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Will I Be on Television?

[The following account by a Czech philosopher, one of the spokesmen for Charter 77, describes a form of harassment that is widespread in Czechoslovakia today. Whenever a sensitive public event like a political trial is to take place, the regime briefly arrests people it considers dangerous.

The police disguise such detainment as “interrogation”—they play the game of apparent legality, however shoddily. According to the law concerning the uniformed police corps, you may be held for questioning to “explain” a felony, to provide evidence as a witness, or as a direct suspect. Article 15 mentioned by Hejdánek concerns the first type of interrogation and requires that you be summoned in writing and told what felony is involved.

But as the account makes clear, the police no longer take the trouble to observe even the rudimentary protocol defined by the law, nor are they much interested in actually questioning their victim. The real point of the exercise is to isolate, degrade, and intimidate him and—now that they are equipped with the latest technological aids—to videotape the “interrogation” against his will.]

It began as usual. At one PM on Friday—the day the Supreme Court decision on Aleš Machácek and Vladimír Laštuvka 1 was to be handed down—the STB came to pick me up at work. “Well, off we go again, Mr. Hejdánek. Of course you know the routine by now.”

I asked the gentlemen to show me a written summons, but they didn’t have one. They said an oral summons was enough and then rattled off a formal command for me to appear, etc., according to the article of the law concerning the National Security Corps. I asked what it was about and they said I’d find out soon enough. In other words, it was an irregular summons. I had always appeared before in response to written summonses. Why, I asked, had they taken to using these extraordinary and unlawful procedures? Moreover, I pointed out that I worked until 3:30 and since they had never once recompensed me for the loss of pay this incurred, though I had always requested it, I told them I wouldn’t leave before 3:30. I also wanted to call home, but they wouldn’t allow it.

When it was clear that they weren’t to be put off, I told them they could repeat the same business they had gone through with Mr. Tomín,2 if that was what they wanted. And so they grabbed me, pulled me along the corridor and down the stairs, dragged me across the courtyard on my back, and started shoving me rather roughly into the waiting car.

It was here that I committed my first lapse. I had been determined not to utter a word, for what had impressed me most about Tomín’s comportment was his silence. I wanted to see whether I was up to it too. But to my shame I held out for only about two minutes. Then I pointed out to the puffing officers that I’d lost a shoe. They declared that they couldn’t care less, then pushed me into the car. I was crestfallen—here it was a question of human freedom and dignity and I was worrying about my shoe. I resolved not to speak another word.

The journey went without incident. The officers were breathing heavily and the clearly more important one merely muttered darkly that if I so much as budged, I’d see. Hands on your knees and not a move. I made no response.

In Barolomejskà Street, they ordered me out. Again I did not respond. They cursed and threatened and then, slightly more roughly this time, they hauled me out of the car, deliberately bumping my head against the door. Still cursing, they dragged me along the pavement, not by my arms but by my sleeves, up the steps and into the tiled building on my back. For the first time it was genuinely painful. They stacked me up against the porter’s lodge, but the porter clearly didn’t approve. “You brought it in here,” he said, “so you can clear it off out of here too. All the brass will be coming by in a moment.”

So they dragged me off behind a partition and one of them went to phone his comrades from the department for help. A while later two of them arrived and along with the first two cursed me (“son of a bitch,” “cow,” and other epithets from the animal kingdom, and “so this is the spokesman, the national hero” and such like). They dragged me into the elevator, kicking me collectively as they went. (I have to admit that on the whole they were gentle kicks, with the exception of one blow to the spine, which was more painful. Perhaps they were just working themselves up to it.) On the second floor they pulled me out of the elevator and down the corridor into a room, where they left me lying on the floor. One of them tramped on my shoeless foot for good measure, then reconsidered, turned my foot over with his boot, and stamped on the arch (but again, not drastically hard), with the words, “Doesn’t want to get up, does he?” Naturally, I remained lying down. Then they went away to cool down and one of them stayed behind with me.

An hour or so later they began to lose patience and so at someone’s suggestion, they opened the window to try and speed things up. This provided me with an opportunity (in this mutual experiment) to ascertain that one’s legs tremble from the cold for only about a quarter of an hour, then the body arranges things, even if the leg is shoeless. The frigid atmosphere was occasionally broken by interjections like: “Still don’t want to talk, Mr. Hejdánek?” I said nothing. After a while they opened the door as well and a draft playfully teased my hair. My legs began trembling again, but this time I knew it was only a matter of time before the wise body took care of it sua sponte. There is nothing like bodily resources for avoiding every act of violence; they are capable of handling almost anything.

Or so I thought. About five o’clock my leg was seized by a cramp, my back began to hurt unbearably, and my stomach was writhing with pain (recently I’ve been troubled again by stomach ulcers, so that I have to eat a little something at least at frequent intervals), and to top it all off I had to—if you’ll excuse me—go to the toilet. There is nothing like the bodily processes. Naturally I couldn’t just get up without a word and walk out: who knows, they might have started shooting. And so I had to speak.

I was given permission and an escort. I got to my feet stiffly and walked out with great difficulty (incidentally, just try walking, even without being in a state of incipient hibernation, with one shoe missing).

When I returned, I alternated between walking about, standing behind a chair with my arms on the back of it, and, until they forbade me to do so, “sitting” on the table, relieving my weight with both arms. One somewhat mannerly young man (who came in later and greeted me politely as I was lying there, so that I regretted not responding and apologized to him later) told me that I could lie on the table as before if I couldn’t sit. I welcomed this suggestion and lay down. Later someone else came in and said that he was going to sit at the table and didn’t want to have to stare at my head so could I—if I wanted to—lie down on the floor again?

I did so. And then—it was now about seven PM—he finally closed the window, leaving only the ventilator open. About half an hour later the door opened and in came a man who was the only one to introduce himself to me—he called himself Uhlír—and with him was another man with a video camera. Uhlír announced that he was going to put a few questions to me and require an explanation according to Article 15 of the law concerning the National Security Corps, and would I stand up. I did, but remained leaning against the back of the chair while he instructed me about the contents of Article 15 and asked two questions concerning what I knew about the two leaflets he put before me. It was the first time I had ever seen them, so I said I knew nothing, that I had not read them. I was instructed again about my duty to tell them everything I might eventually find out about the leaflets. All this was filmed. The interrogator then asked me why I had refused to go with the security officers voluntarily so that they had to carry me. I replied that I had already given my reasons at the time, and I repeated them and made a correction—I wasn’t carried but rather dragged, on my back, through the courtyard, through the streets, up and down stairs and corridors, and was kicked in the process.

The next question: why did I cause such a bother when Charter 77 professes respect for the law? I replied that it was constantly necessary to resort to new forms of protest against the ceaseless abuses of the law. And finally, I was asked what people would think when they saw what had just been filmed. I retorted that I was being filmed without my consent and that was just one more abuse of the law and that viewers would certainly draw their own conclusions. Finally, I pointed out that I had only one shoe and had no intention of leaving the place in the freezing cold in my stockings. They left and I lay down on the floor.

About an hour and a half later I was finally led down the stairs (I could only walk with great difficulty), put into an ancient car, and taken home. The jerking vehicle brought hellish pains to my back. But what’s a backache when human freedom and dignity are at stake? And now it seems that they intend to show me on television as a part of some new defamation campaign—in my work clothes with the buttons torn off, with disheveled hair, tired and battered. Will the disgrace be mine?

  1. 1

    Aleš Machácek, thirty, an agricultural engineer, and Vladimir Laštuvka, thirty-five, a nuclear physicist, were sentenced to three and a half years in prison on September 26-28, 1977, on charges of “subversion” for possessing and distributing “illegal literature,” including Charter 77. They appealed, and on January 6 this year the Czechoslovak Supreme Court upheld the decision in the case of A. Machácek and reduced Laštuvka’s sentence to two and a half years in prison.

  2. 2

    Julius Tomín, a philosopher and signatory of Charter 77 who was the first of the Chartists to passively resist illegal arrest.

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