Ing. Jiří Schneider

* 1963

  • "I remember the moment when I got a chill. When the CNN correspondent called me after the elections. A war correspondent from Yugoslavia. And he said if he should move to Prague. And I realized that in the context of Yugoslavia falling apart in a bloody way and terrible things happening there, that we were seen as a part of the same package, as if it was only a matter of time before it went off here. Under that imperative not to let those passions start to grow into something that someone then takes hold of, and the spark can flare up at any time. So under that imperative, I think, they acted very quickly. It had some quick moments. These days we are marking 30 years since the moment when Slovak National Council, after the elections, agreed on the sovereignty of Slovakia, and at the same time it was clear that Václav Havel would not be re-elected, because the stalemate election had already happened. He was not elected in the Slovak part, so he resigned. I remember this very vividly, because at that time I was in the office of the Deputy Speaker of the Federal Assembly, Filip Šedivý, who later coincidentally became our ambassador in Bratislava. At that time, he was representing the leadership of the Federal Assembly because Michal Kováč, later President of Slovakia, was away. And Chancellor Karel Schwarzenberg turned up with the resignation document. That was a time when one was aware of the fact that the clouds were probably gathering over Czechoslovakia."

  • "I know of the only case which I was involved in, it was the circle around Milan Balabán, who was working that with the Huss Foundation in Britain to prepare some kind of educational module that would make sense and could be sponsored by the university. I know that there were negotiations, we even had a prospectus of what it could look like, we were negotiating with Oxford University. In the end it turned out well with Cambridge University. It wasn't quite easy, I guess, because this was something completely alien to the rigid academic system. It didn't fit into the way the university system worked. I think they were rightly reluctant to sanctify or take the patronage on behalf of the school over something that didn't meet [the requirements] or have some relevant standards. So it was very much a matter of sort of lobbying. I think Roger Scruton was very active in that and he was actively involved in that. He thought it was politically important. He sort of brought his name to it to convince the university that it was worth making some turnkey project, something outside the system, but at the same time fitting into the system. So that's how that Cambridge Diploma in Religious Studies programme that I was involved in came about."

  • "It was based on trust. That is, someone invited you, brought you along. There was no other way. It couldn't be announced. There were regular seminars at the Hejdánek, and I think also at the Trojan family, I was never there. At Milan Balabán's, it used to be regular. And then there were guests, when they invited someone from outside. Either a person who wouldn´t normally come there, or tourists from abroad. That was interesting. Because they managed to invite, we know today that there were interesting names of philosophers, theologians who came and gave lectures there. They came as tourists and they were a bit cautious doing it. Often they brought some literature, they brought books that were not available here. But mostly they brought a fresh perspective and a personal view. Their presence was also important because it gave confidence to the people who came to the seminars that it was worth it for someone to come here. And of course the regime didn't like it, tried to make these lectures by foreign guests...they were more risky. Because of course there was more risk of something happening. They tried to scare some people away in an exemplary way. I think the case of Jacques Derrida is quite well known and described. And there were attempts to criminalize those visitors. But over time, I think they -- sort of the regime wasn't so vigilant about that. That may have been the reason why the idea arose, probably in the mid-1980s, whether it would be possible to somehow unite these individual visits into some kind of system and give some kind of order to it."

  • "My father was deprived of his civil rights until 1968. Then he got them back, but he didn't use to go to the elections. And he always got away with it somehow. I remember when he died in 1982, we were sitting around miserable after the funeral. We drank a shot and we found an envelope that said 'Open after my death'. So we wondered what kind of skeleton would fall out of that envelope. We were very amused that the envelope was full of ballot papers. He had collected all the ballot papers for us in the time he could have voted, but he didn't go to the elections because he thought it was immoral. That was the attitude that he was showing. On the other hand, he was giving me full freedom: 'Hey, make up your own mind. It has to be your decision. It can't be that because of your parents you decide somehow differently. Think of it as us being brought up in the Masaryk spirit. You're supposed to make your own decisions according to your best conscience.' That was actually obliging, because he put the responsibility on me. Just like he put it on my brother, who made his decision accordingly. That was important. That was more than him saying, 'You can't,' or 'You have to.' He put that responsibility on me, and I had to bear that responsibility."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 25.07.2022

    duration: 01:59:26
  • 2

    Praha, 28.07.2022

    duration: 02:09:19
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
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You must say no to evil in time

Jiří Schneider in 2022
Jiří Schneider in 2022
photo: Post Bellum recording

Jiří Schneider was born on 2 August 1963 as the third child of Soňa and Bohuslav Schneider. His father, as a preacher of the Unity of Czech Brethren (today’s Church of the Brethren), was imprisoned in Valdice in 1958-1960. He was released on amnesty. He returned to his preaching profession in 1968, when his civil rights were restored. During his studies of geodesy and cartography at the Czech Technical University in 1981-1985, thanks to his brother, Jiří Schneider got into the environment of the Prague underground and flat seminars in the circle of Milan Balabán, Miloš Rejchrt, Ladislav Hejdánek and others. In the mid-1980s, together with Irena Škeříková, Jaromír Plíšek and Pavel Kočár, they founded the evangelical folk band Ejhle. In 1988-1991, he studied at the Cambridge Diploma programme with a focus on religious studies. During the Velvet Revolution he became one of the founders of the Civic Forum in Frýdek-Místek, where he was living at the time. In 1990 he was elected a member of the House of People of the Federal Assembly, and in 1992 a member of the House of Peoples of the Federal Assembly, where he witnessed first-hand the division of Czechoslovakia. He then made good use of his knowledge of Hebrew as Ambassador of the Czech Republic’s to Israel in 1995-1998. In 2022, he was living in Prague.