“I don’t know who it was. Two men in plain clothes came and told me: ‘You’re making the assessment of this and that person and this and that woman. You have to write it so that the person comes out of it in a negative way.’ But naturally, I made it based on reality, the truth, and it was the exact opposite, the person didn’t come out negatively, quite the reverse. I made the assessment according to my conscience. There were several cases like this. Or I issued a certificate to someone who had needed it and had been refused it for some political reasons, and I gave a medical explanation for it. So, I wasn’t in any resistance or anything, but within the limits of my job I acted at my own discretion and according to my conscience, which often caused trouble. So I think that doctor Dobiáš smoothed out and settled many things for me and that it was thanks to him that I didn’t lose the papers necessary to exercise my profession.”
“It was an incredibly difficult thing to live through. When I look back at it, it was completely unprofessional. I did follow all the professional rules, but the inner experience was completely unprofessional. It moved me very deeply. And things like this shouldn’t move a psychiatrist this much. So, as a professional I failed in that way.” – “Did you talk about your experience with someone close?” – “Back then I only talked about it with my immediate superior, professor Dobiáš. Apart from that I couldn’t talk about it with anyone.”
“I made detailed records of every day for the clinic. I processed it at night or whenever he slept.” – “If you compare the way he communicated with other cases… can you even compare it?” – “It’s not comparable at all. It’s completely against all medical rules and psychological rules, the boy was simply fully conscious despite his severe injuries. Just sometimes things got dark for a little while. Like if things got a little foggy for a while but then it all lit up again. He made sure the nurses read him the responses from newspapers. I couldn’t read it to him myself, because I couldn’t see it properly. But the nurses did it, they read it and told him that the public reacted in a positive way.”
“I heard him saying, calling: ‘I didn’t want to kill myself.’ I was there. But I only started my shift the next day. He had burns on 80 % of his body, most of it severe, and he was fully conscious most of the time. He communicated with the ones around him and with me especially in a very adequate and meaningful way. I was with him nonstop. He tried to talk with me. He explained constantly that he had not wanted to kill himself. He did it to move the entire nation, so to speak. To not forget the days when people awoke to wanting their own way of socialism, not the one that had been forced upon them. He wanted to encourage them, so they would stand by it and would insist on it. Because the enthusiasm had started to wear off at the beginning of 1969. So he tried to express himself like this, even though his lips had been burned and he had troubles speaking. I was with him all the time, close to him. Besides, I had a voice of a sixteen-year-old girl back then and he didn’t take me as a doctor but more like some young person who was there with him. So, that’s how he communicated with me.”
“When you talked about those senses and feelings and when I come back to Jan Palach who had been such an important person in your life – did he act based on senses or feelings?” – “He acted based on senses. If he had acted based on feelings, he wouldn’t have done it. But he acted based on senses, the sense of right and wrong, sense of rightness and honesty.” – “If he had acted based on feelings, what would he have done?” – “He would not have done it, because he would be scared. Fear is a feeling. He would maybe commit suicide, that perhaps. Because of the feeling of not being able to bear it and so on. But that was not the case with him. There was a crystal-clear intention to do something that would move people. He wanted to move people, not ruin his own life.”
“At the time I wasn’t a psychiatrist mature enough to handle my emotions. I learned that later, but for a long time I couldn’t manage one emotion. The sadness that such a promising life ended that way. When people asked me whether I approved of it, well I don’t approve of it but I understand it. I have a deep understanding that it was his own fight in a situation when the entire nation had already lost its will to fight. And it was his fight. A lonely fight. And as we can see, its significance is great all over the world. So it wasn’t hopeless or pointless. But from a human standpoint, I would have been happier if he had emigrated and for example worked somewhere at a radio station broadcasting news. That’s my human attitude.”
You need a human face but neither communism nor capitalism will help
Zdenka Kmuníčková was born June 23, 1933 in Řečice near Brno. Her father Jan Kmuníček was an organic chemist working in the food industry, her mother was a housewife. Zdenka Kmuníčková went blind at the age of twelve but a cornea transplant helped her regain her sight when she was twenty. Her condition deteriorated at a work group of the Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth and she’s had to cope with her disability her whole life. In 1951 she joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party. In 1965 she graduated medical school despite her eye condition and started working in the Kosmonosy mental institution as a psychiatrist; later she worked at a psychiatric clinic in Prague. As a consultant she treated the dying Jan Palach in 1969 and she recorded an interview with him in good faith, which later became a controversial subject of lawsuits following the revolution in 1989. She genuinely believed in the communist ideals up until the August 1968 occupation. Afterwards she didn’t pass the screenings and was expelled from the party. She runs a private practice to this day.