RNDr., CSc. Jan Květ

* 1933

  • „The most important language, spoken by a considerable part of the population, was German and so a young German lady would come to our home about twice a week, she was from the borderlands or from Prague, I’m not sure. And with her I went on walks and she tried to talk German with me. I guess I was pretty good at it. When the Munich Agreement happened and the events that pushed the German-Czechoslovak hostilities to the brink of war, my parents naturally asked her if she’s politically active – they simply wanted to make sure she wasn’t a Nazi sympathizer and she assured them that politics don’t interest her at all. But when push came to shove and March 16th came, after the German army had come to Prague, the soldiers pitched their camps, including military equipment, also near Chotek Gardens where me and that lady would go for our walks. And she was so excited when she saw the German soldiers and presented me as an example of a Czech kid that can already make itself understood in German. The soldiers were very friendly to me, gave me something to eat and drink, took photos of me. And when I came home there was a big fuss about it. Dad was as furious as ever. He paid the young lady what he had owed her and then dismissed her, asking her never to come back again. He was worried that somewhere in the German press a photo of a young Czech boy will appear, talking to German soldiers, greeting them. Thankfully that didn’t happen. But ever since then I had a terrible feeling of guilt inside of me, that children’s feeling of having done something dreadful that I must redress. And so I kept thinking of how to make up for it. Then I thought of hiding in the Chotek Gardens once the bushes near the playground there have leaves and throwing a rock on a German soldier passing by in a car. And that’s what I did. A soldier in a roofless car was passing, he had an aircraft uniform, and I threw the rock at him. Fortunately, I missed. And then I proudly told my parents how I made up for my wrongdoing and obviously I got a good dressing down yet again. They told me: You know what could have happened if you actually hit him, they very well could have shot your father dead. So I got these instructions and lessons on how to always tell the truth at home but never tell the truth to Germans.”

  • „I was lucky enough to be present during the restoration of Junák in 1968. The news spread. It was late March in the Homeland hall in Holešovice, near the port. There in the hall packed with people, Junák’s chief and a former political prisoner Rudolf Plajner made a speech. He read a declaration that was ended by all of us repeating the Scout Promise. To make the loyalty towards our socialist republic clear, he emphasized the part which reads “We’ll love our motherland, the socialist republic of Czechoslovakia”. But it was for nothing, Junák later merged with Pionýr anyway. Some people were taken over from Junák to Pionýr. Even Rudolf Plajner himself came to the leadership of Pionýr because he had hoped to save the basic elements of the Scout education. He said that there’s only one youth and it needs our care at all events. I’d say that Pioneers had a more varied activity during the Normalization period than under Stalin. It wasn’t just politics anymore. Naturally it was also thanks to the many reasonable leaders.”

  • „We had this one teacher and to this day I don’t know what he was pretending and what were his beliefs. He was a German language teacher who knew loads of languages, he was gifted in that way. But he treated us in a rather harsh way. When someone didn’t know something, he started scolding in German: ,Du Schweinhund, so erlernst du nichts. You dogpig, you don’t learn anything.’ When he was angry he usually caught a pupil by his nose and banged his head on the back desk. That was one of his punishments. His insults were stepped, one of the most common being “you drunk sea guenon monkey”. This German teacher would stand in the Ječná street when we were leaving school and would force us all to greet him with the Aryan Sieg Heil salute and when someone didn’t do it he painfully twisted his ear, dragged him back to the front school door. He then had to go again and had to salute in front of him. I met this man several days after May 9th in the Spálená street, in a uniform of the revolutionary guards, with a badge on his shoulder and a rifle, patrolling the area.”

  • „In primary school, when I was in third grade, the attempt to assassinate Heydrich took place. Martial law was declared in Prague that day. Even though there was still light out and other times we could still play outside, that day after 7 p.m. we could’t leave the house. The first day after the attack German soldiers searched apartments to see if there isn’t someone hiding. An older German soldier from Wehrmacht came to our house. When he was searching the apartment and came to the bedroom door of me and my sister, my father told him not to turn the lights on, that children are sleeping there. That’s when I woke up and he cast the light on us real gentle and then closed the door again.”

  • „The first time I was in London I went to report myself to the Czechoslovak Embassy, so that they would know about me, that was my duty. A young man who was probably a science attaché took care of me, I think his name was Ing. Machálik, and an older person who probably had more of a political role and it later turned out he had been a secret police collaborator, his name was Koška. They invited me for lunch to a London restaurant in Kensington, near the Embassy. A student was waitressing there as a part-time job. She asked us what language we spoke. We said Czech. And she said: ‚So you’re from Czechoslovakia?‘ And we nodded. ‚And before the war, you had a great and famous president. What was his name? I don’t recall.‘ And she turned to us to help her call the name to mind. The two diplomats were looking at each other with great unease, because one was afraid of the other. And so I said „Masaryk“. You could feel the weight being lifted from their hearts, glad that I said it and that they didn’t have to. And she said ‚Oh, yes, Masaryk, yes, yes, you’re right.‘ Such was the atmosphere at the Embassy back then.”

  • „Almost all of the events that happened would happen anyway, just under a different heading. And so we posted it under the heading of the Union of Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship. When the director had a wedding on the Červená Lhota castle, we all went there and in the report stated that we had had a theme tour to Červená Lhota a that there had been 27 participants. During one event with too few people, like for example the yearly obligatory committee meeting, I came up with the coefficient theory. It’s a way to deflect attention, it can be condemned, but on the other hand it serves to eliminate the nonsensical system with our own tools. I said to myself that everybody has someone at home - a wife, grandma, grandpa, children, girlfriend… I always came up with a coefficient with which I multiplied the actual number of people. When there were 3 people, I used the coefficient 3 and officially reported 9 people. Other times, when it was something really interesting, I increased the coefficient. When it was less attractive, like playing vinyl records with Russian music, I made the coefficient only 1.8.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    České Budějovice, 30.05.2019

    duration: 01:21:17
  • 2

    České Budějovice, 05.07.2019

    duration: 02:58:06
  • 3

    České Budějovice, 18.07.2019

    duration: 02:21:02
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Let’s make a sieve out of the Iron Curtain

Jan Květ in 1965
Jan Květ in 1965
photo: Archiv pamětníka

Jan Květ was born on August 26, 1933 in Prague. He spent his childhood in Dejvice. As a child of the Nazi protectorate, he was fascinated by the literature and activities of Jaroslav Foglar. He joined the Junák Scout organization after the war and led a tourist group in a scout spirit during the totalitarian era. He graduated from the Faculty of Science, Charles University and later worked as a scientist at the Institute of Botany, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1962 he completed a year-long research fellowship at Oxford University in Britain. After his return the State Security tried to persuade him to collaborate, but he resisted the pressure. Jan managed to promote his professional work and the work of his colleagues from various institutes and universities both at home and abroad. He worked on a wetlands research in the Hydrobotanical department of the Institute of Botany in Třeboň since 1973. During the Velvet Revolution in 1989 he was elected president of the strike committee in Třeboň. After his succesful candidacy in the 1990 general election, he became an MP of the Czech National Council. He contributed a great deal to creating and pushing through a law on nature and landscape protection and laws on the establishment of new universities. He was also present at the birth of University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, where he worked the following 25 years. In 2019, he and his wife Radana celebrated the 50th anniversary of their church wedding. They have two daughters together – Tereza and Helena. Jan is a fellow of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic since 2002. He still maintains contact with his Prague Scout group. Today he writes articles and gives interviews regarding ecological and political topics to both professional journals and journals of general interest. He tries to instil sympathies towards EU, NATO and democratic establishment in his fellow citizens.