The life of Rita Klímová, who died shortly after Christmas of leukemia, mirrored in a remarkable way the turbulent history of our country. She was the daughter of Stanislav Budín, an important Czech journalist who was expelled from the Communist Party in the 1930s. He emigrated to the United States with his family just before the outbreak of World War Two. As a result, Rita spent an important part of her childhood in New York City. In 1946, the family returned to Prague and Rita attended high school and university, where she studied economics, a subject she eventually taught at the Charles University. She was dismissed from her teaching post after the Soviet invasion in 1968, and expelled from the Communist Party in 1970.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she worked closely with the dissidents of Charter 77, and in the late 1980s became an important contact for foreign journalists and Western human rights activists who came to Prague. She also worked with a circle of Czech non-conformist economists—including the present Czech prime minister, Václav Klaus—who, though they did not openly oppose the regime, quietly prepared for the day when it would become necessary to make the Communist economy over into a normal market economy. They often met in Rita Klímová’s home and it can be said, without exaggeration, that her flat was one of the places where the present economic transformation of our country began. Rita and her friends wrote articles on economic matters for the underground samizdat press. With tongue in cheek, she frequently signed her contributions with the pseudonym “Adam Kovárc—Czech for Adam Smith.
During the November revolution of 1989, Rita was asked to act as interpreter for the Civic Forum during our frequent press conferences with the foreign media. For viewers and listeners abroad, she quickly became a leading spokesman for the “Velvet Revolution,” but she was also an important member of the coordinating committee. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes and was responsible for bringing some of her economist acquaintances into the Civic Forum.
Shortly after the revolution, in February 1990, Rita Klímová was appointed democratic Czechoslovakia’s first ambassador to the United States. Though she had no experience in the diplomatic service, her special combination of charm and intelligence, tact and forthrightness, quickly won many friends and supporters for Czechoslovakia in the US. By the time she stepped down in August 1992, she had done much to enhance Czechoslovakia’s place in the world, and to strengthen its good name.
Rita Klímová was a good friend. She was remarkably brave, energetic, hard-working, willing to make immense sacrifices for the life of her country. For a long time she fought successfully to keep her illness at bay. Her untimely death was a blow to everyone who knew her, and a great loss to us all.
—January 6, 1994
—Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.