Professor Jan Sokol

* 1936  †︎ 2021

  • “On August 18, 1968, I flew to Moscow for the first time in my life. On the third day we arrived at the Institute and they told us what had happened. We cancelled our conference and waited to go home. The atmosphere was quite excited and tense, fighters flew over Moscow. This is what happened every time when something important happened. If I am not mistaken, there were no newspapers in Moscow on August 21. Everybody was utterly shocked. They took us, Czechs, away from the hotel. But we were still approached by Russians and we also went to the embassy. Naturally, we met people in pubs. Several times it happened that when we went to a pub, they told us, ‘Wait, we’ll close the shop.’ And when they did they wanted to talk about what was going on. Many people were afraid there would be the WW III.”

  • “The ‘flat seminars’ ran from the early 1960s until the Revolution. I used to go to the Němecs on the regular basis. We also had a seminar attended, among others, by Zdeněk Neubauer, Zdeněk Kratochvíl and others… We spent years reading Nietzsche, we met every week for ten years in different flats. I also used to go to Chvatík’s place, where translations were made. Later I went to Zdeněk Pinc, several times I visited Dan Kroupa… There were more of these. The Secret Police got interested whenever a more important person came from abroad, otherwise they more or less left us alone.”

  • “In the 1960s, I and Jirka went to steal books from exhibitions – there was a French exhibition in the Technical Publishing House in Spálená street. We went there several times and every time took something. Jirka was convinced that it would have been a shame to leave the books there to be returned back to France. Later we even talked to the organisers and it transpired that they were of the very same opinion. They said they would have been surprised had nothing been lost. It was a kind of adventure. (How did you take them?) All books were placed on tables and in display cases, you came, took a book and started browsing it. They you took out another book from your bag, placed it on the place of the original one, put the one from the exhibition into your bag and that was it.”

  • “That was a real proper strike, nothing worked at all, no transport, nothing. The rubbish wasn’t cleared away, a real strike. Two or three people died there, more by unlucky accident, but even so, as they set fire to cars there and so on. I also saw, what made a big impression on me, that kind of professional police discipline. The cops had those acrylic shields and those long white batons, but they behaved with incredible discipline, so those rascals, those boys stuck various derogatory stickers on their shields, and they stood and didn’t even budge. That’s how it is there, people are used to it, they don’t mind, and it’s even something of a thrill to them. [Q: A kind of French national sport.] A kind of sport, so for instance, it was wonderful to watch the demonstrators marching along, all the little cafés quickly quickly cashing in, throwing all the furniture inside and pulling the blinds down. And when [the crowd] passed, they opened again.”

  • “Then from January ’77 he was the only mobile person left. Although he also had a cop by the front door, he could go places. Whereas Havel was in the cooler and Hájek was under scrutiny. He pretty much had home imprisonment, so Patočka was the only one who could walk around, so he had a lot to do. He kept rushing around Prague. Then things really escalated with the Dutch minister who met with him. Even though it was just in a hotel room, but there were some journalists with them. The interview was recorded, they even broadcast it somewhere outside, and that caused a real furore here. So they nabbed Patočka for a long long interrogation, or two. Whenever he came from there, they usually brought him to us, and we kept telling him that he mustn’t debate with them, that it’s not the time and place for debating, that he has to watch out so as not to say anything and to get out in one piece. He insisted that if they ask him something, he must reply. Well, and they had this strategy that they kept repeating it again and again, so he would come back extremely, enormously exhausted.”

  • “In ’89 it was clear that things were changing. I received my very first permission to travel to Vienna in August or September, in August to visit Jirka Němec, and I took with me a manuscript of that book about Eckhart, which we had prepared together and they had confiscated on the borders back then. [This time] the border [guard] browsed through it and did something that put me in utter shock. He returned it to me. Because back in 1970 and 71, I had been on work trips to the West, but whenever they found any papers in my suitcase, they were done for. So you could see that something was changing. Then when November came, I went to check out the Forum a few times, and I saw a lot of people there, and I had to deal with foreign journalists, who had come here and were anxious to find out about things.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Fakulta humanitních studií, 15.04.2015

    duration: 44:46
    media recorded in project The Stories of Our Neigbours
  • 2

    Fakulta humanitních studií , 30.10.2015

    duration: 01:13:19
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 3

    Praha, 27.01.2017

    duration: 01:32:20
  • 4

    Praha, 14.02.2017

    duration: 01:44:43
  • 5

    Praha, 10.03.2017

    duration: 01:29:43
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Man is a being of action, he must constantly chose and decide

Jan Sokol in the 1959
Jan Sokol in the 1959
photo: Jan Sokol

Jan Sokol was born on 18 April 1931 in Prague. He was barred from university studies after the 1948 coup for political reasons. He trained as a jeweller and even worked in the trade for several years. In the 1960s he made a radical change to his mode of employment and became a software programmer. In the meantime he participated in the house seminars organised by his father-in-law Jan Patočka. This imbued him with a love of philosophy, of which he has written numerous articles. In May 1968 he experienced the student strikes in Paris. When Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Warsaw Pact armies a few months later, Jan was in Moscow. In the late 1970s he read the text of Charter 77 and was surprised to find that his father-in-law was the Charter’s spokesman. He signed the document without hesitation. After the Velvet Revolution he served as Vice-Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies. In the year 2000 he was appointed the first dean of the Faculty of Humanities of Charles University in Prague.