PhDr. Ondřej Neff

* 1945

  • “So the whole childhood episode which took place in Slapy had ended up with 1953 – the year of the monetary reform. I still witnessed it in Slapy. Very emotional scenes took place there because the people… For instance, our neighbor, an old retired postwoman. She was saving for her own funeral. Those village people had a fixed idea that they have to pay for their own funeral. So she technically lost all that money and lamented terribly. She moaned and groaned. My dad had some money so he gave it to her. But she went on lamenting. People asked her: ‘Ms. Pokorná, why do you cry so much? Mr. writer had given you the money.’ And she replied: ‘He would have given it to me anyway!’”

  • “This is where the very interesting episode from the history of the Czech Radio took place. The radio building remains a very complicated structure to this day. Obviously, the first thing the occupants did was that they took over communications and all the transmitters so that radio went silent. But an interesting thing is that they had forgotten wire-transmitted radio. It was a thing which doesn’t exist anymore. It was a network distributed throughout the country via telephone lines. They had it in pubs and even individuals could have obtained it. So the initial news from the Vinohradská No. 12 building have gotten out via this wire-radio. Eventually, the technicians managed to connect various wires and get themselves on air – that means transmitted radio. The Russians had taken over the radio building sometime in the morning. At this moment I find it amusing but back then I haven’t laughed. I was inside when they forced their way in. A Russian soldier with an assault rifle was running against me, covered in dust and sweat. It was like in the movie Fall of Berlin where they conquered the Reichstag. His eyes were wide open as he expected to find a machine-gun nest firing at him.”

  • “Today, there is simply no authority respected by everyone. When Karel Čapek used to write something, people discussed it the next day. But internet has significantly contributed to fragmentation. I found out that people are not interested in what they don’t know; in someone else’s opinion. They look for someone with an opinion compatible with their own. I have encountered this a number of times: ‚You write great because you write what I think.‘ And whoever doesn’t agree simply finds themselves someone else who writes the way they think. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. The positive effect seems to be the improbability of some new Goebbels to emerge and brainwash all people. I think that it is technically impossible today. Indeed, millions of people aspire to become a Goebbels. On 1 May I went to see Mr. Konvička’s demonstration. But it is a completely laughable idea that this guy gets 200 thousand people in uniforms to take the streets. This is simply impossible. And that is a good thing. The other aspect, though, is that with the lack of authorities, a general order is disappearing. Because, after all, the authorities used to set up some rules.”

  • “I am completely convinced that 1968 with all the people that I’ve talked about – interpreting the contemptuous view of my father – had played a major part. They in fact led to the dissolution of the European Left without which Stalinism wasn’t thinkable. Without the support of all those Sarters and other such so-called left-wing intellectuals, there was no way for the regime to exist. The communist authorities simply lost ideological support of the intellectual elites and it all went down to a simple technology of power. Which inherently had to degenerate as it did. Ever since 1968 they had no Picasso or Charlie Chaplin standing behind them. There was not a single top-notch intellectual supporting them. And I think it goes without saying that the year 1968 had played a crucial part in this.”

  • “One had to accept the life as it were back then. Take a publishing house, for instance. In each and every one, there were various types of people. Some of them were activist who supported the authors preferred by the regime. Then, there were people who tried to push forward this or that author… Understand me correctly, those were people who made life bearable. And now, twenty years after the fall of communism, we should discuss whether they made a mistake doing it. I, who had lived through that era, suppose it was a good thing that they did it. Thanks to it we haven’t completely lost the two decades. Some room for normality was being created. And I still insist that the Kmen magazine played a positive part in this.”

  • “This generation of mine… I don’t have the right to speak for the whole generation… But as for my colleagues, friends and peers whom I knew, we all accepted the reality of the regime as a given fact and something which would last forever. The bitter consequence was that a vision of the world outside the socialist camp remained something unattainable. What is more, it was impossible for us to go even to Poland, for instance – getting there was a great adventure. I traveled abroad for the first time in 1957 when we got to Poland with a tour organized by the Czech Travel Agency. We went to the seaside in Sopoty. I remember that there was a tour guide who accompanied us the whole time. He revealed to my father that he was a member of the Secret Police but that my father didn’t have to worry about it because he liked to read his books and would not report on him.”

  • “Did your father see his signature of the Anti-Charter as a tragedy of sorts? Have you discussed it?” – “He hadn’t found it at all tragic. In fact, he considered even the events of 1968 as a convulsive response of former Stalinists who wanted to cleanse themselves somehow, acting in a way that couldn’t have led to any other result than the one we’ve witnessed. Even after the two decades I can’t judge him for it at all. Imagine that as of 1977 he had been under ideological pressure for forty years, with only a few years of life left. I don’t give him the slightest blame for acting the way he did. I haven’t been exposed to such a test myself. Nobody forced me to sign anything… I don’t feel entitled to judge it. Jan Werich was then making such laughable excuses that he didn’t know where he was. But still, I don’t blame him.”

  • “…there was no way to broadcast since the then-minister of communications Hoffmann had cut off the radio. And then again – it was a flagrant violation of the former laws of the communist state. And it is disgusting and beyond comprehension that this man was never held accountable for it. That he violated the law by cutting the radio off. It is a public service medium based on legal provisions.”

  • “I consider it my great personal luck to have lived to see the fall of communism in an age which allowed me to work. I have written most of my literary works after 1990 so from this perspective I see it all very positively.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 18.01.2010

    duration: 02:58:19
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 15.03.2016

    duration: 02:01:14
  • 3

    Praha, 03.05.2016

    duration: 01:47:14
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Back then, readers knew to read between the lines

Ondřej Neff, 2016
Ondřej Neff, 2016
photo: Eye Direct

Ondřej Neff was born on 26 June 1945 in Prague to writer Vladimír Neff and theater actress Vlasta Petrovičová. He was growing up in Slapy and later in Prague’s Žižkov quarter where he also attended elementary and grammar school. After graduation he went to study journalism but ever since 1966 also worked in the Czechoslovak Radio where many significant personalities were employed at that time. He is a first-hand witness of the Warsaw Pact armies’ invasion and the occupation of the Czechoslovak Radio building. He then went to do his conscription and as soon as he returned, he was fired from his job. Instead, he began working as a photographer for the Albatros publishing house. He recalls the era as a period of incompetent people taking over key offices. He himself stood in opposition to the nascent dissent, having doubts about the sincerity of their intentions. In the 1980s he worked as a photographer in the Kotva shopping mall and also was writing a photography column for Mladá fronta. Ever since late 1987 he served as an editor of the controversial magazine Kmen, led by Karel Sýs. After the Velvet Revolution his collaboration with Mladá fronta had intensified and he was also present to its irregular privatization. He is among the pioneers of Czech internet as he had founded and still runs the news portal Neviditelný pes. He had received recognition as a writer of sci-fi literature. He also writes and teaches on digital photography.