Milan Uhde

* 1936  

  • “It was the limit of the 1960s. The people there were lying, they were claiming that they stood for socialism. But even those who were not for socialism were saying it. Everybody pretended that it was a reform, but only some people wanted to reform. And there were restrictions, that it true. The Union of Writers could not even offer a candidacy to Václav Černý. He would not have accepted it anyway, obviously, because he was a writer. Some people were simply out of question. Josef Kostohryz, Václav Renč... Catholic writers, but they were undoubtedly writers who belonged there. It was unthinkable and nobody even suggested them, people were saying that it was not possible. That was the limit of the 1960s. And I simply think of it in a way that although I did publish my anti-Communist play (note: theatre play King Vávra), at the same time I was feeding on grass from graves… I later used this expression publicly in a samizdat, I wrote that we were grazing on grass from graves, that we had been buried there alive and that we were eating this grass from graves just like the goats of the priest from Havlíček’s well-known poem... Priest’s cows will graze on you every summer... Do not allow them to bury you in a cemetery, my boy. A great poem by Havlíček (note: journalist and poet Karel Havlíček Borovský, the poem ‘Grave’). We were grazing on grass from graves, although we were pretending to be warriors for freedom.”

  • “This loyalty pertained to politics as well, and that was why I felt with the German soldiers at Stalingrad who were defending us, right, and I felt with the communists. It was one of my lifelong ideas or dreams that I would be a loyal citizen, an honest citizen and an honest person. My young friend Jiří Šimsa, when he reviewed my book Rozpomínky - he knew me well, although he was two generations younger - he wrote that he felt how difficult it had been for me to take courage to sign Charter 77, because I always desired be in agreement. Rebelling or opposing something was not natural to me. And my second lifelong experience, which is perhaps no less intense, it is perhaps even greater, is a feeling of fear. I remember that this fear, although nobody instigated it in me - on the other hand, my parents tried to create an ideal of a family idyll as hard as they could - everything is all right, the sun is shining and people are smiling, singing, and playing the piano, dad playing the violin, and we are talking about nice natural positive things - and in all this I could still feel the artificiality and pretence of it. A child can sense it, even if it does not understand it and cannot interpret it nor define why it is.”

  • “The lectures and discussion were very interesting and they were attended by people, about whom I knew that they were so strongly opposed to Bolsheviks. This Šabata (note: Jaroslav Šabata, a Communist Party official until 1989, a dissident in the normalization period, spokesman of Charter 77, political prisoner) was making it apparent by some sixth sense that he was not an informer and that he would not go somewhere and say: ‘I have this person in my seminar, and his opinions are like this, and therefore, comrades, you should keep an eye on him.’ Comrades from Lenin Street, secret policemen. In October or November 1956 I received a personal invitation from him, which many students had received before and they already knew what it was. They said: ‘He will offer you a membership in the Party.’ I thus went there and his first question was: ‘How do you view the political situation, comrade Uhde?’ I said: ‘Well, undoubtedly, what is happening is an atrocity. The intervention of the Red Army in Hungary… This is a breaking away from socialism. I hope that you are intending to leave the Party.’ In this way, the offer was dealt with… It was already absolutely clear. And I had not known it beforehand, I just simply and spontaneously asked him whether he intended to cancel his Party membership. And he replied that no way, because the movement was now turning to the right path and because the objective of this movement was to bring back liberty to the society... I replied to him: ‘But this will be no liberty. I read Sartre and he says that an objective is a summary of means which we had exerted for its attainment. This is the objective. If you sow grain, something will grow. And if you murder people and occupy other countries, etc., then you will not attain any socialism at all. You will turn into a strict dictatorship. This is where your movement is heading now.’ We thus agreed that we would not be able to agree upon this, but that we would watch the issue and keep seeing each other and exchange our opinions.”

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    Brno, 18.07.2017

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I tried to confront everything with my conscience

Milan Uhde, 1963
Milan Uhde, 1963

Milan Uhde was born on July 28, 1936 in Brno. His parents worked as lawyers and apart from Milan they raised three more children. As a child, Milan witnessed the hatred against the Jewish citizens. In 1938 his mother was expelled from the Bar Association for being Jewish. Her parents died in a concentration camp. Milan Uhde studied at a grammar school after the war and then at the Faculty of Arts of the present-day Masaryk University in Brno. Even after February 1948, a child-like trust and desire to be loyal prevailed in his character. Although he encountered the horrors of the communist dictatorship, he regarded them as mistakes of individuals rather than flaws of the communist system, in which he still inherently believed. His thinking and attitude changed in 1956 in relation to the speech of the then foremost representative of the Soviet Union N. S. Khrushchev about the personality cult and about the atrocities committed by the Stalinist regime, and also in relation to the events in Hungary. As he says, at that time he understood that he was living in a “gangster movie.” In the 1960s he began working as an editor in the literary monthly magazine Host do domu (“A Guest in the House”), he published his works, and he wrote radio and television plays. In 1968 he condemned the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, and he was branded as an “enemy person” in the normalization period. From 1972 onward he became a banned author entirely. The communist regime persecuted him until 1989. In the 1970s he signed Charter 77. After the Velvet Revolution he was active in politics for several years. He is still active as an author. Milan Uhde lives in Brno.