Evžen Gál

* 1957  †︎ 2024

  • "In the 1990s in the Czech Republic, the image of the Romani was awful then. Terrible, really terrible. In Hungary, however, it was an absolutely beautiful picture they created. First of all, they did it in a very positive way, they started to promote rather positive role models. They presented successful Romani. President Göncz was a great help. For example, he was one of the initiators of the establishment of the Gandhi Grammar School in Pécs, in the south. There are 400 great people there every year, great teachers. It´been still working up to now. Such a student centre, which was built in a very modern way, people [are] very carefully chosen from all over the country. They go around the country every year and attract some talents there. It's very generously funded so that they have adequately good conditions there. Even the media presented it that way. So when I think back on it, when I wrote about it, how beautiful it was in Hungary, but that's just the way it was."

  • "There was such a big event. The Hungarians made it in such an interesting cultural place. There is an old ship on the Danube, a Soviet ship even, the A38, and there are excellent concerts there, such alternative culture is still presented there. They organized a show called My City there. The cultural programme meant that they always invited somebody interesting, known by all Hungarians, some person, and they set a programme for a week: what they like. What they like to watch, what they like to listen to, what they read, what they eat, what they drink. There is a big restaurant there, so then they cooked according to that. His [Václav Havel´s] cook, Mrs. Čirinová, was Hungarian, so she prepared the menu. Of course, Plastic People came with Havel, Chytilová was there, David Černý was there, because we brought one of his baby sculptures on the boat to Budapest for the occasion. It was an absolutely fantastic evening, with Havel there and his friend, György Konrád, a Hungarian writer, who died recently. He was a sort of the eminent Hungarian dissident, they knew each other well, they saw each other often, I even interpreted for them, because when Havel was president, maybe in the beginning, he behaved more freely than later. He could afford to do things that he didn't do later, that he went to the pub in the evening. That wasn't quite possible later."

  • "I was even at the trial that took place, with the Hungarian young people who spoke... who asked for forgiveness from Czechoslovakia on the 20th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact occupation of Czechoslovakia, then in '88, in August. There were five Hungarians in Wenceslas Square at the time, filming it, and they were reading the letter of apology. Tamás Deutsch, who is today a Fidesz MEP, he was condemned and expelled from the country. And when their trial took place, I went with the Hungarian journalists to interpret and the whole Czech dissent was there. As they came in, the prisoners were led into the courtroom and the dissidents applauded them, and it was all being filmed. Or I co-organized Hutka's performance in Budapest, so somewhere, in some records, I must have been listed. But we always did that, always... Actually, we lived in such a way that we used to say: 'We're parents, we have to... not both of us.' I used to go, my wife... The only time we were together was at the demonstration in Škroupovo Square. That was at the occasion of human rights on December 10, and that was also in 1988. Havel wasn't in prison then, so Havel was speaking there. So we were there. We were there together."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 14.04.2021

    duration: 01:58:45
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Sitting on three chairs

Evžen Gál  in 2001
Evžen Gál in 2001
photo: witness´s archive

Evžen Gál was born on 2 June, 1957 in Fiľakovo, Slovakia. His parents came from the countryside, from the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, and part of the family lived in Hungary, only twenty kilometres away. Although he went only to Hungarian schools until he graduated from secondary school, he had Slovak friends from whom he learned Slovak, and as Slovak language was also obligatory at school, he was already bilingual as a child. After arriving in Prague, he soon managed to learn Czech during his statistics studies. Two years later, he went over to the Faculty of Arts (or Philosophical Faculty) of Charles University to study Czech and Hungarian, and at the same time, for many years, he taught practical language in the courses organized by the Hungarian Cultural Centre . After graduating from the faculty, he worked at the official communist Hungarian daily newspaper Új Szó, which had its branch in Prague, but at the end of the 1980s it was obvious that he was going to leave the job. He became profoundly interested in political events, participating in demonstrations and signing petitions. For less than a year he worked at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, where he was in charge of films, and before November 1989 he successfully applied for a position of the Hungarian lecturer at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. At first he taught linguistics and later only modern Hungarian literature, which he still has been teaching these days. In the 1990s he used to interpret for President Václav Havel on both official and informal occasions. For six years he worked as the director of the Czech Centre in Budapest, where he successfully promoted Czech culture, and since his return to Prague he has continued to teach at the University at the Department of Central European Studies of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. In 2009 he received the Pro Cultura Hungarica Award for the promotion of Hungarian culture in the Czech Republic. Evžen Gál died on January 18, 2024.