RNDr. Alexandr Vondra

* 1961

  • “The meeting would last about two hours. We always split up into two groups. One group was editorial, they sat on stones in a clearing and wrote texts. And then there was the other group, which opened a bottle of whisky and started chatting away. I know that Jacek Kuroń was generally in the second group, whereas Adam Michnik and Janek Lityński were in the first, the editorial one. I was always enchanted by one thing: at the end, after the text had been prepared and approved, after the memorial group photo was taken, after the alcohol that the Poles had brought for warmth and socialising had been drunk, it was time to go. At that point, Jacek Kuroń bellowed like some kind of giant: ‘Poles, move out!’ They lined up and set off in a disciplined single-file formation to face their fate in the Polish lowlands. Even Adam Michnik joined in, despite being the type that never lets anyone mess with him. Whereas our Czech individualism manifested itself in us wandering about the forest one by one and having to search for each other down by the cars.”

  • “You had to know the exact marking of the milestone where we were to meet because the mountain range that delineated the border was long. This information was passed on in two ways. Through telephone codes, which were always split, so that the date and the number of the stone would never be given in one phone call. The key to the code was often delivered by either one of them came here or one of us went to Poland and simply took the key over the border. Either they had memorised it, or it was encoded on a piece of paper somewhere. Those were mainly people sent by Mirek Jašinski of Wrocław, then at some stage Kristina Krause, a young girl from Gdańsk, became really active as well - she was a strong connecting point between the two groups in Wrocław and Gdańsk.”

  • “All it was that you had to realise you had the right to remain silent. And then to hold out against the initial pressure. Of course, if you refused to talk the first time, they tried all kinds of things. The good way and the bad way. Besides legal knowledge and training, it was pretty important to prepare for the interrogations mentally as well. Not to show any signs of weakness, but on the contrary, to show that you had been expecting everything that was going on. That gave you the strength to endure the first tests, when they put on the pressure and threatened your family - that was a kind of evergreen of theirs. If you withstood the onslaught of that first gale and showed no sign of weakness, they stopped pressuring so much.”

  • “I was at the cottage, and suddenly my wife says: ‘They’ve got a car in front of the house, and another car is coming up.’ It looked like they were going to nab me, you could kind of feel it, the sense that this time you’re really going to prison. And I didn’t want to go. I had to decide quickly. So I switched my swimming trunks for clothes - we were at a cottage by the pond - and I managed to vault over the fence. I wouldn’t have managed it today, I was still young a slim back then. There was a wood right behind the house, and I managed to make myself scarce without them even noticing me. They came up the access road, and I escaped round the other way.”

  • “It was evident that the atmosphere was different: all of a sudden there was immense determination. During the previous demonstrations, fear usually prevailed. Fear that we would get beaten, that they would shoot at us from water cannons. To put it simply, a fear that it would be the same again. But at that time, there were much more people there, especially young people. It occurred to me that this was some kind of a revolution only at the moment when we were walking on the embankment towards the Národní Street.”

  • „To me, Václav Havel was an authority. He might not even have thought anything new up. During the debates he would stay non-aggressively and tolerantly aloof but was then able to provide a great, synthetic summary. Same thing with his essays. He did not write anything revealing, he only wrote what we all knew or somehow suspected. But he was able to say it for all of us.”

  • “This was an important pub. Now it looks completely different. Back then, it was a regular fourth class establishment, with plastic tables. Now it is a luxurious restaurant and it no longer has the vibe it used to. But I got the idea to come here. There are still some remnants like the logo of Revolver Revue, which was a painting that hung behind the bar and then it mysteriously disappeared. It was called the Madonna of Košíře. I don’t know where it came from, but we used it as a logo for the samizdat magazine, which at first was called Jednou nohou and later Revolver Revue.”

  • “A very strange period started with November 17. People were not sleeping at all. We were planning strikes, communicating with students or actors. Havel returned from the countryside sometime in the evening on Saturday. We met in the Realistic Theatre. Then we met in his home on Sunday morning and there we began forming the Civic Forum. The idea was to try to set up a representative group of people of various opinions, age groups and professions. And at the same time to gather a large number of people to some place and formulate a declaration there which they would vouch for and have it agreed upon there and thus make it an entity which would start the negotiations with the party in power so that elections could take place as soon as possible and the people would be able to choose their own representatives.”

  • “I never got to know my paternal grandfather. He died in Auschwitz during WW II. But he wasn’t transported there for racial reasons. He was a member of a group who published the resistance magazine V boj, a legendary samizdat of the resistance members from the early days of the war, before the Nazis cracked down on it. He was neither an editor nor a publisher – that work was done by the Preissig family and Inka Bernášková – but instead served as a paperboy. He himself worked as a bank clerk. They caught him and it appears that he did not give anyone away. He had paid with his life, dying in Auschwitz.”

  • “An important moment for us was when I was in Poland in the early 1980s, where Solidarity was created in summer 1980. There were the Topol boys and many others. One could breathe in the freedom behind the border. That was something absolutely different than the darkness here. Nothing was happening there and everything was possible. One felt as if in paradise. I think that it encouraged us a lot and we realized that it was important not only to sit and drink and talk about freedom, but to do something as well.”

  • “I thought that I had done my job and I would now leave. I would work somewhere as a magazine editor. But Havel told me that I had to go with him, that he would not go to the Castle alone. And since I had studied geography and learnt a bit of English, and since my job involved communication with Western journalists, I began working in foreign affairs there. I got the position precisely for reasons like because I knew where Afghanistan was located and because I was able to say ´How do you do´ in English. But apart from that, I had had no preparation for it and I had not even intended to do this work. It just happened because Havel wanted to have me there as well as several other people.”

  • “Of course, it was not pleasant and in the beginning I was afraid a bit. At that time, I knew about it only from hearsay and I had no personal experience with it. The policemen used various methods. They had psychological training. In case somebody showed fear, they would often make it tough for him. Therefore, even if you were afraid, you were not supposed to show it at all, and you had to show your inner determination instead. The policemen had the roles divided – there was a good cop, a bad cop, and the one who led the investigation. The good cop tried to be nice at first, and when it didn’t work, the bad one would come and strike you with his fist. Violence does have an effect on many people. The third one was there to record it. Still, I had some advantage in it. We were young, and we had been initiated by older friends. There was even a manual published in the samizdat, printed on cyclostyle, advising how to behave when interrogated. For example, that there was the option of withholding testimony. Then there were all the relevant sections from the criminal code. Then the principle of a close person. Some pillars of a legislative state are valid under all circumstances. For example, one does not have to give testimony if one would thereby cause criminal prosecution to oneself or to a close person.”

  • “Us three went to Albertov, meeting lots of people on the way. When we arrived, the square in front of the Faculty of Biology had already been full. There were plenty of people carrying lots of banners. ‘Good,’ we thought to ourselves. Most important for me personally was the appearance of Mr. Josef Škárka who had participated in the 1939 protests resulting in the death of Jan Opletal. He stood there on a crate, an improvised podium, telling the young ones: ‘The same way as we did back then, now you have to go for it, go hard, face the oppression.’ For an elderly man who was over eighty years old, this was amazing. Obviously, the young students have also given speeches, but this was the word of the day which had resonated inside me. Then we marched to Vyšehrad, planning to continue downtown later. What was new was the number of people showing up by the riverbank. I lifted my wife on my shoulders and she could not see either the beginning or the end of the march. There were plenty of people. And the atmosphere had changed. During the October or August demonstrations, one had to be courageous to walk against the water cannons, sometimes we would get hit with a baton. But now, there was much more confidence among the people. When we passed our apartment and Václav Havel’s place, I told my wife: ‘Look, this seems like the revolution has come.’”

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Celé nahrávky jsou k dispozici pouze pro přihlášené uživatele.

There was no better distinction than if one was chased by the cops. This served as confirmation for us that we were doing the right things

Contemporary portrait Alexndra Vondra
Contemporary portrait Alexndra Vondra
zdroj: soukromý archiv pamětníka

Alexandr Vondra was born August 17, 1961 in Prague. He studied geography at the Faculty of Science of Charles University in Prague between 1979 and 1984. He completed his doctoral studies at the same faculty a year after. For several years he worked as an administrator of the Asian collection of the Náprstek Museum at the chateau in Liběchov. In 1982 - 1986 he was the manager of the underground rock band Národní třída and he was involved in publishing the samizdat magazine Revolver Revue. He maintained contacts with dissidents in Hungary, Poland and Lithuania since the mid-1980s. In 1987 he became a member of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity and he took part in the meeting of representatives of the Czechoslovak and Polish political opposition in the mountains on the state border and he was one of the organizers of regular smuggling of books, letters and equipment over the border mountains. In 1989 he became the spokesman for Charter 77 and he was one of the authors of the Několik vět (A Few Sentences) petition. He was imprisoned for several months in the Ruzyně and Pankrác prisons for his activity. In 1989 he was one of the founders of the Civic forum. In 1990 - 1992 he worked at the Prague Castle as a foreign policy advisor to President Václav Havel. At present he is known especially as a politician, a long-time member of the Parliament and a member of the Civic Democratic Party. In 1992 - 1997 he worked as the first deputy to the minister of foreign affairs, then he became the Czech ambassador to the United States of America and in 2001- 2002 the Czech government entrusted him with the preparation of the NATO summit in Prague. In September 2006 he was appointed the minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic, and from January 2007 he served as a deputy prime minister for European affairs. He served as the defence minister in Petr Nečas‘s government between July 2010 and December 2012. He has received numerous awards for his activities aimed at promoting human rights, democracy and international understanding (the US National Endowment for Democracy Medal, state decorations in Poland and Lithuania, Merit Cross of the Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, and the Merit Medal of the Secretary General of NATO).