Otakar Hulec

* 1935  

  • “And when I arrived at the main office where I sent the fax to Prague, I needed to walk another two hundred or three hundred meters along the main road which was also called like this, Main Street, towards the biggest African museum. And I was mugged by three black young men one hundred or two hundred metres from the entrance. They tore off my bag, ran away with it, one was holding a long knife under my throat so that I could not defend myself. They tried to take away my watch and wallet from trouser pocket. I did not have any experience so I defended myself which you should not do in such a case. But I was lucky that they only took my bag including the passport and other stuff. They ran away with it. Nothing happened to me. A small car drove past at that moment, a Jeep with African not police but guards - I would say something like city police - they picked me up and tried to find the young men somewhere. However, they ran into a passage so we could do nothing. They took me to the nearest police station and there was an old policeman, a police office. His first question was where it had happened. When I said that it had been in front of the museum he most probably lied, copped out, said that it was not his district and that I had to report it in the main police station. And it was about two kilometres away along the Main Street, so I went there without the bag and I was mugged for the second time some two hundred or three hundred metres before the police station. It was again by three young men who were around sixteen or eighteen years old and who managed to take my watch because I defended myself again but I caught the wallet in my trouser pocket and because they could not open the pocket, they tore the wallet together with trousers. I lost the whole trouser leg in the Main Street of Johannesburg."

  • “The children were perceptive even about the modern history. As an example, I can mention that the most modern history was taught in the eight and later in the ninth year and there was a small paragraph in the textbook about the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party, about so-called Bolshevization in 1929. Something so disgusting and so incomprehensible for children - it was a problem just to explain them what “Bolshevization” meant. But in all the years where I had to teach it, where I had to give lectures on the modern history in the highest years, I spent at least three or four lessons on it. And the kids enjoyed it. I read them or let them read Klement Gottwald´s speech in the then parliament where he spoke about communists wringing bourgeoisie´s neck. The children enjoyed it very much - then I told them what Bolshevization was.”

  • “So, he always let me stay in the sickroom because in a fortnight he came with another article and he boasted about it that they had published the first one and that he came up with another one. And that he even prepared and illustration, that he took a picture. The topic was how easy it is for a person to get hurt - that one could break a leg or that something worse could happen - when the manhole cover stays partly open and it is possible to fall there. So that it is necessary to make sure that everything is right. Well and the documentation to it, the picture that he took with his own camera, he stood over the open manhole and he took picture of it. So, it was a white area with a black square in the middle. Well and he wanted to know my opinion. I took my time. I thought about it for a fortnight. I kept saying: ‘Well, it is well-written, but you know, something still annoys me there and I do not know what it is. So, after about fourteen days when he came impatiently, I said happily: ‘I´ve got it. I´ve figured it out. The photo misses third dimension. And he did not know what it was. So that I should explain it to him and to show how to do it. I took a sheet of paper and a pencil and I drew an angle and a short line on top of it. ‘This is, I told him, the short line up there, it is third dimension. It is three-dimensionality so that it isn´t as dull as the square. And the following day in the morning - because I did not get up so early in the sickroom – I was woken up by a loud yelling from the courtyard. So, I went to look from the window and the barracks windows were full of soldiers that were yelling. And the major was standing in the middle of the courtyard with a camera. The manhole cover was partly open, and his wife stood over it wearing high heels - as if she could fall to the manhole. She was very pretty and very famous and popular with soldiers. It was a big show and the article was also published and I could spend three months in the sickroom.”

  • “So when I got to know that I had been expelled from the faculty - they did not tell me why but that it had happened because of ‘cadre reasons‘ or I do not know, just that I could not continue studying - so I was leaving the room and, behold, the door behind me opened and the dean ran after me, put his hand on my shoulder and he literally said: ‘You can´t be mad at me but it was either me or you leaving the faculty.‘ This way he admitted that he had been forced to give me the result. By coincidence I planned to go to a concert with Jana Štroblová whom, or her parents I had asked to marry me a week ago. We were supposed to get married in a week or in a fortnight. After the exclusion I instantly realized how it was difficult. For one thing two-year military service expected me immediately, and for another I would be nothing. So instead to a concert I went to see them and fortunately I met Jana in front of the entrance to the house. And I told her, I told her what had happened and that we should not get married because of it.”

  • “But I need to get back to the three-shift, mainly night operation. Colleagues, blue-collar workers from neighbouring machines - I would like to get back to the society that was there - gave me a piece of advice that it was illegal; that I could not work night shifts as a minor. And they gave me a piece of advice and an address to go to a trade union - it was located in the centre of České Budějovice - and to present myself there and ask what I was supposed to do. If I could not be, especially because I go to the night school, relieved of the night shifts. So I went there, I spoke there to a pleasant, quite young lady who told me at once: ‘Yes, the Act exists, children are not supposed to work night shifts until they are eighteen years old.‘ But then she somehow paused when we talked together and she asked me questions. And she told me to come there in a week to ask for the result. When I came there a week later, she had completely changed, was tense and somehow stiff and she told me that the Act was not valid in my case and that I had to work the night shift. And when I wanted to know a bit more, why the Act that was valid for everyone was not valid for me, she responded me something like that I was a bourgeois person, class enemy and so on. And I responded to it for the first time in my life and never like this after it - I don´t know what got into me, I was not serious - and I said: ‘Well, if it is, as you say, that I am a person who does not have any future so it would be better if I jumped from the window. Her reaction really surprised me because the lady stood up, pointed her hand towards the window and said: ‘Help yourself, it is open.‘”

  • “I applied to an evening school for workers when I was in the factory the second year. It was actually substitution for a grammar school. And I started to attend it, but I did not get a recommendation from the factory. Even the cadre officer once came to see my father who was also working in the factory, also as a lathe operator and he told him: ‘As long as I am here and alive, your son will never be admitted to the school.‘ It was a cruel statement but a typical one for that time. Dad told me in a way to lighten it. He told me: ‘The man is very ill, he will not last long.‘ So we talked and calmed down like this.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 10.10.2017

    duration: 02:02:57
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 2

    Praha, 11.01.2018

    duration: 02:27:15
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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Journey to African studies led through a factory

Second wedding in Sychrov in 1971
Second wedding in Sychrov in 1971
photo: Archiv pamětníka

He was born on the 23rd of March 1935 in České Budějovice. His father was a lawyer and an opera singer at the same time, his mother was a daughter of a clerk. The “bourgeois” family living in a First Republic family house in the suburbs of České Budějovice called “Pražské předměstí” found themselves on the wrong side of imaginary barricade of class conflict in February 1948. Therefore, Otakar has been dealing with problems connected with his non-working-class origin for his whole life: the opportunity to study was repeatedly denied to him and he could pass the secondary school leaving exam only after two years of working in a factory. He was admitted to Faculty of Arts during temporary release in 1956 but he was expelled after four years of history studies because of “cadre reasons”. His teachers’ solidarity helped him because they let him pass the State leaving exam on their own. In 1962, he started to work in The Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Science, learned two African languages, did his doctorate and became Africanist. He had to leave the Institute in 1973. He was a teacher at elementary school for sixteen years before he could return to The Oriental Institute after the revolution in 1989.