Roman Cajthaml

* 1962  

  • “So there I was, standing in the street, window down, and I say to myself: ‘Hm, leg it this way? There’s an express on the other side, what will I do?’ I was greatly relieved, seeing that I had long hair in my passport, there I was trimmed down, and the clerk at the Polish passport check said: ‘And does the gentleman know he’s going to Poland?’ At Český Těšín, at the border crossing, in the express. There were two of us in the wagon. ‘I know.’ So the train set off, and I arrived in Warsaw in the morning. Well, and I was in a completely different world because there was a huge glass aquarium with a hole in it on the station platform in Warsaw - a public collection for Katyń. No photo documentation, a description of what happened in Katyń. No cops anywhere. There were soldiers on leave walking around Warsaw wearing ribbons of solidarity. Boys the same age as I was, dozens of them had T-shirts with AE, which stood for ‘Anti-Socialist Element’.”

  • “It was a unit that we’re still not sure whether it was in the Czech army, how many people, someone had to know about it, what it actually was. I wasn’t the one to see the SS-20 rockets with six guided nuclear warheads, but the soldiers who were senior in service and my officer told me: ‘You are the elite, we here are with the rocketeers.’ My military specialisation was supposed to be operator of a passive radio locator, I have no idea what that is, but I was supposed to be an operator of a passive radio locator for weapons of mass destruction. I don’t know why the Russians needed someone for that. Behind Josefov, when I drove to the station, [I saw] it was a short distance to the Polish border in the forest. The border zone was quite wide there. But I didn’t have to participate in any military exercises, as I was in the sick bay the whole time.”

  • “I don’t know if it’s an experience that’s communicable, but it seemed endless to me. You couldn’t decide about yourself. You were supposed to be happy about the things that took away your meaning of life. One of the difficult things was that they just forced you to participate in it somehow. Those people, my parents, had to pull out their May Day flags and just go walk around there. People just had to dirty themselves somehow, they had to participate in some way. For me it was, for example, when I had already come of age, we had a conflict in our family. ‘I won’t go to the elections.’ I was supported by people in the underground scene who also said: ‘I won’t go to the elections.’ What can they do to us? They can come to your house with a ballot box - so you won’t be at home. Of course, no one wanted to be simplistically courageous and tell them: ‘I don’t have anyone to vote for.’ So we just weren’t at home. That was a blemish on your record, of course. The Seventies, it’s just hard to describe.”

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    Praha, 15.02.2016

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    Praha, 09.05.2016

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    duration: 40:18
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Don’t participate in the regime, don’t dirty yourself

Roman Cajthaml, 2016
Roman Cajthaml, 2016
photo: Eye Direct

Roman Cajthaml was born in 1962 in Hořovice near Beroun. He grew up in Beroun and at his grandparents’ house in nearby Libečov. His father, a full-time soldier, served in the Czechoslovak People’s Army, and his mother, a civil servant, gradually worked her way up to a post in the People’s Supervisory Committee (one of the highest-ranking governmental institutions - trans.). In 1976 the family moved to Prague. His parents divorced, and Roman saw his father only sporadically. He was an audiophile, and through the sale of vinyl records, which he and his brother got from Great Britain in exchange for Czechoslovak albums, he met Ivan Wünsch, who introduced him to underground culture. His carefree life in the Prague underground scene came to an end when he graduated from a secondary business school. He received a summons to the army. Military service and the bullying it entailed, the inability to decide for yourself, and the enforced participation in the regime meant two years of torment for the young man, “newly introduced to the Gospel, a dandy [the Czechoslovak equivalent of a hippie - trans.] and a pacifist”. Roman decided to avoid the barracks at all cost. He signed up for alternative military service at Českomoravská Kolben-Daněk (ČKD). Despite that, however, as the son of an officer with a reliable family background, he was assigned to a rocket division. From the outset of his posting as the operator of a passive radio locator for weapons of mass destruction, he put himself on sick leave and soon decided to plan an escape. He managed to get out of the Josefov garrison, hitch a ride to Prague, and using his passport, military card, and his contacts with the dissent in Warsaw, he succeeded in travelling out of the country to Poland. He hid in Warsaw with the help of the Committee for the Protection of Workers (KOR). He refused the offer of a representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to be expatriated beyond the Iron Curtain. Despite being warned against it, he contacted his brother via telegram to agree a meeting. The message was intercepted by State Security, and Roman was arrested at the rendezvous point. In the end, he got off relatively lightly with a two-year prison sentence, which he served in Bělušice near Most. After his release he was under probational surveillance by State Security for another three years. Until November 1989 he was only allowed to do “the usual dissident jobs”, such as in geodetics, or as a boilerman or window cleaner.