PhDr., PhD. Pavel Žáček

* 1969  

  • “There was a discussion about what the limits would be, whether to keep it limited at that location where the demonstration started and terminate there, or whether to walk and continue somewhere where it was not permitted. Naturally, there were many discussions among the students, and there were many talks and I remember that we were riding the metro A line to the final stop, we were meeting somewhere behind Želivská in the student dormitory and there was a really heated discussion somewhere in Jižní Město, in Hvězda, and there was a number of talks. I, true to my nature, supported the idea of going to Wenceslas Square; I said that we should go there. We felt proud that it would be a demonstration which had nothing in common with the regime, not like what was here on May Day, for example, when half of the people on Wenceslas Square were officially there and the other half came from the opposition. We did not want to let them take it from our hands. We did not think about the content of the speeches too much, we rather discussed where it should happen. We were influenced by the demonstration in East Germany, Martin Mejstřík and Monika Pajerová had just returned from Dresden and they brought photos and this made us radical. From 1987 we have gone through great, maximal politicization which eventually culminated in November, but there were also people among us who mostly joined because of the magazines and they did not want to get into trouble and they were not interested in it. I was in the group which was saying: ‘We need to go for it, there is nothing more to wait for, they are banning our magazines, and they exert pressure on the faculties, they are setting up disciplinary committees, and expelling us from the military university departments.’ There was the case from Brno, and various reports were coming in about the StB which tried to exert pressure upon us… At that time I unknowingly supported the idea – I did not know that this was also the idea of Růžička alias Zifčák and probably of the entire 2nd department of the StB from Prague as well – that they wanted us to head for the Wenceslas Square, to Opletal Street, and to lay the flowers there.”

  • “As the Sunday ended, we went to the student dormitory in Hvězda and we told the others to come there and it was there that we definitely agreed across various faculties that we would go on a strike. The security guards in their uniforms which looked like zhe People’s Militia tried to make us get out of the dorms, because I had no permission to enter since I lived in Prague, but I managed to get in, and we were inviting other classmates, such us Roman Pistorius, and his wife-to-be, and other people, who were arriving there from their homes and we were preparing the strike committee. I proposed to become its first chairman, it seemed quite logical. Tomáš Klvaňa headed the parallel strike committee which was established in case the first one would be arrested. We agreed that we would go to the faculty in the morning and declare the strike. Many people gathered in the common room and then we waited for Martin Mejstřík and Monika Pajerová. A strange situation occurred there; some photographer came in there and it looked suspicious, he was taking pictures of us and he claimed that he was from some reform magazine from the Baltic states. By coincidence I knew something about it, but nobody trusted him and they kicked him out. Martin then arrived and we said: ‘Sure, let’s go for it!’ Then somebody said that police cars were on the way there to arrest us, and so we dismissed the meeting, but basically we have decided. Some foreign, probably Spanish television was shooting there, and so there are some photos and videos from those decisive moments. Each of us then hurried to their respective faculties. In the morning at 8:50 we were to have a psychology class. We got a flag somewhere and we displayed it and I stood up on a box and I declared the strike.”

  • “We had a meeting around noon with Vašek Bartuška, Fefík – Milan Podobský, Jakub Puchalský, Richard Kalup and maybe with some others and we discussed what to do, whether to declare strike at the faculty. It was independent, such was the overall atmosphere, it was not coordinated in any way. At two o’clock I was to meet with Martin Mejstřík in Slavia. Meanwhile we were in the U Zpěváčků, a well-known pub, where we used to meet often. We already had some pamphlet or sticker about the death of Martin Šmíd and we asked the innkeeper whether they would allow us to post it there. We agreed that we had to do something, and we were assessing our capabilities in case we declared the strike on Monday morning, and then we lowered our requirements slightly. At two o’clock I ran to Slavia, but nobody was there, and so I headed for Wenceslas Square, and near the horse statue I ran into Martin Mejstřík, CNN and several other foreign televisions. Martin declared the strike on behalf of AMU, they had already met and voted for it. Obviously, I had no better idea than to say that faculty of journalism was joining them as well. Without having a mandate, of course. Perhaps it was my impertinence, but we had already done some work there and we were in the core group of people, we were the organisers and we were better prepared for it than the colleagues who had been to some events with us, but who were not in the intra-faculty structure. I simply could not do otherwise, it was a mater of honour. I was proud of being a student of journalism, and although the faculty was not quite ready for action, there were many students who were not from Prague, and we were not able to meet all together, I declared it nevertheless and it was announced publicly that the faculty of journalism was going on strike, too.”

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Even if they were to kill me, I will keep going there!

Pavel Žáček, 1990
Pavel Žáček, 1990
photo: archiv pamětníka

Pavel Žáček was born on May 18, 1969 in Prague as the older one of two brothers in the family of a tool maker and a worker in computer research. After elementary school in Prague-Košíře he began studying at the grammar school in Prague-Petřiny, from which he graduated in 1987. In the same year Pavel enrolled at the Faculty of Journalism of Charles University. While he was a university student, he initiated publication of a faculty magazine and he was contributing to its content. Pavel became involved in the activities of the so-called STIS (Student Press and Information centre), which existed under the patronage of the Socialist Youth Union. He was assisting in the preparation of university discussion forums where various politicians participated, and he was helping to distribute petitions for the release of Václav Havel and journalists Ruml and Zeman, as well as the petition A Few Sentences. In summer 1989 he took part in the protests in Wenceslas Square and he was subsequently interrogated by the StB. He was one of the organizers of the student rally in Albertov on November 17, 1989, and afterwards he also took part in the march through Prague all the way to Národní Street where he witnessed the massacre by the police forces. On November 18 he publicly spoke on Wenceslas Square, and together with Martin Mejstřík they declared a student strike. He was present at the beginning of the occupation strike and the establishment of the strike committee at the Faculty of Journalism of Charles university. Pavel served as the faculty representative in the Student Parliament and during the revolutionary period he was involved in the students’ activities, helping mainly with printing and distribution of information. In December 1989 he established the Student Papers, an independent bimonthly magazine of the university students’ movement and he subsequently worked as its editor-in-chief until the end of its publication in 1991. He completed his university studies in 1992 at the Faculty of Social Sciences (the new name for the former Faculty of Journalism of Charles University). From 1993 Pavel worked in the Office for the Documentation and Investigation of the Activity of the State Security, which was later renamed the Office of the Documentation and the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism (ÚDV). In 1995-1996 he studied at Stanford University in the USA with support from the Fulbright program. In 1998 he worked in the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences. From 2004 he worked as an editor-in-chief of the quarterly Pamät národa (‘Memory of Nation’) in the National Memory Institute in Slovakia. In 2007 and 2008 he became the founder and the first director of the memory institutes of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and the Security Services Archive. After Daniel Herman became the director in 2010, Pavel worked in the Office of the Institute. In November 2017 he became a deputy in the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic for Civic Democratic Party (ODS). He lives in Prague with his wife and three children.