Jiřina Šiklová

* 1935  †︎ 2021

  • “Apart from the silent majority, there is the grey zone. Those are people who are neither black nor white. People who try to survive but not by transforming into collaborators. Their role was in a way positive. They adapted according to whether they felt more bond with the party or with the dissent. It didn’t matter anymore. This grey zone – as I wrote in an article back then – would once play a positive role. Because unlike the dissidents and unlike the dummies from the Communist Party leadership, they were not even all communists. Already back then, it varied. And those grey zone people would take over the power. Unlike the dissidents or leading communists, they hadn’t lost their qualification, were able to comprehend what was going on, many had international experience and could see how things would develop. That’s why I wrote in the closing of that article that for the dissidents, complicated times were only just starting.”

  • “Is any idea worth getting locked up for?” – “Yes, I think so even if many people disagree. I recall that when I was released from prison, my friends assumed I wouldn’t be able to earn my living but I know how to tailor. And so my friends sent me an electric sewing machine. It was a new thing back then and I had to have a permit. I won’t name the present law firm of that person but he asked me this question: ‘Doctor, is it worth it, getting oneself in jail for this pork belly nation?’ Ten years later, this successful attorney returned to thank me, in fact. We met, he recognized me and thanked me. In a way, he apologized for this past talk of his. And he even knew back then, he was allowing me to buy the sewing machine.”

  • “I think it played an important role. While Jan Kavan talked to journalists, Vilém Prečan used me as a liaison to hand over the books, which they published abroad. For instance, articles for Pavel Tigrid in Paris. Imagine an issue of Svědectví published by him – the devil himself, according to the secret police – full of articles by Czech and Slovak authors. What a hit that was! It encouraged many others that it was worth writing. Thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people had read literature which was “indexed”. Such people existed. It was an encouragement both for the authors and for the readers or listeners to Radio Free Europe. Otherwise, they would’ve thought such people hadn’t existed or had passed away. At my cottage, my neighbors were asking me how was it possible that texts by Czech authors were broadcasted on Radio Free Europe. Obviously, I hadn’t explained and just said that it was complicated.”

  • “They began harassing me in 1988, on 28 October. All of the others got their stuff ready and left it at my place. All their things were at mine when on 28 October, two boys came over. In the morning, as it’s supposed to be. I was in my pajamas – it was their job to catch people unprepared. On the other hand, it enabled me to get dressed. So, from their side, it was not such a great move. After all, they were guys. I went to change myself while they were watching, but not properly. If I were them, I would have sent a woman who would’ve followed my every step.” – “Did they find the stuff?” – “They didn’t find the most important things. I played a very banal trick. On the wall where my mum lived, there was a curtain. Behind it, there were handles and on them were bags with texts intended for export. Down by the floor, there was nothing. Seeing a curtain by the wall, you tend to use your foot to check whether there’s something hidden in there. And there wasn’t.”

  • “There were people who were able to keep their mouths shut. There were more of them. Women had less of a tendency to talk about those things. Sorry for taking a bit of a gender perspective here but I could have well imagined a guy wanting to act interesting in bed with some lover. So, he’d be telling this lady about all the difficulties of conspiracy. The lady would then not see a reason not to tell another lady. So, my criteria for collaboration included the preference of women. Not really because of gender; I haven’t even known the term back then. But rather because the women when they got into something like that, were not too attractive for men. Guys like to play being bigshots and so on.”

  • “When I returned from the nick, I was surprised to find out nobody followed up on it. People who stayed in the country – and there were plenty of them – were not even able to renew proper contact with Jiří Pelíkán. So that the shipments would get to the country somehow. For me, this was quite a surprise. And also a bit of a disappointment. When I returned, we renewed all of it. Vilém Prečan established contact with Wolfgang Scheuer who lived at the present location of the Lithuanian embassy. He was permanently under surveillance there. But the cops were so stupid that when the Scheuers turned the lights off at around 9 p.m., they also left. For me, it was never a problem to go and see him. His wife Brigite was usually peeking out of the window, opened the door without saying anything, and passed me the cargo, which was very good. Not only things for myself, but also news and so on.”

  • “Sometimes, people get labelled. For instance, Jiří Pelikán as a former communist gets politically degraded. What is your take on this?” – “Up until now, I never thought people were so dumb. And I mean people who could be interested. Back then, I considered this labelling stupid and I still do, so there is a continuity. People are unable to think and don’t get that first, people evolve and second, people live through various phases. Dumb people who never had an opinion will stick with that to the end of their days. That is logical. No need to change anything there. Whoever tends to denounce everyone for being swine, also feels no need to change anything. I am neither disappointed nor surprised about this. As far as I know, Jiří Pelikán had published Listy. In 1968, Literární noviny were outlawed, so they transformed to Literární listy. When they prohibited their publication for the second time, it ended up as Listy. Jiří Pelikán then kept publishing Listy from abroad.”

  • “One of the men, who offered to do what I was doing - that is, to meet with the people who arrive by car and bring the stuff - he had been in prison. That was pretty good certification for him. It was said that he had been locked up for some kind of Ukrainian or Ruthenian nationalism, I don’t know exactly. People confirmed that - that they’d spent time with so and so. This gave me the impression that the man would do the job well, that is, with a certain conviction.”

  • “The saying goes that Czechs had always kept their mouths shut and followed with the crowd; both during Nazism and under communism. What is your take?” – “I don’t think that’s true. It is a cliché, which is often repeated. I can see all the culture that emerged during the so-called normalization. Also, look at the exile operating in several phases. I don’t only think during Nazism but also just after 1945, after 1948, after 1968, and others after 1979, 1980. Something was always happening here. Culture had developed in parallel.”

  • “Of course, you discover a person’s true character in such situations. And those people are interesting because they have opinions. The worst are people who are, as I say, like defrosted fillet. You know what I mean - when you buy a fish fillet and defrost it, it’s kind of, well, you don’t know if it’s this or that. I certainly didn’t meet any such people there, neither on one side, nor on the other, I can assure you.”

  • “They fulfilled all the quotas, just to get a [better] position. And then they laugh at someone who had their gob smashed and then said how things were and signed themself into their service? Isn’t that actually coarse and wrong from a moral point of view?”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 18.12.2014

    duration: 01:08:49
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 2

    Eye Direct Praha, 03.04.2017

    duration: 06:08:52
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 3

    Praha, 10.04.2017

    duration: 01:58:51
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 4

    Praha, 10.05.2017

    duration: 01:59:13
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

It was worth getting locked up

Jiřina Šiklová, 2017
Jiřina Šiklová, 2017
photo: Post Bellum

Jiřina Šiklová, née Heroldová, was born on 17 June 1935 in Prague into the family of a medical doctor and a teacher. In 1953, she graduated from a grammar school and then went on to study history and philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University in Prague. In 1956, after the XX. Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and the critique of the Stalinist regime, she joined the Communist Party. In the mid-60s, she co-founded the Department of Sociology at Faculty of Philosophy. In 1968, she actively participated in university life, supporting reform tendencies within the Party. She supported students in their strike in November 1969, as well as after Jan Palach’s self-immolation a couple months earlier. She left the party the same year and was fired from the faculty. She worked as a cleaner, educated herself individually and consulted with students. In early 1970s, she found a job as a social worker at the Geriatric Department of Thomayer Hospital in Prague where she anonymously helped with research projects. In parallel, she worked alongside Petr Pithart in smuggling illegal literature abroad and back to Czechoslovakia. In 1977, she became the main liaison for this activity, which she did up until the group’s exposure in 1981. Jiřina Šiklová was accused of subversion. After her release in 1982, she resumed literature smuggling with Vilém Prečan and Wolfgang Scheuer. After the 1989 revolution, she began lecturing once again and initiated the establishment of the Department of Social Work at the Faculty of Philosophy in Prague, which she chaired until 2000. She also established the Prague Center and Library of Gender Studies. Jiřina Šiklová died on 22 May 2021.