Jirí Pelikán, aged forty-nine, was a leading figure in the “Prague Spring.” As director of Czechoslovak TV he encouraged an unprecedented policy of freedom of information. He was also chairman of the foreign affairs commission of the Parliament, and during the secret Fourteenth Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party held in a Prague factory a few hours after the Soviet invasion, in August, 1968, was elected to the Central Committee. He took part in the anti-Nazi resistance, and was a member of the Communist Party from 1939 to his expulsion in 1969. He has since been living abroad. In Prague he is considered one of the main spokesmen of the opposition of the Husák Regime.
Dear Angela Davis,
You will perhaps be surprised that a Czechoslovak political exile should feel the need to write to you. You must have had many messages from Czechoslovakia, but you missed those from the people who would have liked to express their solidarity but could not do so because their voices are stifled, because they are in prison, condemned or awaiting trial.
I am sending you this letter in their names. I can speak and write because I have chosen, like many of my compatriots, to continue the struggle in exile.
But I’m also writing to you because, in spite of our different experiences, we have a lot in common and I think that you will understand me. You say that you became a communist because after seeing the people suffer you understood that society must be changed. So did I. I joined the Communist Party in September, 1939. I was a student and I had seen my country occupied by the German Nazis. I wanted to fight for freedom and to change a system which produces wars and oppression.
You have lived through the painful experience of prison. So have I. While the Gestapo hunted me, my parents were taken as hostages: and my mother never came back from prison. I know as well as you what is meant by repression, discrimination, and suffering. Like you, I went into the revolutionary movement convinced that socialism can create a more just society for the majority of men.
The difference between us consists only in the fact that after thirty years as a militant, in October, 1969, I was expelled from the party along with some half million Czech and Slovak communists simply because we refused to consider the occupation of our small socialist country by a foreign power, itself “socialist,” as “fraternal aid.”
You may say that there is a big difference between American military aggression in Vietnam and the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. I agree, and that is why our people did not defend itself in arms. But the substance of the two interventions is the same: to prevent people from deciding their own destiny. You are for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. So am I. But why, four years after the intervention, are there still 80,000 Soviet soldiers…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.