Mgr. Jan Ruml

* 1953

  • “Three things affected me the most in my life. Or four. One was the death of Palach, one was the Charter, because I felt it was a victory over Communism. I wrote it out, copied it out, I started participating in all the debates, I acted as a kind of better postman for a number of spokesmen of Charter 77. I ran up and down, here and there, I had lots of energy. And I felt that if Communism was to fall, then it would be in this kind of way and it really would happen one day. I visited Benda, Uhl, Andula Marvanová, I was terribly active. So that was the second big moment. The third was the Velvet Revolution, when I just sensed that this was the end of the Communist regime and a whole new era was beginning. Well, and the fourth moment was when I got married. And I think that I was very fortunate because who can experience all these things in one life?”

  • “Well, it wasn’t simple. Because you feel in this society, when you’re walking along the street, you see in the way people look at you, who wishes you well and who hates you. And I don’t like these kind of situations. And the newspaper articles and everything. It’s not a simple situation, man doesn’t have an elephant’s skin. Nor the means with which to defend himself in the eyes of society. Because it’s very difficult, constantly explaining the stance, why you did this and why that, and why not something else, and so on. That’s also one of the reasons why people leave politics. I was in politics for fifteen years, and I think it is about a long enough time, so you don’t go silly, so you don’t start behaving in some other way, start sucking up to people or backing down from the principles you adhered to. That it’s about the right length of time for a person to quit with the knowledge that he hasn’t gone completely crazy yet.”

  • “Sacher - I think he was nuts. The People’s Party [Christian Democrats - trans.] proposed him to Havel at the time, and he fell in love with him in a way. Because Sacher was an esoteric type, and Havel had an affinity for this field of human endeavour. And things clicked between the two somehow, and I remember that Sacher was a sworn enemy of Freemasons, for instance, or those kind of groups of people - that he was influenced by the disinformation campaigns that were already making the rounds, that the coup hadn’t actually been executed by the citizens of this country but that it was Moscow’s doing, and goodness knows what else, that it was orchestrated by State Security. He was an odd kind of chap, who played his games, he created a Collection Z in the archive, where he put all the materials of all politicians, supposedly so that no one could misuse them, but I think that it was he himself who misused them the most. Well, and so I started working at the Ministry of the Interior, I was put in charge of, you could say, the sapling of the intelligence service - back then it was called the Institute for the Defence of Democracy, with reactivated officers, and I knew that you just couldn’t do things like that. So I gradually dissolved the department, and we started building a new federal security intelligence service, which focused on specific threats, and not just on America, Russia, Germany, and so on. And we began building it from new people pretty much on a green field, with the help of some reactivated officers, of course, those were people who had been fired after 1968 and had then come back to the ministry.”

  • “I think that what is meaningful today is to discuss with people, if only for the discussion itself. I don’t mean to merge with the crowd and to promise them things and so on, but to lead an honest discussion with every ideological opponent, although it’s terribly complicated and I don’t enjoy talking with people who are practically swearing at me. It’s the only way how to rebuild a civil society here, which must find the strength to temper the activities of the political parties or movements or goodness knows what. We pretty much gave up on it, and Havel’s original idea of a civil society has turned into a caricature. There are, of course, lots of organisations that deal with useful matters, but the people must realise that every citizen, by the fact of being a citizen, has that legitimacy. The legitimacy to associate with other citizens and form a kind of world in which swindlers won’t have the main say. People need to realise that the fact that they are citizens gives them the legitimacy to do anything and associate in any way, to take an interest in politics and public affairs. I feel that this is what our society has given up on, and we can see the results. We are missing the strength that would be able to force politics into self-reflection.”

  • “Then in 1968, when we were occupied by the Warsaw Pact forces, we had a very agitated family debate, when our parents suggested that we should go abroad. And my brother and I - my brother was thirteen, I was fifteen - resisted that with such intensity that our parents never spoke of it ever again. They just took into consideration that they had two children, who want to stay in Czechoslovakia, and it didn’t even occur to them emigrate after that. And then shortly afterwards I had that serious kind of conversation with my father, which had to come one day, how could he have - if not approved of, then at least - quietly tolerated all those trials with Horáková, with Slánský, and with all those people who had been with him in the same political party - Šling and Clementis, and so on. If he hadn’t at least had some doubts. And he told me that of course he had perceived it in a very negative way, but that he had understood that the party, with the trials - I don’t mean the trial with Horáková now, but the ones with the Communists - that they must know why they’re removing those people, seeing that Communism was being built here. But then he found that it was all lies and deception, later that is, he realised that himself, and he had started to separate himself from Communism. He was still in the structure, he wasn’t a high-ranking Communist because he didn’t have any function before that, and he only rebelled against some of the decisions of the political party in the sixties. But I didn’t fully believe in him until many years later, after 1989 in fact, because he didn’t have the kind of triumphalism that the former Communists had.”

  • “Well, that’s related to the privatisation processes. First, the privatisation was not fair. The way it was set up was only good for some people. And the first frauds with the investment funds began, and Kožený and those people, the chosen few, took control of the privatisation, that’s how the first big sums of money came about, which the people then used for organised crime and so on. And I kind of knew that, suspected it in part, I know I protested against with Klaus himself, I told him that it can’t be done like that. Especially, say, when the second wave of privatisation was taken up by Motoinvest with its ‘young pikes’, as he called them. And I said: ‘They’re swindlers, straight-up veksláks [illicit traders with foreign currency during Communism - trans.], what are you doing?’ So that was one thing, and the other was that the economic conditions were set too softly on the other side. That a lot of time and attention was paid to doing the privatisation, which basically happened very abruptly, part of the property was stolen, part of it was transferred away, but there were no rules for how to control the whole process of privatisation. The legal framework was missing. And Klaus hated lawyers, the way he felt was - leave it spontaneously to the free hands of the market, and it’ll sort itself out. It cost us a fortune, too, when the banks were privatised, it was terribly hard to bail them out after this period, and we pretty much handed them to the French, the Belgians, and the Austrians for free.”

  • “I think he showed enormous courage during his active time in Charter 77, when he was very audacious, and I know it helped me immensely that when we were in prison and we were only very occasionally in touch, that he kept encouraging me and said that everything would be okay, that we’d sit it out for a while, and then they’d let us go and we’d carry on with our work. I had great respect for him at that moment; that is, at that moment - I respected him my whole life. He had a kind of courage that had perhaps been ingrained in him because of his Communist past, and that made him more hearty, and so he went into those clashes with the Communists - he also wrote feuilletons, he founded Lidové noviny [a famous First Republic newspaper that was banned by the Communists and then re-established again by democratic figures - trans.], before that he wrote some books and cooperated with the Petlice edition series - almost to make you think that perhaps he was overdoing it with his anti-Communist endeavours. But it suited me - I was young at the time. And then we were of one accord, and I remember that the atmosphere in our endangered family was utterly fantastic, that we helped each other, we also helped our friends, and they helped us. It was the ideal time for family life because the Communist regime pushed us together.”

  • “That’s one of the things I still wonder about. Whether it was the most appropriate approach at the time. That we should have accepted Zeman’s offer, although Lux died afterwards, so the offer that he could be prime minister wouldn’t have actually come into effect. But perhaps we should have gone into government under some kind of advantageous conditions of parity and outvoting blocks for us - and the People’s Party. Because at that moment Klaus would have practically disappeared. And in this we basically enabled him to run for the presidency. So perhaps we should have taken the route, which was offered to us by - the albeit untrustworthy - Miloš Zeman; perhaps we should have tried it. I still have that in me, a kind of - I don’t want to say a sense of failure - but kind of like a missed opportunity, I think.”

  • I had a free hand in that I was in charge of the former Státní bezpečnost (secret police), which was already disbanded by Richard Sacher. Those officers, about 10 000 people in the so-called active reserves, were at home, on the phone, and my task was to dismiss them all, after the assessment of civic and review commissions. It covered almost all of the officers. Then I was to prepare the law about the responsibilities of civic commissions and set up a new intelligence service on the ground of the Office for Protection of Constitution and Democracy...And this basically involved my activities from April to the election in June 1990. Then came the election and it was decided who was going to be a new minister of interior. The choice of Ján Langoš was a very happy choice because he was a deeply religious man but, at the same time, an electrical engineer with a great analytical mind. Together, we already started to build up a new intelligence service. The Office for Protection of Constitution and Democracy was renamed the Federal Security Intelligence Service and I was in charge of it. Langoš also charged me with setting up Federal Interior Ministry, that is, establishing federal police by law, which involved all the forces having something in common with the security of the Czech republic. I set up the Federal Police Corps including Foreign and Border Police, the Federal Criminal Panel, there was also the Constitutional Officials Protection Service, border troops of interior ministry were disbanded, and some other units with federal powers. I was already the first deputy minister and a director of the Federal Security Corps. So I realized it is not enough to destroy what had been already here, but it is necessary to build up some new security forces subordinate to the Parliament, public opinion, and make the Interior Ministry an ordinary public authority. But I managed to do this later, after the next general election (1992), when I became Interior Minister of the Czech Republic, when I civilized the whole ministry, and former officers of the (communist) National Security Forces, later of the Police of the Czech Republic, were only those in the direct performance of police service.

  • "I feel that power somehow fascinated us, either negatively or positively. With Václav Havel´s essay Power of the Powerless, a non-power component of political or public action was etched on our minds. On the other hand, you never see something only negatively. Everything has its various different shades. We learnt how not to be of power, and not just the communist one, but also our own power...It was much more vivid. I observed it in myself in the period when I was working in the federal interior ministry as a deputy minister....One was on the interface of politics, executive power, with one foot as if in the civic society, and with the rest of all, in the journalist environment. Then I realized one possible interpretation of the 1950s...I was suspcious at quite a lot of things. Take a young person, the system is breaking down, heading up for a new future, he is absolutely sure, he´s right and is in power...How is this person going to behave? And in the year 1990, I was in exactly the same situation situation as that young person in the 1950s. I was really sure that communism will never freshen up, renew, and reform, that it´s over. The epoch and history was changing, the regime was changing, and I knew we were right and was in power. Of course, it was different from the 1950s, because democratically co-opted and then elected parliament, there was the strength of independent media, there was a great plurality of the society, nobody was silenced. But I know what contempt I looked at people with, and these were my dissent collaboraters, who had different opinion than us, in the mainstream, as to keeping a social system, go on slowly, have some legal framework for what we are doing here etc. , and what contempt I looked at them, why they´re impeding when we are doing a revolution. That temptation to roll it on, faster, not to kill or imprison someone, but somehow walk over them in order no to stand in the way. When you reflect it then, it was horrible findings, what situation you can find yourself, when you are not ready for it - by experience, friends, critical environment, and how far it may go.

  • "The Civic Democratic Party represented a dynamic element then..., they knew exactly what they wanted, a political, economic and social transformation, and had clear (do not say) slogans, they were simply tighter in their programme issues, and I eventually ended up in this party, even though I realized it would bring great problems in the future. To join a political party and strive to become a minister is one thing, but another is to take part in the party. You realize very quickly that if you like to run into a post and do there well, you also have to establish a certain position in the party. And in addition to working in the assigned department, you must have a supradepartmental view of politics in general, and if you want to come off within the party, you have to get support from the party members. Besides the fact that you have to work in that ministry and in the government, you must be always ready to make the rounds of the country from top to bottom, right to left, and always discuss with the party members, because the party is also creating its democratic mechanisms, and if you didn´t do this, you wouldn´t be nominated for any posts next time. It means that the time of a figure ´parachuted´ and defended by Václav Havel into the Interior Ministry ended and I became a normal part of a regular political struggle of then existing political parties. Though with some disgust (especially for the party politics), I accepted this idea, nevertheless, I achieved quite significant success. The Civic Democratic Party took me as a man who comes from the dissent, is strongly anticommunist, knows how to deal with people, and doesn´t hesitate to waste time by running somewhere, explaining something and discuss something with somebody. So it happened that I was in the unique position in the party from the word go.

  • "So, I started applying for universities, firstly, according to my personal preference, to study philosophy, literature and I ended up at the Czech Technical University. I tried it five or six years, I was tireless, because my all my friends were studying and I wanted to be in their environment. I went through the whole entrance exam, which was seemingly objective, but I was (as if) not enrolled and, somewhere, they wrote it was for bad report from school, somewhere they said I hadn´t passed, and with two schools, we had information from inside what the real reason is. At the Faculty of Arts, Charles University this information was given by Dušan Machovec, a brother of Milan Machovec (later also a dissenter). He said to one of our acquaintances that we had gone mad, that Ruml can never study at the Faculty of Arts and we should not try it at all...And my mother talked to the rectore of the Czech Technical University, where almost each student was enrolled without any entrance exam, my parents took on a tutor to learn descriptive geometry, maths and physics and to really pass the exam. My mother went to see the rector as a mother of a child in trouble and he told her bluntly that I simply can´t be enrolled because it´s forbidden to enrol ´such people´.

  • "There were a few important centres where people met, especially in flats, of course. One of these centres was the flat of Petr Uhl, Václav Benda, Petruška Šustrová, Anna Marvanová (an old journalist), František Kriegel, and definitely Václav Havel. There might be dozens of such flats around Prague. The fact that Charter 77 started illegal publishing of documents and a certain amount of exile literature was arriving here through a secret channel I didn´t know about at first, it was necessary to make a nation-wide distribution network and connection to all those people. This is what we were doing with Petr Uhl and Jiří Němec, we went on so that we knew where to carry off certain materials to be handed out, to be handed in to typists for reproduction and drawn back. Some materials were redistributed or were ready for dispatch abroad. So when I was telling that I was playing the role of an organiser, communicator, ´postman´, I meant in in the general sense of the word. With the son of Adolf Lederer Aleš and his friends, we made up a magazine for the young, a literary, political and art magazine Spektrum. Then I started to take part in Informace o Chartě 77. We started doing this with Petr Uhl. When he was in jail, I went on doing this with his wife Anna Šabatová. I also took part in Czech-Polish activities, there were quite a lot of periodicals, either Czech printed by the Polish, or Polish we had to distribute...I just wanted to say that I hadn´t made up the documents, not even the philosophy of Charter 77, which is not my work. I just helped to create the atmosphere of Charter 77and since I was young and incredibly fit, I was one of those who became´the legs´of Charter 77, who kept the flats and activities going, always arranged them, made up hiding places, secret appointments....And this was my job."

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    Praha , 15.08.2013

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    Praha, 29.06.2016

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A man is authentic even when he is not.

Jan Ruml was born on March 5th, 1953, in Prague – Podolí as the son of Czech communist journalist, later dissident, Charter 77 signatory, political prisoner and MP Jiří Ruml. In his early childhood, Jan Ruml lived with his family in Eastern Germany, where his father worked as a Czechoslovak Radio Radio and where Jan Ruml was a witness of bulding up the Berlin Wall (in August 1961). His parents example and experience of Russian invasion in 1968 determined his life of a dissident. After school-leaving exam in 1972, he applied for many different universities but, for political reasons, he was never enrolled. Therefore he started working in manual jobs (as a film laboratory technician trainee,  gasworks labourer in Prague-Michle, logger in Kaplice, South Bohemia, bookseller in Melantrich publishing house, milker and boiler attendant). Jan Ruml was dismissed from Melantrich after signing Charter 77, which he was actively involved in (especially since he return to Prague in 1978). In Charter 77, he was one of coordinators, contact persons and distributors of self-publishing materials.  Together with Petr Uhl and Jiří Němec, he built up a distribution channel of documents and exile literature within and across national borders,  co-edited the self-publishing magazíne Spektrum, spread the bulletin Informace o Chartě 77, took part in Czech-Polish activities etc. In 1979, he organised the ´second wave´ of VONS (the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted) and coordinated courier truck delivery of exile documents between Prague and Palach Press Limited (publishing house in London).  After denouncement and detention of one of the trucks by Czechoslovak Secret Police in April 1981, Jan Ruml, his father and six other dissidents were taken into custody for one year. When he was released, he continued with his dissident activities, only in summers of 1983 and 1984, he set out to Slovak mountains with his brother to graze heifers. Between 1987 and 1989, he was involved in self-publishing of Lidové noviny (newspaper), Originální videojournal and radically anticommunist political revue Sport. He became a member of HOS (Civil Liberty Movement), and was engaged in student discussion groups. At the same time, he was working as an ambulance man in the intensive care unit of Nemocnice pod Petřínem hospital, Prague (between 1987 – 1989). During the Velvet Revolution (on November 18th 1989), he set up Independent Press Centre with his friends from self-publishing circles. This first state independent press agency later transformed into Respekt, a well-known Czech weekly, whose first editor-in-chief Jan Ruml became. For a very short time, Jan Ruml was a speaker of Civic Forum and took part in its first negotiation with the communist government of Ladislav Adamec (on 21st of November 1989). Between December 1989 and June 1990, he worked in the informal ´influence group´ made up of people related to the president Václav Havel, government ministers, Civic Forum leaders and journalists. This group nominated Jan Ruml for the post of Deputy Minister of the Interior, where he worked from April 1990 to general election in June 1990. In his position, he was especially responsible for the dismissal of about 10 000 Secret Police officers, informal removal of Secret Police agents from high state offices and transformation of communist counter-intelligence into a democratically controlled intelligence service. In June 1990, Jan Ruml had a television speech against Dr Josef Bartončík, then leader of Czechoslovak People´s Party, and accused him of cooperating with Czechoslovak Secret Police and breaking his promise to president Havel that he was not going to stand for high state offices. Between 1992-1997 he was the Minister of Interior of the independent Czech Republic and between 1996 and 1998 the Member of Parliament. He was responsible for crucial steps in democratic transformation of the ministry, police forces and intelligence service.  In Spring 1992, he joined Civic Democratic Party, where he played (apart from other thigns) the part of an informal ´mediator´ between the President Václav Havel and Prime Minister Václav Klaus. He supported general vision of the government, hovewer, he criticized its business technocracy and opposed some of its controversial steps, for example, the mode of privatizing Czech petrochemical industry. On 28th November 1997, together with the minister Ivan Pilip, he publicly called for resignation of the Civic Democratic Party leader Václav Klaus during his international visit to Bosnia because of the party black funding (the so-called ´Sarajevo Assassination´).  On December Congress of Civic Democrats in Poděbrady, Jan Ruml stood for the post of a party leader. He lost, but set up a a new liberal party Unie svobody (Freedom Union), whose leader he became in January 1998. Jan Ruml also took part in the project of „Čtyřkoalice“, the coalition of four smaller political parties against the so-called Opposition Treaty trying to make constitutional changes in favour of two larger parties (Civic and Social Democrats). In 1998, he was elected the Senator for Čtyřkoalice in Prague 6 and since 2000, he also worked as Vice-Chairman of Senate for international affairs supporting democracy and human rights projects in authoritarian regimes (e.g. Olympic Watch or Civic Belarus). During the ´Television Crisis´ at the turn of 2000 – 2001, he put up in the building of Czech TV (together with journalist strikers) to prevent force invervention by public authorities. In 2004, he withdrew from politics, finished his legal studies and started working in business ethical counciling and projects of non-profit organisations. He shared his experience of Czech transition to democracy with Kuban students of American university in Miami.  In 2006, he played a major part in saving Czech weekly Respect and he was appointed the chairman of its supervisory board for two years. At present, he is working as the CEO of SECAR Bohemia holding developing localization systems for protecting stolen vehicles.  Since 2010, he has been an ordinary member of  Green Party in Prague 2. He is married, has two sons and likes staying with his family in their  cottage in South Bohemia.