PhDr. Lubomír Zaorálek

* 1956

  • "Nobody had to tell me that the regime was unjust and did a lot of evil and took its toll on people. And often far worse than on my father, who at least could make his living as a doctor and so on. I was familiar with that. And then the revolution came, and suddenly people were coming to me because I was in the [Civic] Forum, because we had the coordination center of the Forum there, and they told me that we had to crack down on the communists. And some people even shouted at me that we should hang them and so on. I was very angry, because I was telling them exactly what immediately came to my mind: 'And where were you? Where were you yesterday, where were you all the time? Here everybody was silent and now all of a sudden you want to hang somebody.' So, meanwhile, there were scenes like that when I saw these fighters who suddenly wanted to deal with everybody. I have to say that we were in negotiations with the county committee, with the city, about pretty radical changes that we were making. I was also involved in [negotiations] in Frýdek-Místek, because I had worked there before, so I was actually at some rallies in Frýdek where we were actually gradually replacing the representatives of the previous regime. And the changes were, I think, quite massive. Even the ones that came earlier than the ones that were caused by the elections afterwards. So yes, I was involved in that. And it was a bit of a funny time when you consider that you were co-opted into the Federal Assembly, you know? I was co-opted. Sixty or seventy people were selected and we came there in flannel shirts. You just don't see that often, people becoming federal MPs, that somebody sends you there and you sit there without any election, without anything. But now people were just coming in, everybody thought it was not enough, saying we have to crack down hard on the Communists. And I was getting really angry. Not because I needed to stand up for them, but because it seemed false. Now someone wants to take on the communists? We've been living here all this time bent and we´ve been accepting it all from them and now we have a bunch of fake revolutionaries. So yes, I wasn't the one who said to ban the Communist Party because I was convinced that we had to defeat them at the polls. I was clear about that. To me it seemed like a mistake to ban them. No, we need to go to the polls and convince people that we offer something different. That was very clear to me. I didn't understand the discussions about banning. Bans? That was right up their alley. They used to ban us from speaking, but now I could speak, now nobody can stop me from convincing people. That's up to me now. For me, it was a pseudo-debate. To me, it felt like those heroes were catching up time. Like Zeman said, 'Yesterday they were cowards, so today they have to make up for it.' That's what it felt like to me in some ways. So yes, I felt the whole normalization period whad been a terrible period that affected us terribly, but I still rejected the fierce anti-communism that was already manifesting itself in those moments."

  • "In the large enterprises in Ostrava, in Vítkovice and Nová Huť, there was a threat of secondary insolvency. At that time I communicated with everyone in the region, including the director Hromek from Vítkovice and the director Velkoborský from Nová Hut. And they described the situation to me. So Mayor Smejkal and I got into the car and went to the Ministry of Industry in Prague, because the situation was serious and the directors warned us that there was a risk of disaster. We arrived at the secretariat of the Ministry of Industry, the head of the cabinet was there, and we told him that the situation in Ostrava was serious and that we needed to negotiate with the minister immediately because something might happen that would cause social tension and so on. And then the head of the cabinet said to us, 'Are you from Ostrava? Look, you are from that Ostrava, you always thought that you would come to Prague, bang on the table and everything would happen your way. Remember, times have changed. You have fallen out of good graces and you need to realize that.' This welcome in Prague made me very angry. I told him at the time that I was very sorry if he didn't understand that the problem of Ostrava was their problem and that it was the problem of the whole country. For me it was that I lived in Ostrava, where these people were a bit like my brother. I knew that they wanted to work. It wasn't their fault that they had become the stupid iron heart of the republic, as they used to say under socialism, that now everybody looked at them as some kind of the posthumous children of communism and socialism, that they were the ones who even had television back in the fifties and so on. To me, all this seemed completely inaccurate. To me they were very hard working people. Yes, in some ways one could say that all that communist basic manufacturing, iron and so on, was the misfortune of the country. That's all true. But it wasn't those people's fault. They often came there from Slovakia, from different parts of the country, or like my father once from Haná. They came there and worked. They weren't to blame for the way the regime was, and now someone says to them, 'You have fallen out of good graces.' I was shocked that someone didn't realize that the problem of these people was the problem of the government. A fundamental problem of the government. That these people only need a little bit and they will work. That that is something that is terribly valuable in that country. But they have to be treated decently and given a chance. But that nobody can say to them, 'You are not in good graces any more now. You are the embodiment of socialism and now you have to realize that you have fallen out of good graces.' I was very annoyed by that. It was only when this made me a social democrat that I suddenly realized that I was coming to Prague as a supplicant and that I was suddenly being treated as someone who had to pay for something. But what was I supposed to pay for? Do you understand? What was I supposed to pay for? I knew my father had good relationship with workers. He didn't like the Communists very much, of course, because they made his life a living hell, but he didn't apply it to those people. He understood that these people were just working in a way their life had brought them there, and there were many better and worse among them, but he had a pretty basic respect for them in some ways. As a Catholic, as a Christian, he had respect for human life and for human destiny. And that's something that he taught me, that was almost in the Christian sense almost a spiritual mystery to be respected. And I had that in me. And all of a sudden somebody told me that these people are actually trash or whatever and now we're going to let you know that you're not what you used to be, what kind of king you used to be. In their seemingly special former position, it was a fake too, it was other way. So I got the impression that somebody had to stand up for these people. And because I was forbidden to associate with people, maybe I was well disposed to do that because I could phrase it for those people. And that's where I suddenly saw the point of the politics in that region, that somebody had to explain in that Prague, 'This is your bloody problem. These people are either going to be a burden on the country's foot, or they're going to mean awfully lot for the country. But if they're given a chance, if they're given an opportunity.' What happened here was that a lot of people were let out of the mines and suddenly you could see that they were able to look after themselves. These were awfully resourceful people. The mines had enormous demands on them, on those who were the hard workers. They were able to set up timber companies, businesses. The country had few problems with them because they could take care of themselves like few others. Even in them and the way they were able to work, there was actually something of a huge relief that the country didn't experience any social upheaval because these people were able to work. And it was the state's job to understand that and give them a chance. And I felt that suddenly that was the point of the policy that needed to be made in the country. That's why I then joined social democracy."

  • "I said that we had been actually brought up the way that there were no careers waiting for us in life. We didn't imagine any prospects and we all went around dressed in jeans and flannel shirts and had longer hair. And I remember afterwards when I told them to go do something in the [Civic] Forum, to go into politics, for a number of these friends of mine who were willing to do those things until November, they said no. They didn't want to be the establishment, they didn't want to take on any roles as some kind of city representative and so on. And it was quite an interesting experience for me to suddenly find out that for some people it was that the value system was so constructed that you shouldn't try to establish yourself in life, to get positions. And we had it so built into us in that socialism that they weren't going to give it up even afterwards, that nothing was going to change that. They didn't believe in official politics. And that was the kind of debates that we had afterwards. Then I said, 'Don't be silly, who's going to do the politics if we say this is not for us? And yet we're always going to be somewhere on the fringe because that was something that we grew up with.‘ This remained as such an interesting thing for me, that not everybody was willing to become a politician in the Civic Forum and then maybe in the parties that were formed. And yet these were people whohad been willing to help out at a time when we were the fringe of society. They had been very dedicated, and I appreciated it very much that we could do something together, and then suddenly they said, 'No, I'm not going to put on any suit and tie.' But actually I had no choice but to respect that. I couldn't do anything about it. I just told them, 'But now there's a chance to change everything. We don't have to watch and comment from the sidelines anymore, now we should do something.' I don't know how others felt about it, but for me this was a very strange moment, when I suddenly experienced that some people said, 'Don't ask me to do that, I won't go that far.'"

  • "It was impossible for the mayor of Ostrava who had been there to stay further. And it was not even possible to sit down and fairly evaluate his work and say how it really was. It's interesting that he agreed to this because he knew it was more of a symbolic thing than us making his accounts. We just need to make it clear that something has changed. We have to find somebody who looks the most technocratic, the most pragmatic of you out there, not somebody who works in ideology. That was the worst - those who were associated with some ideological practices and so on. But the ones who seemed the most technocratic, the most pragmatic, were told that they would run it under some kind of check for a transitional period, that six months, because, for example, the council had to be reconstructed, and some representatives of the [Civic] Forum came in. We didn't grab it out of their hands directly, we told them that they would continue, but with a different team. That we would choose the partners we wanted to check there, and they would run it at least until the free elections. And the partners that we chose, and that we judged to be fairly fair partners, they mostly did that pretty well. I think it's because they thought that maybe they didn't have a completely closed path to the future after all. And the person in question couldn't have known - maybe the Communist Party would be relatively successful in the elections and he would be able to become a deputy again. There was no need to have big battles because everybody knew that there would be elections and it was not clear who had what chance in those elections, how they would turn out. And it was not without chances. So when somebody was given the opportunity to continue, it seemed to me that often those people were quite conscientious about it, because they thought, 'It's not impossible that I'll be able to survive somehow in that next term, because I'll be the number one on the Communist ticket tomorrow, for example, and if they succeed, I've got a chance. ' Mostly those people failed, because the Civic Forum won quite massively in the case of our region, so then they could really afford to create new line-ups. The Communists found themselves in opposition. And for a long time."

  • "Imagine that we were living in conditions where it was just hard to figure out a way to do anything that resembled meaningful self-fulfillment and meaningful dialogue with the people around us. One was looking for a way to do that in those limited circumstances. And also imagine that such Ostrava was something different from Prague. Here the possibilities were even smaller. I met, for example, Rosta Němčík, who signed the Charter [77], and then he described to me how nobody in Prague actually cared about what we were doing, that it didn't really provide him with any support for anything. He told me that what we live here in Karviná, they don't give a damn about it in Prague, nobody talks to you there. Do you understand? What worked in Prague meant nothing in Ostrava. Here you had to look for some other way of existence or some other way of working with people to put something together. I even imagined at the time that, just as we were trying to do something with Vláďa Šiler and Petr Kajnar and others, that there were probably more people like that. I imagined, naively, that there might be many such groups in the Ostrava region that were trying in various ways to get together, to organize something. And when we screened films that weren't normally there, or we did debates and lectures, I even invited my friend Petr Šlesinger from Brno, or even from Prague we invited Jana Ševčíková, who was making a film about the Czech minority in Romania, so that's how we got together in various ways and organized and did something, or wrote and copied. We also did a lot of copying. Which was a kind of national sport at that time, that we were making copies and copying something and passing it on. But we were doing it on a different base than somewhere in the capital city of Prague, where the situation was absolutely different. And for me, even after that November 1989, the biggest surprise, which is so hard to understand, was that I suddenly found out that there hadn´t been that many of us who had been trying. I thought that when that surfaced, one would suddenly find that there were many more such attempts, and I was surprised that, strangely enough, there weren't so many around - so many activities that were similar to ours under various other headings and pretexts. Or it was being done in other areas that didn't have anything to do with the type of thing that we were after, the type of conversations and debates, that were some completely different types of activities where people were coming together. Like around fishing or I don't know. They were just going about their lives in a completely different way. But what we were trying to do, what was related to political thinking, philosophical thinking, literature, film, there wasn't so much of that in Ostrava. And then I was surprised that it hadn´t have any great background."

  • "So I had to appear publicly. And when I was appearing, I used to clash with him [Miloš Zeman]. Then when he said his sentence about wrapping the membership cards in the skin of ODS members, I went to him and said, 'What do you imagine? I was on television and there I was defending your statement about the burnt country.' I defended that together with Zieleniec and others. I was on a programme and I said to the presenter, I think it was [Otakar] Černý, 'Look, of course a politician has the right to exaggerate. Because when he is convinced that his country is in danger, he can use a metaphor, a hyperbole. That's allowed in this game. And when [Zeman] says that there is a threat of a burnt country, you say that he is exaggerating and so on, yes, but he has the right to use strong words, because he is exaggerating, but he wants to warn of the danger that he sees rolling in. That means that metaphor and exaggeration are allowed here and you have to respect that. Even if you think it's exaggerated, it belongs in a political struggle.' Of course, Zeman liked that, so he said I had to go somewhere again. And I told him, 'Listen, really not this way. You said that we were going to wrap party cards in the skin of ODS members, and I'm not going to defend that. That's normally fascist. You're making statements that are Nazi.'" - "He was also probably saying it to the voters he was pulled over from the Republicans at the time." - "Yes. And I said to him, 'You realize that if you're going to say those things, I'm not going to go on those shows. I'm willing to defend your burnt-country statement, but I'm not willing to explain such bullshit as we're going to wrap legitimacy in the skin of ODS members.' He pondered that in the car, then stopped and peeked out the window: 'Let me tell you something. Just realize one thing. This is a political battle. We're going to the elections. It's going to be a close election. And you say I'm not allowed to say that. But maybe what I'm saying here will be the two percent that decides whether or not we're the governing party. The fact that I'm going to drag the Sládek Republicans, the fact that I'm going to get that two percent by saying this, I'm going to annihilate them, neutralize them. They have no business being there anyway. By taking this extreme position, I may be able to make us the ruling party. But I simply said to him, 'If you say that, I won't defend you, we're finished.' He says to me, 'I'm going on a show, you can watch it, I'm not going to say anything like that on there.' Then he calls me and says, 'So what do you think?' 'Yeah, it was decent, there was nothing like that on there. But I'll tell you again, if you start saying it again, we're done.' So that was the conversation we had. He went along with it to a certain extent. He was defending himself, but at the same time he didn't question to some extent that it was beyond the limit. And I said to him, 'If you're going to do this, it's over. I can't explain that kind of thing. You can't explain that to normal people anymore.'"

  • "That is a big controversy. Because I wrote an article whose main headline was 'Miloš Zeman is not a social democrat'. That can be found. That was a big controversy. That was one of the things that certainly made Miloš Zeman very angry later when I started proclaiming that he was not a social democrat. It would be better to find what I wrote about it at that time. I didn't say it to attack him, but because I felt I had to say it. I found it to be such a philosophical problem. A Zeman who goes around saying, 'I hate fools. Most people are idiots,' and I said, 'I'm sorry, but it's not like we're supposed to get rid of the fools. We're here as social democrats often for people who are slower, who find it harder to find jobs, who find hard their way around, who need to be pushed, who need to be helped. We're here for your dumb ones precisely. We're not here for the successful, the able, the bright, that's a different party from Social Democracy. We came into being because there are those who are not so good at it, and because we think that even if they are not so good at it, if we push them a little bit, it will be enough and they will catch on. We're here for the fools, as stupid as that sounds, but we're here for those who are left out, who are marginalised, who are not doing so well. And you say you despise them? If you despise them, you despise a large portion of the people we're addressing. You can't at the same time say we care about them and you despise them.' Suddenly I was terribly bothered by his Gaussian curve that there are only 15 percent of people in the country worth talking to and the rest are morons. It seemed to me that I couldn't do social democracy with that philosophy. So that thinking led me to say, 'But the way you build it, the way you do it, that's not really social democracy. That was quite a crucial argument with Miloš Zeman. I asked him, 'Why are you here with this way of thinking?' In some ways he was brilliant as a politician, for example by saying at one point that we should enter the Straka Academy [the seat of the government, trans.] through the main entrance. This may have opened the eyes of some in Social Democracy. That there was no point in being just commentators, but to say, 'No, we want things to be different, we are even prepared to do it, we are serious about it and we are able to think it through, to have a much bigger ambition in politics than just being a commentator.' But then it became clear that his political talents weren't exactly right in the social democratic milieu, that his beliefs were often at odds with how it should be mentally set up."

  • "The Clean Hands action was just putting on an act. And it was terrible because it took on Nazi characteristics again. Because when someone somewhere says that after the elections Kalousek will be hanging on one hook and the other one on the other, that is a vocabulary that is completely unacceptable. And as I fought against Zeman's vocabulary, which used to slip into the unreal, into extremism, he also dared to do so in the case of the Clean Hands action, where the main demand was that he needed to create the impression of a complete revolutionary change. And that was nonsense. The whole thing was nonsense, and this was explained to him by Benešová, who had an argument with him several times about it. I know they went through it together many times. She explained to him that either there is the state of law and then you can't have Clean Hands, or you have Clean Hands and then you have a completely different regime. You can't do Clean Hands when there is law. She was explaining to him that he had to forget about the Clean Hands action because that would break the whole legal system that is there. She really argued with him about it and we talked about it many times. And when he finally saw that the implementation was nonsense, that he either had a public prosecutor and so on, or he had Clean Hands, then what he did that he handed it over to Bašta. Bašta was given the task of running the Clean Hands action. Which was a pretty good idea, because Bašta was a man who would never break the law. So he was running the Clean Hands campaign while respecting the legal framework, and that made it very unclear what he was actually supposed to do. He [Zeman] wasn't making a revolutionary campaign to abolish the system, but he handed it over to someone who pretty certainly would not break the law. Which actually froze the whole thing in a fairly reliable way."

  • "My generation grew up in a situation where we didn't have many illusions about what was ahead of us. We didn't have the kind of career ideas that people probably have today as they grow up. We just knew that we probably weren't going to have a great career because we didn't think that you could have a decent career in this country that would give you a sense of both fulfillment and that you would bear responsibility for on your own. We felt quite resigned that we were going to scratch a living somewhere on the edge, trying to survive alongside that. I think, and I remember, that at certain stages we were quite miserable due to the fact that we were living such lives with no perspective, and that we couldn't imagine it. We couldn't imagine that the regime could change. It is perhaps our fault, our lack of imagination, that we thought that this was to be for ever, that we were actually condemned to live in a socialist regime that had enough forces, be it the army, the police, the secret services, that would surely guarantee that any attempts that we would make here against would only have a kind of symbolic significance for us personally, but would not be able to harm the regime in any significant way. It's true that with Gorbachev it changed a little bit, that we were all engaged a bit in something of course, and it's true that we saw what was happening in Poland. That we actually could have thought that it was already so undermined inside that we could have seen our future differently. But unfortunately, I have to admit that until the last moment, we had the feeling that the whole thing was set up in such a way that it would take us years to start changing things, and somehow we did not really believe that there could be free elections and that there could be elections in sight. It was only in that last year, in that year of '89, I was talking about the time before that, it was only in that last year that we began to realize that this was not the way it was going to go on and that this could really crack."

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I was without a job and life prospects, the Velvet Revolution saved me

Lubomír Zaorálek in 2022
Lubomír Zaorálek in 2022
photo: Post Bellum

Lubomír Zaorálek was born on 6 September 1956 in Ostrava-Zábřeh. After a brief study of civil engineering, he graduated from Jan Evangelista Purkyně University with a degree in Marxist-Leninist philosophy and political economy. After graduation, he worked at the Czechoslovak Television in Ostrava as a dramaturge, and after his forced departure he worked as a political worker for the Czechoslovak Socialist Party until the revolution. In the summer of 1989, he signed a petition called “Several Sentences”, which was picked up by foreign radio stations. In the autumn of the same year, he participated in the revolutionary events and helped establish the Civic Forum Coordination Centre in Ostrava. In early 1990 he was co-opted into the House of People of the Federal Assembly on behalf of the Civic Forum, where he served until the regular elections in June. After leaving the House of People, he was elected a local representative and a member of the Ostrava City Council and he significantly contributed to the establishing of the philosophy department at the University of Ostrava, where he subsequently also lectured. In 1994, he became a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party, for which he sat on the parliament bench two years later and remained there until 2021. From 2009 to 2018, he was one of the party leaders as its deputy chairman. In 2014, he became Minister of Foreign Affairs and five years later Minister of Culture. In 2022, he was living in Prague.