rather irrelevance and pointlessness. This bothered me so I actually spoke up in the debate and in this spirit defended the reform process and some hope for it all.”

  • “Our son was in the nineth grade in Autumn 1988, and they gave away questionnaires there asking children what they would want [to do]. And on the form, there was - I would not have noticed that myself but Mr. Skoumal [took offence] at what a load of crap this was and what it had to do with our children - the parents' membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. There was a cross: mother, father… And at the same time a Perestroika poem was published in Rudé Právo (The Red Right).A comrade wrote insightfully how the twenty-first century would not ask you whose you were, but what you were. So I sat down at the time, and I wrote a nice letter to the Minister of Education, Mrs. Synková - I used to write nice letters, letters that were always good to listen to when Ivan Medek was reading them on the Voice of America - and in it I wrote that I had read this beautiful poem, and suddenly my son brought me a questionnaire from his school, and that is why I am asking how it should be. Imagine that a handwritten answer came from a comrade minister! 'Dear Sir, thank you for your suggestion and on investigation we have found that an inappropriate form is still being used in some schools. We have arranged for a remedy and these forms have been withdrawn.'"

  • “I attended the seminar in Dejmal’s apartment, where Radim Palouš lectured about the meaning of meaning; Tomin had begun with the idea. This irritated the Secret Police, and ten police cars arrived. They started a big roundup. They rang the doorbell, it made no sense to barricade ourselves in, we had to show our ID cards and they arrested some people, me included. It was for disorderly conduct. Later, I was arrested for defamation of the state abroad. This was after we had sent a short letter, just several lines, to the Gdansk dock-yard in 1980, it was a very courteous letter: ´We wish you every success in advocating human rights and spreading the realm of freedom,´ and something like that… Altogether I was detained there five times.”

  • M. R.: “It was in October 1988 when I was held in the Ruzyně prison for four days.I made it complicated for my employer, because somebody had to do the work for me and it was not pleasant for them. I had ruined somebody’s weekend plans, and so on. When I returned to the maintenance workers’ room, it almost looked as if they had planned it beforehand – they all suddenly rose and they began shaking hands with me, these boys in work overalls, without saying a word. One could feel that something was happening. Not in the entire society, I cannot say that. But the boys from maintenance now felt that I had probably done something for them.” Interviewer: “And were there any opposite reactions as well? Do you remember anyone crossing the street to avoid meeting you?” M. R.: “Sure there were. I experienced it already when I lost my permit for pastoral work. For them, I had been that young pastor, who looks promising and smart, and who knows his way with the youth, whom we would gladly hand this work over… and it turned out that it was not to be so. I felt this in the church, immediately after I could hear direct reproaches from these people: ´You are threatening other people as well!´ They really used the plural. But the authorities had just taken my work permit, I was not threatening anyone in any other way yet.”

  • M. R.: “It had a meaning for us, it did have meaning... You could just live your life and survive. You could take care of your trabant car, and I did, too, and you could search shops to get hold of a refrigerator, and things like that. At that time, one felt happy that one could take part in something noble, although this is not the right word, in something which went beyond that. It was not about adrenaline rush, I didn’t enjoy things like being chased by StB agents, this didn’t make me happy. Although later I read in the surveillance card they had kept on me that I managed to escape them three times, and I hadn’t even noticed.” Interviewer: “You mean you escaped them in your trabant?” M. R.: “Not in the trabant, they were faster. But sometimes I ran away in the city. At that time I liked jogging, and sometimes I would just run faster… But still, I didn’t feel happy about the chase. On the contrary, it always made me feel anxious. But what was important was that one could take part in something beautiful and noble. It was even more apparent when the regular broadcasts by Ivan Medek started – it was important for us that people heard something, heard our names. The feeling that we were sentenced to death, that things didn’t look good for us... like Jews who were to be gassed, nobody wanted to have anything in common with us, fearing they might end up just like us, too. Then, all of the sudden we turned into media celebrities, and you could see sincere joy in the eyes of a person who was not a Charter 77 signatory, and who would tell you: ´Hey, dude, it’s you... I heard about you yesterday, they talked about you on the Voice of America broadcast!´ There was joy in it – and it made you happy, too, because you have made other people happy. But we didn’t deal with the issue of what purpose it served historically, because the issue of the regime collapsing was not the topic of the day. One thinks of it only later. I would say that it was very significant, and that the most valuable thing that Charter 77 achieved was that, at least for a moment, it managed to bring together people of varied backgrounds and opinions into one great coalition. They were all willing to sign their names on the document which proclaimed: Human rights and their moral components are the touchstone of a political regime. Thus above the political regime there exists something more important and significant.”

  • M. R.: “That was an example of the moral level of the society, which was actually nearing zero. We are disposed to do anything, to betray anyone, to do away with anyone, to slander anyone, only if we can profit from it. Let everyone care for himself, just save your life – not just your bare life, but save your living somehow, and why should you care for others? If they summon me and want me to sign something, well, I will just sign it, that’s obvious. Such was the mentality of the majority of people at that time.” Interviewer: “Do you think it still makes sense to discuss the Anti-charter?” M.R.: “It’s good to remind people about it, to remind them of the fact that this moral sense, if there is something like that, is something very fragile, and that it can collapse very soon. I think I can draw a parallel with the Second Republic. There was this great enthusiasm for Masaryk’s ideals, and only one impact sufficed to transform this mentality very quickly. Similar transformation occurred after 1968 as well, although it was slower, but still, the fall was quite steep.”

  • “I felt that they were interested in me already by the early 1970s, around 1971, 1972, but then their interest declined, almost stopped. It remained latent, they didn’t interfere with my life. Then it all began anew with Charter 77; that was a regular house search. It was like what they did in the case of all the first wave signatories. What was nice about it was that from the very beginning I could feel there were some people who supported me. To be specific, in the National Museum, (where he worked as a boilerman), when the StB agents came for me at five in the morning, they didn’t succeed, because the gateman didn’t let them in. He simply reasoned with them: ´No way, see, there are valuable objects, costing over a million, and if some of them got damaged... You cannot see him. Entry is prohibited.´ He played with them like this for about three hours, until the director came, and the director obviously settled the affair nicely. But Mr. Holeček didn’t allow them to enter.”

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Demand little but always stand your ground

Miloš Rejchrt as a spokesman for Charter 77, 1980
Miloš Rejchrt as a spokesman for Charter 77, 1980

Miloš Rejchrt was born on 19 October 1946 in Ostrava. He attended a grammar school in Prague‘s Štěpánská street. Following the example of his father, he then went to study theology at the Protestant Theological Faculty with the intention to become a pastor. Among his colleagues at the university were Svatopluk Karásek and Vratislav Brabenec. In 1968 he was active in the students‘ movement. Following the Warsaw Pact armies invasion he still managed to leave for planned year-long studies in Switzerland. He returned in August 1969 and since 1970 served as a pastor in Česká Lípa. However, since he turned down an offer to cooperate with the secret police, only two years later he lost the state permit to serve as a pastor. For a number of years he instead worked as a boiler operator. He was among the people who formed the Charter 77 initiative and from 1980 till 1981 he served as its spokesman. He was arrested and frequently interrogated but avoided long-term imprisonment. Just before the 1989 Velvet Revolution he was allowed to leave for yet another study trip to Switzerland. He thus followed the breakthrough events from distance. After 1990 he returned to his original profession. For several years he also worked as the head of the Czech Radio religious editing board.