František Stárek

* 1952

  • “This justice over the phone, or these horizontal directives or wishes aren’t documented anywhere, of course. I only have one document I saved, when there was the trial with the Plastic People in 1976, then the first summons were for fourteen people. Ripl, who was chief of the Prague administration of the Central Bohemian Region, sent the summons to be checked, he sent it to Interior Minister Obzin. [Obzin] wrote a remark on the edge of the paper - no, do it with only three or four people - and there are other remarks on it; and that happened. That’s placed right at the beginning of the Brown Book [Hnědá kniha] because that’s the only proof of this justice, which was declared only as an aside, but had the greatest impact. We really have the extant original of the paper, the summons, with the minister’s remark written in ballpoint pen, and that’s how it was. And the interesting thing is that this request of Minister Obzin wasn’t meant just for his subordinates, because he actually wrote how it was supposed to end up, and this request of his applied not only to the investigators, but also to the prosecution and the court.”

  • “The reason, which we had come up with already in the days of the Plastic People in the Sky, was mainly that we wanted to connect the Czech underground community. Because the Communists mainly wanted to keep people apart, to atomise them, so that they couldn’t come to any agreement and couldn’t form structures outside of the Communists’ control. And what the magazine did was it created these structures. We basically built up a structure that showed people on one side of the country that it was possible to do something on the other side of the country, that they held a concert there, a garden exhibition, that they published some samizdat. The people who read it said to themselves: ‘Why couldn’t we do that too?’ That was the main idea of the magazine, which was to create a platform. We wanted the people who wrote for it to be untrained - because education under Communism was all in one direction, and if people wanted to learn anything, they had to learn it themselves. Those were the reasons why we made Vokno [the title is an informal form of the word ‘window’ - trans.]. Then in addition to that we also trained people in how they should legally behave towards State Security, say in our Voknoviny [Windonews] section we published a series called The Citizen and NSC officers [National Security Corps, the Communist police - trans.].”

  • “The domestic opposition scene was all shattered up until then. It comprised former Communists, Catholics, Evangelicals, writers, and so on, but everyone basically kept to their own thing. When they locked up a priest, the Catholics protested, when they locked up Šabata, the former Communists protested, but there was no contact between the groups. Not until the Plastics, or our group, which was called the Plastics as a whole - the trial with the Plastic People [an alternative music band - trans.], so because we didn’t have any political tint and we weren’t active in any specific group, it was easy for everyone to stand up for us, so we were something of a catalyst in that way. That actually led to some success - with everyone pushing together, the powers that were had to back up a bit. And the idea [of the Charter] was that Václav Havel and Jiří Němec didn’t want this fellowship, which had formed ad hoc during the Plastic People case, to dissolve and return to its atomised form.”

  • “Some of them were not able to grasp why I was behind the bars. I was going for a tea to one guy. Well, I was not much of a tea drinker, but I was going to him for a chat. This sort of prisoners were people you could at least talk to, with some of them. There were also people with whom you could not talk at all. This guy was a normal house-breaker, so he was telling me which flats he had burglarized and so on. And he asked me: ´And why were you sentenced?´ I replied: ´I was publishing a magazine.´ He was pondering it for a while and he thought that I did not want to tell him what I was really sentenced for. Then he asked: ´And what was in it? Did you burglarize some attics, also, or do you have any hens?´ He kept thinking it over. In the burglars’ hierarchy, the ones who steal things from attics and hens from henhouses are the worst sort among all burglars. On the top there are those who burglarize flats. So he was testing me, trying to assess what level I was in.” (Interviewer) “Were there some interesting types as well?” – “Of course there were many interesting guys, each of them was an original. In the 2nd class, there were no such guys who would be imprisoned for spitting on the floor and such, the 2nd class was the real criminal population – house burglars, and such. You could learn a thing or two there. But still, it was nothing compared to the situation in the 1950s. The difference between us, prisoners in the 1980s, and those who were imprisoned in the 1950s was that their lives were at stake. Ours were not. Certainly not. For us, you could maybe get a thrashing, in the worst case. But your life was not in danger. But they were together there, those political prisoners. They were learning from one another. But when I was in prison, and I have spent a total of nearly four years there, I have never seen a political prisoner there during all that time. The only thing I have learnt in prison was perhaps how to pick a door lock.”

  • “Personally, whom do you see as an interesting figure of that dissident intellectual environment?” “Out of the dissidents? Václav Havel. I think he is the man who has understood what underground is. That it is not just a bunch of intellectuals. That everybody is in it. From the guys who dig ditches and those who build a brick wall, to those who write books on phenomenology. That this is a representative and very wide community. And another person, who had very good relation to the underground and who understood it, was Pavel Tigrid. A great Czech personage.”

  • “The first batch of Vokno was printed on Ormik. I basically stole this Ormik, and I was doing it through one guy from Teplice, who was in vocational training as a repairman of office machines and he was bringing me this Ormik from work – part by part. You cannot imagine what it was like, what it meant to have a copy-machine at home. If you compared it with today, it would be something like having a nuclear bomb in your home. This stuff was equivalent to a heavy machine-gun – that kind of stuff. Just to illustrate how much the Secret Police was after something like that. The guy was bringing the parts of the machine to my basement, and one day he even brought the printing drum, he somehow smuggled it out. From the factory! He had to carry it secretly through the gatehouse. He managed to smuggle this drum, it was a one-piece part. Then he spent two days in the basement and put the whole machine together. And when we had it all set up and the first copies started falling out, we erupted in triumphal applause. The machine did not have a paper feeder, but it did not matter. Suddenly you could make a hundred copies from one stencil.”

  • “By playing the accordion, this Čert has also pretty much infiltrated into the underground. And today, when people speak of lyrics, they praise Čert´s texts. But why were his texts so precisely to the point? Because he was not afraid that he would get imprisoned for them. All the other text-writers did exercise certain self-censorship.” “You thought this way sometimes?” No, this occurred to me only after publication. Only when I realized that, of course.”

  • “I was an ordinary long-haired sympathizer with the subculture from Teplice. But the underground subculture was, or looked, different than the dissident environment. We did not feel like communicating with the establishment. We only wanted to do our own stuff. The communication channel we had, the magazine, was not intended to be a magazine of the opposition. It was supposed to be our own magazine. We only wanted them to leave us alone. For Charter 77 and the surrounding dissident environment, this contact with the authority in power was still present there. They were asking the Party to observe its own laws, and so on. I viewed this rather as my own form of civil activism. But the underground was still our focal point. Underground is a way of life. We were living in a commune – in Nová Víska…”

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“The first one: The one who wants looks for ways. The one who does not looks for reasons. And the second: Where there is a will, there is also a way. These are two maxims which I follow.”

František Stárek in 1952
František Stárek in 1952
photo: Dobová: Archiv pamětníka, současná: Natáčení Eye Direct

František Stárek, nicknamed Čuňas (Porky), was born on December 1st, 1952 in Pilsen. While still a pupil at an elementary school in Teplice, he discovered the Beat of culture, and from the sixth grade on, he fought for the right to have long hair. After graduation, for which he sat in a short-haired wig, he left Teplice. He found employment in Prague, where he befriended members of the local underground scene. He decided to gradually break through the limits of the Prague scene in order to reach other unofficial communities outside of Prague. Based on previous plans for an independent medium for the underground scene, which were never put into practice, he began publishing the Samizdat magazine Vokno (Window) in 1979. He already had an eight-month imprisonment in the Pilsen-Bory prison from 1976 under his belt. He was later sentenced in the trial against the band The Plastic People of the Universe. None of the initiators of the trial could anticipate that this unjust verdict against the band’s members would serve as a link between the two worlds which had hitherto been separated, and eventually give rise to Charter 77. Stárek himself signed it as early as 1977. Two years later, when the political regime began with severe repressions in response to Charter 77, František Stárek co-founded a commune in Nová Víska near Kadaň. A huge farming estate with a large barn served as a private scene for underground concerts and cultural events. In 1981, the farm was expropriated by the state, and by the pressure of the Secret Police, the community did not manage to purchase another place. After the community had been disbanded, Stárek was imprisoned for two and a half years for the publication of Vokno. Before that, the Secret Police provided him with an exit permit, hoping that Stárek would emigrate on his own accord. Instead, Stárek used the opportunity to make a trip to Poland, where he met top representatives of the Polish underground and supported the Solidarity movement which was formed at the time. After his release from prison in 1984 Stárek carried on with his publishing activity, in spite of the burden of two-year monitoring which nearly equaled serfdom. Together with filmmaker Michal Hýbek and other friends he contributed to the production and distribution of the Original Video journal, which was distributed through similar channels as the Samizdat Vokno and which was presenting film documentaries about art, the dissident movement or ecology. Vokno also continued to be published. As an editor-in-chief, Stárek and Ivana Vojtková, his wife-to-be, were arrested again in February 1989 and sentenced to two and a half years of imprisonment. He spent November 17th in prison and he was released on December 26th, 1989 following the presidential amnesty. In the following years, he joined the counterintelligence department, where he remained until 2007. At present, he is employed in the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and he focuses on a research and documentary project about the history of Czechoslovak underground. In his free time, he studies family genealogy and organizes underground festivals.