Josef Nitra

* 1956

  • “Every six months there was a military exercise. In the beginning we fought with tactical means but on the second or third day it was already a simulation of a nuclear bomb attack. I had my map and received an order via telephone: ‘Mark the nuclear attacks in the map.’ Up until today I see the map in front of my eyes… The most sickening memory of the whole normalization era for me are precisely those simulated nuclear attacks. As I was already back then interested in history I knew what horrors could be caused by such weapons. I accepted many things as natural but I strongly disagreed with something like that being in the preparation and I refused to come to terms with it.”

  • “You worked in the Obrana lidu newspaper which by today’s standards seems incredibly biased. How did you reflect on it?” – “You are right but for me, it was a liberation. I didn’t even consider staying in the army up until retirement and as soon as in 1993 I got the opportunity to start a civilian life I did just that. I then worked as head of promotion in Magnet-Press and later transferred to Ministry of Defense where I was responsible for Eastern European and ex-Soviet countries as well as Italy. For two years I worked as an advisor, planning business trips abroad. I worked under three ministers.” – “How do you today reflect on your work in Obrana lidu?” – “I learned to write there. I wasn’t a journalist but the work in Obrana lidu was a school of journalism for me. By the end of the 1980s I began studying journalism at Charles University but the experience I got in Obrana lidu. Our standard there was thirty pages per month but I would submit sixty to eighty pages, motivated by profit. The best texts were published in the Obrana lidu weekly which had a circulation of 250 000 copies and at the time was among the most sold in Czechoslovakia. For it I wrote various articles from the bakeries, paper factories and so on. I enjoyed that.”

  • “Someone told me that communists – most of all those who collaborated with the regime more than others – feared that when it all snaps they would end up hanging from poles such as in Hungary in the 1950s. How did you see it? Haven’t you feared a revolution?” – “First of all, you use the word collaboration… Was I a quisling?! You haven’t chosen the right word. You probably don’t mean that way but the word quisling [kolaborant] has a different meaning. Second, I haven’t ever thought about it all going down but I knew that even if it did, there wouldn’t be bloodshed. We Czechs don’t do that. I mean, not everyone of course, but the Velvet Revolution was typically Czech. – “I didn’t mean collaboration in a bad way…” – “I know you didn’t! I just wanted to be more specific. I have collaborated with the regime, yes. But this is still not precise: I haven’t collaborated with the regime – rather I worked for the regime. I was a state employee of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.” – “What were your thoughts about the Velvet Revolution?” – “Personally, I have nothing to be ashamed for, nothing to hide, I acknowledge everything that I had done. And do you know what is paramount to me? That I can look my son and daughter in the eye, talk to them about the normalization era the same way I talk to you about it and I know they won’t blame me. After the revolution I was a bit angry that many people had the information, knew what was coming and bought up property. On 17 November on of the older members of the editorial board told me: ‘Pepa, don’t go anywhere today, there will be a demonstration.’ So he knew something was coming while I hadn’t had a clue! Shortly before, on 28 October, I was in Dresden. By that time, things were changing in Germany, I saw what was happening but didn’t think it was thinkable for something like this to happen in our country… It had happened then and many people knew about it in advance.” – “Did you ever consider making a stand against the regime?” – “I was neither a dissident, nor a lackey.”

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    Praha, 11.02.2016

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I haven’t lackeyed the regime; I have served it

Josef Nitra at the Rank of Second Lieutenant (1975)
Josef Nitra at the Rank of Second Lieutenant (1975)

Josef Nitra was born on 27 August 1956 in Frýdek. He attended a vocational school in Nové Mesto nad Váhom. Following graduation in 1975 he became a professional soldier, settled in Nové Mesto and was appointed deputy chair of the vocational school of communications. At the turn of the 1970s he underwent university studies in Lviv, Ukraine. In 1985 he was appointed inspector of cultural-educational activities. His job was to organize cultural activities for soldiers of all army units located west of the Vltava river. Ever since the early-1980s he had published in the Sokol and Obrana lidu magazines. In 1986 he became a member of Obrana lidu’s editorial board. Prior to the revolution he had studied journalism at Charles University. He left the army in 1993, shortly working in Magnet-Press company and then serving for two years (1993-1995) as an advisor to the minister of defense for Eastern Europe, post-Soviet states and Italy. To this day he is active as a journalist and a publicist, focusing mainly on fire-fighting topics. He has written books Fire and the People in the Czech Lands before 1895 (published 2010), Fireman in Theater (2011), Against All Elements (2011), Fireman and Chimneys (2013) or Firemen’s Read (2015).