Michal Horáček

* 1952

  • “We had been in contact with people from Havel´s inner circle since the summer. At that time, these two men were around him the most: Saša Vondra and Jirka Křižan. And that was good, as Jirka Křižan was good. And they thought that what we had been doing was good. And we didn´t want to do that without them, to impose the Most initiative on them, to insist that our platform has to be used. But they agreed with that. So that was a good starting point. And then during the revolution, it had happened that, as the movement grew stronger... I wrote a book about it, 'Jak pukaly ledy' (How the Ice Was Cracking), so I can´t repeat the whole story here. A hour after hour it went, the situation had been changing dramatically. But I remember I was at the Činoherní Club where the Občanské fórum (Civic Forum) was being founded, it was on Sunday evening. On the next day, we were sitting in the backstage of the Realistické Theatre, then they managed to get the Laterna Magika Theatre and so on. In any case, there had to be the meeting, the one we had always striven for, between the independent initiatives and the communist prime minister, but the first one didn´t go quite well. As Václav Havel would come with some other people, with Honza Ruml for example. And all of a sudden, Oskar Krejčí would run out terrified and say: 'Comrades, no, we didn´t agree on this.' He kept addressing us as 'comrades'. “No, we really didn´t agree on this,” that Havel, as he was the devil himself, as just eight months earlier he was in jail and it was the Communist who had imprisoned him. They felt we were rushing them. But the Občanské fórum gave Havel a mandate and they would state: 'Either you would deal with Havel or there would be nothing at all.” And as Krejčí rushed out, stating that such a thing couldn´t be, that they would have to cancel the meeting, Havel would... I still remember that clearly, as I was cold and he would come dressed in that black jacket in which he spoke ceaselessly from the balcony at Melantrich Publishing House during that days. And he smoked a lot. And after that, he would say:' Well I do have the mandate, but there are moments during a revolution when the leader has to act firmly, so just go there without me I say.' And it hadn´t been easy for him to make such a decision, not at all. And at that moment I realised that in fact he was the leader. As he would look... As he didn´t give the image of persona like Napoleon or Trotsky, with his rhotacism and smoking, and he had that weird diction, repeating that 'že ano/you see' over and over again. But when the push came to shove, he knew what to do.”

  • “The situation at that time was that it was evident that the power was being held by those Communist party members who were the co-authors and undoubtedly even the enforcers of the so-called Poučení z krizového vývoje (Lessons Drawn from the Crisis Development). That came at the beginning of the so-called Normalisation, Vasil Biľak had been its chief editor, a Stalinist and a Brezhnevite. And every person who wanted to remain in the Communist party or wanted to join it had to sign that. That meant that by his signature he would agree with the occupation of his country. And the whole regime had been supported by a group of people who would agree with the occupation and they would derive their legitimacy from it. And suddenly, it seemed that maybe it no longer would be the best way to do it. And there was a need at that moment for some other Communist party member to take over. Some reformist Communist, a Gorbachevite and a supporter of perestroika and glasnost. So Adamec tried really hard to jump in and he was indeed in contact with Gorbachev. Gorbachev was betting on him, that was the reason why things developed as they did. As they couldn´t know, of course, that the Soviet Union would cease to exist in less then a year and a half. And so would the Communist Party. That Jelcin wold tear his Communist party membership card to pieces, in the Soviet Union, such thing was still unimaginable. So at that time the situation was that Gorbachev needed to have his man in the country. And it seemed that it would be Adamec. I think he even thought of being a president. And that adviser of his had certainly been guiding him in that direction.”

  • “They interrogated me at the Bartolomějská street, and in fact they didn´t know what to expect. And it all went round and round. Right after an interrogation would end, another jolly good fellow would show up, saying: 'So, what´s your name, when were you born?' And so on. They were threatening me. Well, threatening... They said, that I had committed a serious crime for which I could get up to eight years. I spent two months in custody, but still I had to be afraid that I could end up there for years. So I experienced something really interesting, I experienced how was it like to be a convict. And that wasn´t a trivial experience. As inside, you would get to know things that you otherwise wouldn´t realise. How colours are important for us, for example, in the world. The prison was a place of immense grayness, there wasn´t any colour at all. So after that, as you walk out after two months and you would see colours... Or just such a simple thing as the fact that you could go anywhere you wanted to. And because of that, even as it would rain, as the wind would blow, and the weather would be just awful, since then, I have never been complaining, as it is better still to walk through rain and wind as a free man who could decide where he would go. That´s something of immense importance. As it is just wonderful, because it isn´t granted. Or which books can you read. In prison, books are being issued as the high and mighty would find proper. And you and your cell mates, well I had been with just one colleague all the time, would be entitled to get three books a week. And you would bee choosing just by the thickness of the book, that was the most important thing. So you would have enough to read. So I would read Jarmila Glazarová, for example, Zdeněk Nejedlý. I also read a remarkable book about Vladimir Ilyich Lenin that got there by some mistake as somewhere on the third page, Lenin had been described as... It went: “Red beast of Satan, the most dangerous man.' It was a vitriolic anti-Leninist pamphlet, but the man who was issuing the books hadn´t been able to uncover that. That was quite remarkable.”

  • “I got off the plane and I was heading to the arrivals hall, in an exuberant state of mind, expecting that I would see my family and my girl whom I had been dating. I brought them some gifts and I was in a hurry. And I know that I was the first to get off the plane, I would jump the queue so I would be there as soon as possible. And there was this little camping table with two men sitting behind it. And they would start checking the passports. And I was the first one to go. And remember one of them saying, 'Yup, that´s him.' And they would say: 'You are coming with us.' I said: 'Why?' They replied: 'Well, you will see.' So they would take me to this tiny room. And I remember them addressing me: 'Well young man, the game is over.' And I said: 'What do you mean?' - 'Well you know,' and so on... They wanted to make sense of this weird story, that someone would get away to America and then he would come back. They themselves marveled at the fact. And they were wondering whether there was some hidden agenda. Some strange connections. And I had been really quite naive back then and I had been really overacting. So I played even bigger fool than I was. And aftersome time they would realise that I wasn´t a big deal after all. And they were trying these tricks on me like... As I remember, there had been a robbery somewhere. Six months earlier, someone robbed a post office somewhere or maybe it was a petrol station. So they would say: 'Oh, there you got the money. They saw you!” And of course, I was utterly flabbergasted by that, as you really didn´t know what was happening in such a situation. All of the sudden they were trying to frame me for a robbery. Why would they want to do something like that? But I was just because they wern´t able to investigate the case, they couldn´t find the culprit. So they would just try it on anyone who would get in their hands. In case someone would break accidentally and say: 'Yes, it was me who did it.'”

  • “As my mother had been telling me over and over again that going to New York was the best thing ever, I also wanted to go to New York. And that was difficult in the 70s, which today isn´t such a well known fact, as not only that you needed passport and a visa, to the United States for example, but you also had to have the so-called exit visa. And the regime had to agree with that and issue the so-called exit permission. And for that you needed some kind of a testimonial, someone had to vouch for you. At work, there were people appointed to do this, at some professions. And at our school it was the Socialistický svaz mládeže´s (Socialist Union of Youth) committee. The problem was that I wasn´t a Socialist Union of Youth member, maybe as the only one in our class. And when I came to ask the comrade who was in charge, he was no longer acting as the coleague with whom I had been playing football. He was quite formal, saying: 'But we don´t know you, comrade, from our political work. How could I vouch for you?' And I would say, 'Come on, Štěfan, just tick it off, it´s no big deal. I don´t want to run anyway, I just want to go to New York. And maybe they would give me the exit permission. They just want you to stamp it, and you do have that round stamp right here.' And he would refuse to do it, so I went home and I was thinking what to do. And as I was twenty-years old, I had these much bolder ideas. And I was thinking that for a civil servant a round stamp was just a round stamp, no matter what was on it. So once, as my grandfather would go to collect Long-horned beetles at Letná or maybe at Šárka, I would search his desk and find a stamp there. It was a strange one, as it was really huge. A round stamp, twice as big as the normal one. And above all – there was a bee in the middle of it. A bee, rendered with love and attention to detail, even with those tiny legs. So I told myself, 'Let´s try this.' And I would take the stamp with the bee and I would slap it on the paper and write 'We do recommend the comrade' beneath it. And I would submit it to the police and you know what would happen? They would give me the exit permission, that was utterly bizarre."

  • Full recordings
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    Praha, 29.06.2018

    duration: 01:32:28
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 2

    Praha, 27.07.2018

    duration: 01:33:16
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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Losing is the greatest delight right after winning

Michal Horáček was born on July 23rd of 1952 in Praha as a son of Vladimír Horáček, a translator and a dramaturge, and Eva Horáčková née Heyrovská, a psychologist. Since his childhood, he was encouraged to pursue his interest in visual arts and literature, after graduating fro gymnasium in 1970 he started to study journalism at the Charles University´s Faculty of Social Sciences and Journalism. In the spring of 1974, after forging a recommendation by the Socialistický svaz mládeže (Socialist Union of Youth), he was allowed to travel abroad and went to the United States of America. Upon his return, he was arrested, taken into custody and expelled from the university, but in the end, he was conditionally discharged. He made his living as a dishwasher and worked as a lifeguard, after that, he ended up in META, a Disabled Person Union´s manufacturing company. At the same time, he was active amongst Praha´s gambling and horse betting community; and he managed to publish series of articles on horse racing and horse breeding in foreign journals, despite the fact that at first he was not allowed to publish in Czechoslovakia. After he had won a journalism prize abroad in 1982, he went on a one-year scholarship to the United States in 1984, studying at the Macalester College´s World Press Institute. After he came back from the United States he wrote for Mladý Svět (The Young World) Magazine and he also began his collaboration with Petr Hapka as a lyricist, with whom he later wrote several musical records. In 1989, he founded the Most (The Bridge) Initiative) with Michael Kocáb, that mediated the dialogue between the high ranking Communist party members and the opposition in the days of November of 1989. In 1990, he founded the Fortuna betting agency. In 2018, he was a candidate during the presidential elections in the Czech Republic.