Petruška Šustrová

* 1947  †︎ 2023

  • “Later, as the Revolutionary Youth Movement, we published this leaflet in which we were calling ourselves the Revolutionary Socialist Party. As there is this leftist habit of changing your name constantly. I didn´t care much, as I would be willing to make a deal with the Devil if necessary. And I didn´t meet anyone who would be willing to... just these people! But take Dejmal, for example, as his inclination to Marxism was... it could be said that even I had been more into Marxism than he was. As he was simply a Catholic. And he joined those people for the same reasons I did. And besides, we were young so it was quite easy to make friends at that age. So we would do this Revolutionary Socialist Party manifesto. And as I would read it after all those years, I had to laugh, as I had no idea to whom such a thing could appeal. Some theoreticians or historians maybe, but the people? It was just utter nonsense. Just this weird language of the party. And we tried to translate it to Czech, Felipe Serrano, Honza Frolík and I, washing it down with large quantities of red wine, and at 2AM or so, we decided that such a thing just couldn´t be done.”

  • “You know, you had to cope with the situation you were in, so as my relatives would bring Ivánek I felt quite embarrassed. As... just try to ask a three-year-old boy what he was doing! As I took quite a different level of intimacy to establish contact with a child and to do that in this quite ugly setting, wearing those scruffy tracksuit trousers – that was bad indeed. So I was looking forward to see him, but that was just about it.”

  • “There is no doubt that Andrej Babiš collaborated with the Secret Police. But – and I am not saying this to defend him, but rather to put things in context. Andrej Babiš was a Communist party member, he was part of the nomenclature. He was a high ranking official at the Ministry of Foreign Trade. All the high ranking officials at the Ministry of Foreign Trade were collaborating with the Secret Police (StB). And again, I am not trying to defend him, just to put things in context – as in fact, Andrej Babiš didn´t have to distinguish between what he was telling his commanding officer and his factual superior at work. Or his official superior. As he was talking about his job. Unlike that unfortunate one I had been telling you about, who would denigrate his friend who he didn´t like, or friends who he didnt´ like. So he hadn´t said things like: 'He said that... he told me by the window that Communist are... I don´t know that...' It wasn´t like that. So he – if we would try to be compassionate – didn´t have to know at all. I think that the real problem is that the voters consider this high ranking nomenclature member, this Communist party cadre, the man from the past who was able to establish these excellent connections in that past, which he undoubtedly made good use of, that they consider him the best choice and a man who should represent them. I think that that´s the real problem.”

  • “So we were thinking what to do, and we didn´t come up with much, to be honest. However... they had.. Pavel Šremer and Radan Baše and Petr, of course, Petr Uhl – they had some contacts in the trade unions – and I have nothing against the trade unions – but due to that, this guy would get to us, his name was Čechal, and he was a rat, a Secret Police informer, who of course would turn us in. And he would get the boys – as I wasn´t there at that time – to discuss that we should do something which could be classified as an act of terror. But no harm should be done to anyone, I don´t remember exactly how it was. They had to steal some truck or something, I don´t know, I don´t remember, as I wasn´t there, fortunately. And Egon Čierny, he thought that we should storm the Radio and make some announcement. But me, I didn´t want to storm anything or to make any announcement, as I resented violence. Maybe I just didn´t have the guts to do that, well, but I found it disgusting. And in secret, I was thinking that if we would broadcast our manifesto we would be labeled as some chronic maniacs. Well, in the end, we wouldn´t be labeled as chronic maniacs, yet they would locks us all up – and that was it.”

  • “In the beginning I took it just like any other job, but after some time, I felt like I was in one of those screening committees in the 50s. It was just ugly. But Václav Benda would set me right, saying: 'Listen, are you sending them to jail or to be executed? Well... you want them to stop doing the job which would be no longer necessary, don´t you, for God´s sake?' As our committee would investigate Secret Police men from the Prague (Praha) administration. The people who were victimizing us – as well as our friends. And there was this man, I don´t remember his name... As we would have their personal files. So the man would show up and we would talk to him. On every occasion, there was someone from the Civic Forum (Občanské fórum) in the committee, like representing the opposition, as well as some policeman who had been forced to quit his job after 1968 and so on. And this man had been after Václav Benda. And Václav Benda had his flat searched maybe eight times, which was quite an unpleasant experience. And he would say: 'But I had held Mr Benda in such a high esteem.' I said: 'What do you mean? You were going through his laundry! You have been searching his laundry basket.' And he said: 'No, he was – I mean is – a scholar.' So he would say 'he was', as if there was this new, different Mr Benda under the new order.”

  • “Václav Havel was – with a little bit of exxageration – the uncrowned king of the Charter. Well, maybe he was crowned alright, as in 1988, there was this New Year´s Eve celebration called 'Monarchy for everyone'. As there was this manifesto, 'Democracy for everyone', which had been issued in autumn of that year. And as some people tend to make fun of just everything... in this flat that Lenka Procházková wanted to leave there was this huge New Year´s Eve celebration called 'Monarchy for everyone.' There was this King Vávra, impersonated by Vavřinec Korčiš. And he was the one to whom the supplicants came with their pleas. And I remember that the most charming supplicant was Ivan Havel as he has his plea written on a parchment, with all corners burned and so on. And the plea was that he was asking the king that the younger brothers would be given the same status as the older brothers. And of course, everyone was amused by that. There was this photo which the presidential office had hidden somewhere long time ago, but the photo has to be somewhere to be found – a negative. And on it, there is Václav Havel, sitting quite under the weather, with his crown awry, and his wife Olga on his lap. And this photo had been taken during this New Year´s Eve festivities. And I had been asking where he got the corwn. And Václav and Olga, but also other people told me: 'As you were discussing some political nonsense in the kitchen, the crown went from head to head, and in the end, as Vašek was sitting there with Olga, someone would come to put the crown onto his head, saying: 'You are the only one to whom it should belong.'”

  • “You are walking down the street with these two men behind you. And the people are wondering what a freak show it is – as if you would lead these two Secret Police men on a string. Once, it had been quite an unpleasant experience and I would get really angry. I went shopping and they just arrested me in the street. As some Western official had been visiting the country and they thought, probably, that I was going to meet him. Right in the street: 'You are coming with us.' And I would say: 'I won´t go, I have to go home.' - 'You will.' So we would be standing there arguing and then these people would start to gather around. And the Secret Police man would turn to the people and say: 'This woman is a shoplifter.' I was furious but I couldn´t react quickly and say: 'That´s rubbish, I am a Charter 77 petitioner and these men are with the Secret Police.' I just couldn´t do that and such a thing didn´t even cross my mind to be honest. But after that, I ended all collaboration and I wouldn´t say a word during an interrogation. I would say: 'I might tell you my name, but as you have my ID, you might as well read it.' And I would sit there in silence. And I have to say that they were quite upset by that.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 30.07.2018

    duration: 01:59:00
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 2

    Praha, 20.09.2018

    duration: 02:07:49
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 3

    Praha, 17.10.2018

    duration: 01:51:53
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 4

    Praha, 12.11.2018

    duration: 01:51:02
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

History is much more complex than this fable of heroes and murderers

With her third child in 1975
With her third child in 1975
photo: archiv pamětnice

Petruška Šustrová was born on May 18th 1947 in Prague (Praha). When the Warsaw pact tanks came in August of 1968, she studied at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague. She joined the November occupation strike at the university and later founded the Revolutionary Youth Movement (Hnutí revoluční mládže) with her friends. This group of young people refused to accept the ‘normalisation’ process which was just beginning, issuing protest declarations, copying anti-regime leaflets and establishing contacts with people abroad. Prior to the first anniversary of the August 21st occupation, they urged the public to engage in acts of passive resistance. At the end of 1969, twelve members of the movement were arrested; Petruška spent two years in jail. After being released, she began to transcribe materials by (Edice Petlice), a ‘samizdat publishing’ house and started to establish contacts within the cultural underground movement. She signed the Charter 77 declaration (Charta 77) on the Christmas Eve of 1976. She was one of the founders of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných or VONS). After the leading figures of the committee were arrested in 1979, she was the main author of the so-called ‘reports’ documenting cases of people who were persecuted for political reasons. In 1985, she was one of the three Charter 77 spokespersons. Her flat was being searched and she was interrogated by the Secret Police (StB); after 1982, she wasn´t even allowed to work as a cleaner. In November 1989, she co-founded the (Informční servis) and wrote the very first article published by it. After the Velvet Revolution, she led civic committees screening the former Secret Service men. From 1990 to 1992, as a Deputy Minister of Interior, she participated in political screenings among the police force and in the police reform. After leaving the Ministry of Interior, she pursued her career as a journalist. From 2008 to 2018, she was the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes´ council member (Rada Ústavu pro studium totalitních režimů). She worked as a journalist, a columnist and a translator. Petruška Šustrová died on May 6th, 2023.