Petr Placák

* 1964

  • “[Did it ever happen to you during any of your interrogations that the stetsecs (State Security officers) would show any hint of worry about what would come ‘after it blows’?] Not openly, but I felt as much at least once or twice. When I openly declared during one interrogation that Jakeš was a dunce, the questioner responded: ‘It’s difficult, you know.’ I told him: ‘That’s your problem, not ours.’ From that it was obvious that some of the cops did realise what was happening.”

  • “[Q: What kind of people worked for State Security?] According me, about eighty per cent of them were typical lumpenproletarians [from a term coined by Karl Marx, meaning ‘miscreants’, low life - trans.] blokes who didn’t know about anything - their school reports would be filled with threes and fours [equivalent to C, D grades - trans.], with ones [As] always only in physical education. State Security offered them easy money, similarly to the SA in the 1930s. And seeing that they were often primitive characters, it must have felt good to them that they had power over others and that they constituted the regime’s elite, feared by all.”

  • “What I hated most about the Communist regime were the lies and the pretence; you feel things like that very intensely when you’re a child. At primary school we turned everything upside down: when a Communist taught there were nine planets, we adhered to a pre-Copernican solar system, we claimed there were seven planets and the Earth was the centre, not the Sun. But it wasn’t just for fun - you could work out a lot of things like that.”

  • “The activity of the State Police actually relied on two things: prevention and repression. It combined both of these. The prevention consisted of incessant bullying, intimidation, of an effort to deter people from activities which the regime did not like – publishing books, samizdat… If this did not help, repression followed, and it is very hard to tell the exact intentions of the StB officials in individual cases, often it was done just at the whim of some StB boss, or upon an order from the highest authorities; then it concerned mostly people like Václav Havel, and those who were known all over the world. In these cases, some prosecution then followed. It also depended a lot on where the person lived, whether in the countryside, or in Prague. In the countryside it was much worse for these people, because there were few of them there, and the StB agents tried to do their work properly and they were bothering them all day long, from the morning till the evening. While here in Prague there were hundreds of us, so it wasn’t that bad. Anyway, it all relied on maintaining this atmosphere of being constantly threatened. Anytime, they could storm into the flat you lived in, and so you could never feel safe anywhere, unless you were somewhere in the middle of a forest, or on some trip about which you had not told anyone. To a certain extent it was such a psychological war, which sometimes overgrew into acts of repression.”

  • “They were the best blokes. One would think that as pensioners that would at least have some self-restraint or dignity of the old age, they were between forty-five and sixty-five, some of them still remembered the communist takeover of power. And the hatred and malice was really emanating from these people, I think I have never seen anything like that anywhere else. These old proletarians and their way of speaking. I remember one young mother with two children who was there, and one old People’s Militia member was threatening her: ´You cow, go home with those bastards, or I smash that face of yours…´ That’s the way they spoke. Really, this was the staunchest sort of the proletariat, and you could see it on their faces, their faces were just unbelievable. The State Police members, they were just young brags, they were nothing compared to these guys.”

  • “What we wanted: above all to live as we liked, to do our own stuff, to have our own world, independent of the regime. And naturally, when the regime was bothering us, we were then doing the same. It was mutual. But I absolutely did not think that the regime could collapse, I only realized that when I learnt that they have permitted the student demonstration in November 1989. Before that, I was simply thinking that the bastards would hold the power as long as they could.”

  • “You have founded the Czech Children association. Could you explain when it was founded, what it was, and what was your aim?” “The Czech Children initiative came into being in spring 1988. The founding manifesto included a proclamation calling for a restoration of the Czech kingdom. I wanted to come up with something, which would sound as the most alien, most distant, most ungraspable thing to the communists. And the idea of Czech kingdom suited this well. It carried the notion of something traditional, and it was the communists who were exotic here, who made an intrusion here after that Bolshevik revolution. The other point was that we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the older generation of dissidents. We did understand their ideological point of departure, but they were not that close to us in that.”

  • “What was the investigation of that case like?” “I have to say that I felt relieved when the criminal police eventually handed me over to the StB, because I finally knew how I was standing. Originally, the criminal police was playing such a mean game with me… at first, they were pretending that they were investigating something, or they believed so. Then the State Secret Police stepped in, they kept doing as if they were running the investigation, and I was not experienced in that, I really did not know whether they really were investigating something or not, if there really was something behind it or not… There was a claim that somebody had raided a petrol station, and that a gun similar to the one I had was used in the assault. And I still did not know whether this was true or not. I made stupid mistakes, like willingly giving them some texts, so that they could verify that the suspicion was not true. Had I known what was going on, I obviously wouldn’t have given them anything. When this pretence was over and they handed me over to the StB, I felt greatly relieved. Now it was clear what was going on.”

  • “And as for the importance of the demonstrations?” “I believe they were of great importance because what mattered was not just the overthrowing of the regime itself, but the manner in which it was done, the fact that the regime was not reformed by some State Police members and the like, but that the revolution of 17th November was accomplished by people who were openly protesting against the regime and who had nothing in common with it. And at first there were thousands of people involved in these demonstrations, then tens of thousands, and then it became a matter of the whole nation. If the demonstrations had not been there before, then there would have been no 17th November, nor would the general strikes have taken place the way they did, I think.”

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    Praha, 04.11.2009

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“It becomes more and more difficult to recollect the immense feeling of disgust that fell off us on November 17th, 1989.”

Petr Placák
Petr Placák
photo: sbírka Post Bellum, Petr Neubert

Petr Placák (son of the Charter 77 spokesman Bedřich Placák) was a member of the youngest generation of the anti-communist opposition. In the late 1980s, he was one of the organizers of public events against the regime. From 1982 to 1986, he played the clarinet in the band, The Plastic People of the Universe. Under incessant bullying from State Security he worked in various manual professions, he published in Samizdat (the novel Medorek and a collection of poems Obrovský zasněžený hřbitov, Huge Snow-covered Graveyard, and others.) In May 1988, he participated in establishing the independent initiative of Czech Children and he wrote its monarchist manifesto: “At that time we came up with something which was totally ungraspable for the Bolsheviks. Obviously, State Security jumped at it and they had the manifesto published in the Rudé právo newspaper. In order to let people see for themselves what we were like. Among proclamations from brigades of Milkers and Socialist shock-workers, suddenly there appeared our manifesto, stating that we, Czech Children, declared that the Czech kingdom still lasted and that we were preparing for the coming of the Czech king, which was our ultimate goal...” Petr Placák says that in 1988 he lived from one anticommunist demonstration to another and that it was clear to him that the regime could collapse only under persistent pressure from the public. In June 1988 together with his friends, they organized a pamphlet campaign against the demolition of the old Žižkov neighbourhood.Two months later, Czech Children used cyclostyled pamphlets to invite their fellow citizens to participate in a demonstration on the twentieth anniversary of August 21, 1968, a gathering to which thousands of people came. Protests on the day of the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic on October 28, 1988, followed. In January 1989, when he attempted to commemorate the memory of Jan Palach and lay flowers at the monument of St Wenceslas, Petr Placák was arrested (not for the first time): “They arrested me on January 15th before I even managed to get to the monument on Wenceslas Square. While we waited together with other people from the opposition movement at the police station on Benedikt Street, I wrote a note on a piece of paper that we would meet again the following day. It all happened due to a ribbon, which I hid in the lining of my coat, and on which was written:´Czech Children to Jan Palach.´ I felt sorry I was not able to place it on the St. Wenceslas monument. We managed to organize a demonstration for the following day, and this unleashed a chain reaction of protests...” Placák was released in the evening of the same day, the following day State Security arrested him again and held him in detention for two weeks. He was then given a suspended sentence. Today he believes that the demonstrations in Wenceslas Square during Palach Week marked a turning point in the Czech society’s road to freedom. Among other things by influencing or even changing the mentality of those who until that time had been active in the so-called gray zone. After 1989, Petr Placák completed his studies of history at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University. He published several books, the most recent one being the prose work Fízl (Cop), for which he was awarded the Magnesia Litera Prize in 2008. He writes for various Czech dailies and is in charge of the cultural-social student newspaper Babylon.