Jan Burian

* 1952

  • "It was a situation where Honza Rejžek, who was hosting it, had always to bring someone from the theatre or someone from somewhere and do a short interview with them. That's the way it was. And at one point, Jarmila Poláková came to him, or they were discussing if–since this Václav was sitting there–if they should invite him on stage. And then they decided that they would come and consult with us. So they consulted with Skoumal, with me, and I believe with one other person. And so whether they should invite Havel because it was quite a revolutionary act. We were so excited at the time that we all said absolutely. So this Rejžek took him on stage, and Václav gave a very short but nonetheless very striking speech, and he said that he was speaking publicly for the first time in nineteen years, and those people almost demolished Lipnice. It was wonderful. And it was wonderful because suddenly, there was a spirit of freedom, and the police didn't know what to do. Nobody was doing anything, they just had Václav speaking there, and there were people crowded on the stage - there are pictures of it, it's easy to find. This is how it all went down, and it had a funny outcome because the previously mentioned Zdenko Pavelka, who was the editor of Tvorba and was also there, wrote a review of the festival. He wrote that it was a musically interesting festival and then wrote a sentence: 'Pity about the event, otherwise certainly meaningful.' What he meant by that was that Václav Havel was there and the continuation of the story at Rockfest, which was held in Prague about six months later. The group Ženy sang the song 'Pity about the event, otherwise certainly meaningful'. And Rejžek and Vláďa Hanzel repeated the interview verbatim, where Hanzel represented Havel, and people were thrilled because, of course, it was that moment of total freedom again, when we could do whatever we wanted."

  • "In Hluboká in South Bohemia, we performed for the audience in Budějovice. We used to perform a lot in Budějovice, about four performances a month, and it was always sold out, both in the afternoon and the evening. It was very nice. And they decided to do a concert outside the zoo in Hluboká. When the organizer came to us in the middle of the concert, he told us that the cultural inspector for South Bohemia, which was a function for deciding existence and non-existence, and the zoo director were there. And whether we could play a song for them as a thank you for organizing it. Jiří Dědeček recited the poem 'Ondatra' [Muskrat - transl.], which begins: 'Quick, everybody, upstairs, the muskrat is coming. He's rushing in from the Finnish fauna, representative of the Finnish fauna.' At that moment, they thought it was about them because they were also drunk, and then we didn't play in the South Bohemian region for five or four years. It seems like a stupid thing, but it was lucky that it didn't get further out of that region because they asked for more lyrics at that point. Then they found out that Jiří Dědeček had written a text called Swan Lake, and it was about garbage, and it was against everything, and so on. Simply put, if you looked through those lyrics, you would find it there, if you wanted to find the resistance. But they were mostly lazy and didn't do it, so it remained at the regional level. It was just too bad we didn't perform in Písek or Kaplice, where we used to perform regularly."

  • "There was a defining moment in the Ateliér Theatre. It was at a time when the changes were already taking place in the State Theatre Studio, and Mr Budlovský was in charge there, and he was a State Security agent, and God knows what. Maybe it wasn't even him, maybe it was František Trojan, who was the head of the art department at the Department of Culture of the City of Prague. And this was some weapons dealer in the Middle East, and then he got a commission to determine who was allowed to perform in Prague and who wasn't. He wrote long lists of people who weren't allowed to perform in Prague. These were bands ranging from Hudba Praha and Jasná Páka to Yo Yo Band. He reportedly told Jiří Suchý that he should be happy he was writing plays for him. And he came to our performance to Ateliér one day and found out that we were making fun of the army because there was a comical brass hat character. He said we weren't going to perform on his grounds, and he banned us. We were actually supposed to go there one day, and they told us: 'Don't come, you're not playing anymore tonight,' which was a surprise. And that was the pivotal moment for me when I realized I wasn't going to be an official artist."

  • "Well, of course, not even at the cost of banning you altogether. You can't play at the Festival of Political Songs in Sokolov. Whoever performed there is a lost cause to me. The only one I forgive is Vladimír Mišík because he had many other reasons for doing it. Otherwise, the ones who performed there - we didn't have any more respect for them, and there are a lot of them, and I won't name them because there were so many of them. It was kind of like if you go... it's really collaborating with some nasty system that's kind of persecuting you like that and yet you still have to thank them by doing what they want you to do. The only resistance we had was that I wouldn't be forced to do it, and that was the only resistance possible for us. And that was true to a certain extent of Porta as well. There were big conflicts around Porta, but by the 1980s, it had changed. We even boycotted Porta with Plíhal, Emil Pospíšil and a few other people because Nohavica wasn't allowed to play there. So we simply didn't go and that was our only option, not to participate. So, if we look at it... I wouldn't be able to look at myself in the mirror."

  • “When the perestroika started and the communists felt they had to engage in a dialogue with folk singers, then Zdenko Pavelka came to us, he was as if a liaison for the communists, who was being sent to contact us, and I have to say sometimes he helped us against stupid communist officials, at other times he wrote something in order to improve his position among them, so he criticized the event in Lipnice, that’s an old story. This Zdenko Pavelka thus came to me, Merta and Miki Ryvola, proposing he would stage a roundtable discussion for the Tvorba program, this was in 1987, 1988. Asking us to come to the Rudé právo (Red Law) newspaper to make this interview. So we did come to their building, he came for us to the reception, and now we entered this courtyard and staircase, it was red, and everything was in red, the true headquarters of the most pro-regime, staunchest, craziest journalists whom we don’t even need to name, so we went there and Vláďa Merta, he was in some sort of a fighting mood, tells this Pavelka: ´I gotta look it over here, for the next time I come here it will be with a submachine gun.´ This was how the interview started. We were in this kind of wanton mood. This was the shifting of limits, you could not contain it. The only way to overcome it would really be only by drawing out that submachine gun. But they would have shot us for real, for it was still the time of tough dictatorship. But by saying this, I want to show you the loosening of restraints, for while on the stage, we were playing, testing, what each of us had the guts to say; there is evidence for it, some records, as it had been done then… And when somebody talks about how they were fighting the communism, I laugh at it, because we were fighting the communism with our mouths. Which is very little, right? We were no Mašín brothers, nothing like that, quite simply: without comparing things - we did not fight, we merely wanted to remain free and to say what we wanted. And we felt very good while doing this, because we were aware of the privilege we had. We knew very well that we did not have to go to work, we did not have regular working hours, we did not have to be in labour unions, we did not have to call anyone a comrade... Jiří Dědeček liked to call people comrades a lot when we got into some trouble, then he was addressing everyone as comrade, which was great fun. To put it simply, we lived in relative freedom and we were well aware of it.”

  • “And suddenly this Doctor JUDr. František Trojan was his surname I think, turned up and his position was the following: the head of the department of arts under the cultural section of the National Committee of the Municipality of Prague. Allegedly a former salesman of arms in the Middle East, who was now awarded this position in order to tidy up the culture in Prague. And we became his victims... before he launched this great campaign by which he banned punk bands, which is a well-known story. We had fallen prey to him even earlier. Which meant that we have not been included in the list of forbidden artists, because we had been included there before. And this helped us quite a lot. Because when this new list came into effect, the old one got somehow forgotten and we were allowed to perform at other places. And this Trojan called us one day and he told Jirka Dědeček that we were no longer allowed to perform within his territory, and he quoted to him Dědeček’s poem Character, which Dědeček himself composed: ´Let people throw / cow dung on me / still, I stand by my opinion / I shall not flinch.´ And Trojan was really yelling at him, shouting: ´So you stand by your opinions, do you, even if I throw cow dung at you?´ Well, that was it. For the following five years we were not allowed to perform in Prague, but on the other hand: we were banned in Prague, but we were allowed to sing elsewhere. So it was fine. On the other hand, it was here that I realized for the first time, when we came to this Atelier Theatre and they told us – for we did not yet know it had been banned – they simply told us: ´You no longer perform here.´ When we arrived there for our performance as usual. There I realized that one can make a choice in one’s life. Simply, at this moment it was over and I suddenly knew that I would not become famous, that I would not appear on television, that I would not write publicly, I would not release records, because I had been kicked out, but I kept telling myself – it simply had to be. But once you accept it and realize that since you don’t have to work as an editor, because you work as a street sweeper and you have more time, then the entire regime can kiss your ass.”

  • “My draft for the army was impending, but luckily my stepfather Dr Vladimír Doležal dragged me to some friend of his, a psychiatrist, and there they asked me what was wrong with me. I replied ´nothing,´ believing that if I pretended nothing was wrong with me, I would be considered a fool. And they said: ´If there is nothing wrong with you, then leave.´ So I said that I had attempted suicide. And paradoxically, it helped me: it is a really crazy story, but my grandmother, my mother’s mother, had committed suicide when she was about thirty. Because she was unhappy and she was an alcoholic. And when I told then that my grandma had hanged herself, this was a major reason for them to intern me, for they felt I was capable of something like that, too. And thus they postponed my draft for one year, and in the meantime I was having regular sessions with a psychiatrist. I managed to carry on this pretence quite well, and after a year I received the blue book on the grounds of psychic problems. Which was one of the greatest victories I have ever achieved in my life. I will not try to persuade you that I am not a fool, for this is typical for all real fools, therefore I claim that I am a fool.” – Interviewer: “Thus you did not have to carry it all the way to a suicide attempt, as many others did?” – “No, but I did have to carry it to crazy situations in front of the draft committee. A friend of mine advised me not to say a word about it to the committee, that then they would give me the blue book for sure. So I really tried not to say anything, but I did not manage to be silent to the end, because this was not possible, there was one colonel or what and he asked me: ´What happened to you?´ because he remembered me from the previous examination, where I still appeared normal. Therefore they sent me for a revision examination. The great thing about it was that this recheck was done in summer. Thus in summer they shut me in a psychiatric ward of a military hospital, I spent about two weeks there, but because my diagnosis said that I suffered from depression in spring and autumn, they were not able to find out anything, and when you get into a situation like this, nobody will take chances to let you join the army. Into my record they really put that I was a fool, and they gave me the blue book for good. And I have won this little fight of my life, and I am happy about it, because I would have probably gone mad in the army, really, I mean, because according to what my friends, who had not been so lucky, related to me, it was real crap.”

  • “In the beginning we had no audience. We had a bunch of friends, like everybody does when at grammar school or college, we had some friends who were coming to see our performances when we played in Rubín, and there were thirty of them, fifty at most. I don’t think there were more of them. And also friends from various artistic groups, which were being founded. And I also played in performances of my mother’s, who had this theatre, and then it got closed down and there was a concert in the Malostranská beseda, or the theatre in Vyšehradská and so on. But this was no real audience. This was the first audience I had. And sure enough, it was an audience which was open-minded, rowdy, primitive, meaning they were not able to understand any of the puns, they rather wanted us to tell them how things were with the Bolsheviks. What we discovered was interesting: the first thing was that if you say the very opposite and you make a cynical face, people laugh. Thus if you say: ´What a nice evening we have today,´ they just burst laughing. If you state that something is just wonderful, they know that what you actually mean by that is that it’s crap. This was very interesting. And obviously on top of this there was this song of Lutka’s, where he sings: We are boys from the same class / hoop-la-la / we sing for we have short hair / and that’s why we feel fine.”

  • “Of course I recall it, because this was a tremendous experience. One of my most memorable experiences. One does remember key moments of life. I remember very well where I was on September 11th, 2001 – I was in a second-hand bookshop in Jablonec and someone called me and told me what happened. And 1968 – I remember that year, not only the freedom which we had had before, and all the experiences. But I remember precisely my mother waking me up and telling me there were Russian armies here. And when I stepped out of our house in Hradčany, for we lived in Loretánská Street, and there was a tank standing in front of the house. My childhood ended in this very moment. When we went… all of a sudden got we got simply crazy and we went out there to make a revolution. Writing car numbers on walls, number plates of collaborationists. And my mother told me – leave it, do something else. And later, the deputy of the minister of culture Jan Kopecký, and Milan Kundera slept in our house. They were hiding in our place, because nobody knew what would happen. Then my mom sent me to join a hops picking brigade, because I began attending a grammar school and I had to get out. While already in the second year of grammar school I had to get out of the house so that various fugitives could stay there. I remember it very vividly. And obviously I also remember very well when we were listening to the radio and Smrkovský was crying to the microphone there, unable to speak, but we already knew that it had been signed. And I remember 1969, the year of demonstrations. One must remember. And it mingles with you experiences with girls, too. Because if you are sixteen, for you the occupation is an experience equal to experiences with some girl whom you go out with for the first time.” – Interviewer: “And which of these experiences was stronger?” – “The girls, of course. But I have forgotten many of them, while I still do remember the occupation quite well.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 27.10.2009

    duration: 03:42:26
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 04.08.2022

    duration: 02:01:02
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 3

    Praha, 10.11.2022

    duration: 01:46:17
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

The buying of souls came along with the popularization of folk in the 1980s

Jan Burian, filming for the Memory of Nations, Prague, 2022
Jan Burian, filming for the Memory of Nations, Prague, 2022
photo: Memory of Nations

Jan Burian was born on 26 March 1952 in Prague to parents Emil František Burian and Zuzana Kočová. He grew up in an artistic family. His father was a renowned theatre artist and a national artist. In 1948 he was elected to the National Assembly for the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. He was one of the controversial personalities who were somewhat inconvenient to the regime. He died in 1959 in a state sanatorium under circumstances that remain unclear to this day. The normalization period also ended the theatre career of Jan Burian’s mother. During the normalization period, the witness studied journalism and worked briefly for the music magazine Melodie. In the 1970s, he began to perform as a singer-songwriter and a member of the Šafrán association, and then for 11 years in a duo with Jiří Dědeček. He earned a regular income by working as a caretaker or publishing in the Sedmička pionýrů magazine. He performs independently and works as a host, writer and tourist guide. At the time of filming, he lived in Prague (October 2022).