Tomáš Šponar

* 1968

  • “In one moment, which I consider crucial for Liberec, for that school and for that moment, one student from DAMU stepped out. Unfortunately I don’t remember his first name or surname anymore. He was a nice young guy and he shared his personal testimony from that protest rally. It had an impact on two levels: firstly, everyone got enraged, but on the other hand, there was the question what would follow. A reaction was necessary – but what reaction? At that moment those youth union officials - face to face with this personal and emotional testimony, which was well formulated - remained paralyzed and they had nothing to say to this, there was nothing to add. At that moment I thought that something had to happen. The call for a strike was already made, Prague or the major movement was already starting the student strike. I stood up and I said that we would hold a strike. There was an interesting moment, because one of the classmates said to the crowd: ‘Well, wait, but what political prisoners are you talking about? What are we actually fighting for?’ I subconsciously reacted, I think I did well and I dismissed his question: ‘We will not argue about it here, to put it simply, there are political prisoners there, and for those who want to participate in the strike, let us gather over there in the corner.’ Other people showed up – there was Ivoš Luňák, for sure, a skilled organizer who later became the main figure who was setting the direction and who was able to steer the helm in rough waters and who gave it a shape in his short speech. Then there was Láďa Pimek, who has unfortunately passed away, a man who has helped the revolution a lot, a mountain climber, orienteering runner, athlete, a great student and most of all a great team member. He had an accident in the early 1990s and he succumbed to his injuries. His name should not be forgotten. If I was to mention two people who gave it some shape, I would say those two: Ivoš Luňák and Láďa Pimek. They were able to give it a meaning and a form. They were able to feel and grasp the whole meaning of what was happening. They were several years older than us and that was probably the decisive factor after all. In the evening we gathered in that corner. At the very beginning there were two groups: one was the culture sphere - people from theatre and music bands, and the other were athletes from the mountain climbing club, volleyball players and skiers, and, to put it short, these autonomous activities joined in.”

  • “You know what the propaganda said about the West and the United States. There was a large company in Ústí nad Orlicí, it was a stated-owned company at that time, and it produced textile machinery. Those machines were not produced in any other place in the world and therefore people from the West were purchasing them as well, and the technicians who were setting up these machines were traveling there and living there. When I was in the fifth grade, a classmate returned to our class who had been living with her parents in the United States for a year or two. The teacher introduced her to us and we stared at her as if she had come back from Mars, because we had that image of America as imperialism and poverty. The teacher invited her mom and for two hours, or maybe even longer, she was talking to us about what it was like in America, how children played there, where they went shopping, what good things they had there to eat. She spoke enthusiastically and nicely about everyday life and thanks to her we were able to see that it was good in America and that it was not as bad as we were told in television and newspapers. The teacher did not feel that she ought to balance it in any way, and she invited her and let her talk freely about how things were good in America. The teacher in her and the honest person in her have prevailed.”

  • “The year 1968 plays a crucial role in my life. The occupation was something which was really making me angry. I will be honest: we did not have a completely clear idea how democracy should or should not work, or what was or was not an alternative to the communist regime - we were only utterly enraged and I knew that it was not good and that it had to stop. My idea was that the comrades should relent a lot. At that time I was something of a 68’er: I would have been content with only reforming the system, it would be enough for me if I were allowed to go on a trip to Vienna, and have more newspapers and better music, etc. I was twenty years old, without a political background, but this military occupation was a traumatizing thing which in my opinion should stop immediately. When in 1988 there was the 20th anniversary of the occupation and it was just shortly before my birthday, I told my parents that I was going to visit a friend and that they should not worry about me, and on August 21st I went from the train station straight to Wenceslas Square. Quite a large protest rally formed there; communists were totally taken aback by that. It was evolving, at first there were only few of us under the St. Wenceslas statue. I met several guys whom I already knew, like young Dobrovský, and I knew, or rather suspected, that they were people with connections to the dissident community. My presence there was purely spontaneous and I thought that if we were to protest against something, then that was it. People were coming from the side streets, they came to have a look and they took courage and suddenly a third of the Wenceslas Square was full. Then we walked down somewhere to the Old Town Square, then to the present-day Palach Square. We were not able to pass in front of the Faculty of Arts, because they wanted to go to the Castle, and then we went to Charles Bridge, and there was a policeman standing there and people started shouting at him: ‘Gestapo! Gestapo!’ In the context of what we know today it was absolutely fitting, but at that time I thought that it was awfully controversial, because at that time I didn’t know anything about it.”

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    Praha 4, 11.09.2017

    duration: 02:31:05
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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It was only up to us whether we would accept that role

Tomáš Šponar, 1988
Tomáš Šponar, 1988
photo: archiv Tomáše Šponara, autor neznámý

Tomáš Šponar was born on September 6th, 1968 in Svitavy as the only child of his parents. In the mid-1970s the family moved to Ústí nad Orlicí, where he studied the elementary and grammar school, from which he graduated in 1985. In the same year he began studying at the Institute of Mechanical and Textile Engineering in Liberec. During his studies there, Tomáš was active in the student theatre ensemble T. S. Garp, which was under the patronage of the Socialist Youth Union. On August 21st, 1988 he went alone to Prague to join the protest rally on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies. He marched through Prague in a crowd of protesters. On November 16th, 1989 he arrived to Prague with the theatre ensemble to participate in a festival of university art ensembles and on November 17th he travelled with the ensemble to Karl-Marx-Stadt (present-day Chemnitz) to a theatre festival of universities from communist countries. After his return to Liberec on November 19th and learning the news from Prague about the events on Národní Street, Tomáš immediately joined the students activities. On November 20th he became a member of the strike committee and he was actively involved in the student protests until the election of Václav Havel for president in December 1989. He completed his university studies in 1991. In 1998-1999 Tomáš converted to Christianity. Tomáš worked in press and in television. He and his wife live in Prague and they raise their three children. In his free time he enjoys running.