František Srovnal

* 1947  

  • “I was a regular project architect employed with the firm Northern Moravian State Forests when I applied for an exit visa. This is where I ran into a deputy human resources officer who still lives in the Zábřeh region. He refused to sign it, and to give me the permission I needed to obtain the visa. I called there asking when it would be processed, saying that I had to apply for the visa already and that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go to the canonization which I wanted to attend. Well, I addressed him ‘Mr. deputy’. He got so offended that I didn’t address him ‘comrade deputy’ – it was in November 1989 – that this company representative gave me a long lecture on how did I dare and that he was comrade deputy. So I realized that I wouldn’t succeed there.”

  • “Things got very lively when we got in touch with one person under heavy surveillance, Doctor Zvěřina from Prague, who started coming here regularly. The home seminars had already started by then, those were firstly in Šumperk with the Dominican Jiří Fuks, who would visit the Vargs, and secondly with Josef Zvěřina, who started visiting Šumperk, and then switched to Zábřeh. Bit by bit we came to be close colleagues with him. He even had something of a headquarters here. It was only for reasons of secrecy that we organised it in various places. But actually when he arrived on the Friday, he usually slept at our place. And we left from here early morning on the Saturday. To some village or cottage in the vicinity, or to Šumperk. Simply somewhere, so we wouldn’t be in one place all the time, because he was under heavy surveillance. We returned on Saturday evening. On Sunday he had more people here,who would come back. So in three days he had several groups which each discussed the newest developments from a political viewpoint. Who was put in prison, who from the Charter was persecuted in some way, who needed help. He usually brought us a bundle of printed matter that we then distributed. First of all we were in touch with, say, father Měsíc from Branné, the Hoštejn parson Jagoš, who had a duplicating machine.”

  • “In 1968 we were in a rather desperate situation. We were unable to pass exams and our professors had tolerated it. They saw that we were completely frustrated, unable even to study. We would always go to pubs and discuss this and that. The Strahov hill was encircled by Soviet troops. They had their transmitters located there near the observatory. It stunk there of feces – it was terrible. Army men everywhere. They held patrols by the Petřín Lookout Tower. All of the hill was guarded in order for them to retain control. At the beginning the savvy Czechs managed to use trolley lines to transmit radio signal. As there were trolleybuses running up there and down in Prague there were trams, it was simple to use it for transmitting. They then ran around Prague, unable to locate the source of the signal. But the source was everywhere. For a while before they found out, people at least knew where the Russian troops were located and where it was possible to confuse them. We then heard of cases of people getting shot. For instance, a girl was walking with a university degree and they simply shot her dead at Klárov. She laid there in a pool of blood.”

  • “In 1977 the Charter 77 declaration was published. In our company Ingstav the secretary had carbon copied the text in ten copies on a typewriter. My bosses, the construction manager and the head construction manager were decent and square people who had literally disseminated Charter 77. They were completely free to do it even though the company was being vetted because of us building the Budovatel hotel. The investor was the Central Council of Labor Unions. Now it is called hotel President, located on the riverbank next to the Na Františku hospital. This is where I worked as construction manager. This was on the route that president Husák took every day from the castle to the Central Committee. Each and every building there was vetted there. Secret policemen used to go and monitor the workers there, identifying habitual criminals, and preventing someone throwing a brick from the construction site on a car going below. Eventually, Husák even had a tunnel built there below the Central Committee building. The road there was too open and therefore dangerous. An underpass had to be dug out so that the comrades wouldn’t be disturbed. So we were under such surveillance of the secret police but nevertheless our bosses were so great to carbon copy each petition like that.”

  • “There were armies all over Strahov. They had antennas all around Petřín. The whole rose garden stank. They had their latrines there. By the observatory and all over. It was appalling. No movement allowed, patrols everywhere. Anywhere you went, you were stopped by some soldiers. It was terrible. Being students, we debated. We were always going to the pub. The teachers were also dejected by it all. Then they prolonged the exam period, because no one was capable of learning or going to the exams. Registration was to end in September, and registration for the next term dragged on till the end of the year. Because everyone was completely demoralised. No one was capable of doing anything. It was complete and total despair.”

  • “So they led me there, three of them sat next to me and one started tapping away on the machine. The questions were focused mainly on Josef Zvěřina. Because he’d written an open letter to the President of the Republic, Gustáv Husák, and somehow or other he’d managed to get it into the news. Or something like that. He’d spent time with him, plucked feathers. Simply, he’d written an open letter. They asked me how I knew Josef Zvěřina. I told them: ‘Very well. He’s an excellent person, a true priest. Sirs, if you only knew him...’ And they wrote down: True priest, true person. ‘Please fill this.’ I was completely on top of things, how I hadn’t slept at all. They were kind of unsettled, pale. I abused that fact completely. I went to town on them. And I savoured every bit of it. And that was the last shakedown. As we found out in Piešťany, in Liberec. Even our friend from Medlov, they nabbed him out of the cow shed with his wellies on. Took him to Olomouc. He said: ‘I didn’t know what was going on. So I denied everything.’ Everyone behaved differently. No one knew what was going to happen. He told them: ‘I never saw him in my life.’ Simply how we’d learn to speak - deny it, deny it. Everyone reacted differently. When I came from Rome... Basically, I said it like this. They said: ‘What do you think? He’s an old man, retired. Where does he get the money for his travels? He doesn’t have a train pass. How does he travel?’ And they tried asking questions like that. I was there around two hours. He said: ‘Now sign this here.’ I read it. It was all how I’d said it. I said: ‘Okay.’ - ‘You can go.’ I said: ‘I’m not going anywhere. You drove me here, you drive me back.’ They were petrified. And they actually started looking for a car, some twenty minutes. I’d have reached home ages ago. But I reckoned: No way! So they searched for a car for a good half an hour till they found one, and then they drove me back.”

  • “It had already started in the autumn of ’67. I lived in Strahov [a Prague district - transl.]. Six thousand students. Football every day. Such a wonderful international centre for students. The communists were troubling us even then. When there was a May Day parade, they started arresting. They started cutting off electricity for instance. During exam period. The demonstrations started, already in the autumn of ’67. We said: ‘To the Castle!’ The first attempts to revolt began already in the October of ’67. It went so far in that October, I happened to be away on the 27th to 28th of October, the famous days, I was off hiking in the Jeseníky Mountains; it turned into such a brawl. I came back from the Jeseníky trip and the place was ringed around with the so-called milk vans. Those were the blue-and-white police Volgas [a car brand - transl.] of the time. Investigations, arrests. Simply, the police were there and putting things into order. Some protests, some demonstrations apparently. So it kept repeating there, it was growing gradually bigger, until it developed quite smoothly in to some sort of openness. Suddenly we had American television there. They came along out of the blue, met us: ‘Could you give us an interview?’ So we took them into the halls, told them what the situation was like, they gave us five dollars each, we were happy, so were they.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Zábřeh na Moravě, 31.05.2011

    (audio)
    duration: 03:22:46
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Šumperk, 01.04.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 01:29:18
  • 3

    Šumperk, 01.04.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 02:09:51
  • 4

    Šumperk, 04.04.2016

    (audio)
    duration: 03:39:04
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We’d stopped believing that communism would fall. We just hoped in secret.

František Srovnal-Zábřeh,1965
František Srovnal-Zábřeh,1965
photo: archiv pamětníka

Ing. Mgr. František Srovnal was born in 1947 in Bludov. After completing studies at the Czech Technical University in Prague, he married Jitka Franková. Through Christian fellowships in Prague, they got in touch with people in the dissent. Srovnal also graduated from the Theological Faculty of Palacký University in Olomouc. After returning to Zábřeh na Moravě, they continued their quiet resistance to the regime. They distributed religious literature and samizdat [self-published] texts from Prague. They were among the organisers of home seminars in Zábřeh na Moravě, which were also often attended by prof. ThDr. Josef Zvěřina. In November 1989 the couple were in Rome for the canonisation of Agnes of Bohemia. There they heard of the demonstration on the National Avenue in Prague. In the early Nineties, František Srovnal was mayor of the city of Zábřeh na Moravě, where he lives with his wife to this day.