Jiří Holba

* 1953

  • “I was looking around what to do. I was searching for something. The ties to the Brethren Church and Christian faith were severed. I did not know any of them and in the underground community I was a member of there were no believers. In other words, I knew no one who had any relationship to religion. I started practising yoga. I met a friend, Jaroslav Waldhans from Kladno. There were three of us – Jaroslav Waldhans, I and Václav Klugner. We were looking for something spiritual. For some time we even practised Hari Krshna, but I soon learned that this was a sectarian movement and I backed from it. The guys stayed for some time but eventually they left too.”

  • “I did not a stamp in my ID book and when you had long hair, you were immediately targeted by the police. It was quite common. ‘What do you have in your bag. Take the stuff out etc.’ – ‘The long hair was a form of protest?’ – ‘Yes, for me it was a form of protest. I was arrested three times, taken to the police. For instance once when Andropov died and they did a check. They saw I didn’t have a stamp in my ID book and arrested me. The I was interrogated. The police officers were rather naughty, so there was this plain clothes officer who asked for names of people. He shouted that he wanted names. So I started saying some names, but I could not remember, so then I thought that it didn’t matter anyway, so I named, among others, Franz Kafka. In short, I invented names. It was rather fun.”

  • “I started frequenting the Betlehem Chapel pub which was the haunt of the so-called longhairs, people who listened to rock, beat, blues, Western music such as Velvet Underground, The Doors and similar bands. I befriended them and was a part of this community.” – “Who did you meet?” – “Well, it had several phases. There were not many longhairs pubs in Prague, so it was really about groups of people. When you had longhair, somewhere you could not get a beer or even threw you out. There was a lot of bullying. Unfortunately, this life was too closely related with the pub and alcohol, so it was rather shallow. At that time I was living in a rented flat and I simply got tired of that life. I was 27 and I told myself that the life led nowhere and that I was just losing time and was continuing into something I didn’t want to do.”

  • “I liked Buddhism and I started studying it in more depth. When I was about fifteen I read, in World Literature journal, an article on Zen Buddhism. I did not understand it at all, but then I started visiting Mirek and Iva Vodrážkas. They held flat seminars titled Other Religions. There was this triumvirate of lecturers, Egon Bondy, Milan Machovec and Milan Balabán. It was a rather strange group, as each of them was different. Egon Bondy was an important figure for me at that time, because he wrote the monograph Buddha. It is a very important book, one of the most important books on Buddhism ever, albeit written from an atheistic perspective. He managed to capture many things very well. He had an instinct for it.”

  • “I started perceiving the world differently. Until that time I saw the problem only in the regime. I thought the regime was the problem. Well, it was a problem indeed. But then there was I who could do something about it. It is all too easy to blame something – that something or somebody beyond me is the cause of my problem. Naturally, this is not the case, but one has to think about himself, to reflect, which is something that I, or we together, managed to do.”

  • “In 1995 I graduated of Faculty of Arts, Sanskrit. In five years, I did grammar school and university. In five years. I spent more time on the doctorate, it took me seven years and I did it at the Institute of Philosophy and Religion.” – “This is a fast and major transformation indeed.” – “It was quite difficult with the children. What was of key importance for me was that my wife Iva had an utmost understanding for it. In my view, 99 of 100 wives would have sent me packing. They would have said, ‘Either me and family, or the so-called career’. But it was not a career for me, it was something I wanted to do.” – “Did you apply for university during the communist regime?” – “I never applied. First, I didn’t have the necessary ‘maturita’ exam and second, I didn’t want to subject myself to study at that time because you had to meet certain requirements. And they wouldn’t have accepted me either. Had they looked into my personal file, they would have seen what all I had signed, that I went on a hunger strike for Petr Pospíchal etc.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Eye Direct, 10.10.2017

    duration: 01:52:09
  • 2

    V Praze, 15.01.2020

    duration: 01:05:03
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
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It’s easy to blame everything on the regime but one must question oneself too

jogín, 1985 a.jpg (historic)
Jiří Holba
photo: Post Bellum

Jiří Holba was born on May 11, 1953, in Vsetín and grew up with his mother and grandfather in Bystřička, Vsetín region. He trained to be an electro-mechanic, in 1972 to 1974 he took the compulsory military service. He has lived in Prague since the late 1970s and was a part of the underground community around the Betlehem Chapel pub. He worked as an electrician, driver’s assistant, janitor, nurse and boiler operator. In 1979 he attempted to emigrate to Sweden, where he travelled legally, but after an adventure, trying to get to the Netherlands with his friend, he was forced to return to Czechoslovakia. He experienced an existential crisis on his return and took a serious interest in India, yoga and buddhism. He took Sanskrit lessons from Dušan Zbavitel and, from 1984, attended private flat seminars led by Milan Balabán, Egon Bondy and Milan Machovec. After the revolution in 1989 he passed his “maturita” exam and started studying Sanskrit at Faculty of Arts, Charles University, of which he graduated in 1995. He then went on to a postgraduate study of systematic philosophy, which he finished in 2002. He has been with the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences since 1997, in 2002 to 2015 he worked as a teacher at the Institute of Philosophy and Religion, Faculty of Arts, Charles University. He is married with three children.