WITCH HUNT IN PRAGUE : Is Jan Kavan a Hero or a Traitor? In Answering That Question, Czechoslovakia Must Come to Terms With the Sins of Its Communist Past
ONE COLD SPRING DAY THIS YEAR, JAN KAVAN SAT AT his desk in the Czech and Slovak Parliament with plastic shopping bags filled with papers nestled at his feet like chicks near a hen. A medium-size man with thinning dark hair and gray, pasty skin, Kavan seemed separated from his colleagues by an invisible yet palpable distinction, like a man diagnosed with a terminal disease. He never rose to speak, he was never consulted. Every now and then, someone dropped a note on his desk. “This swine should be hanged,” read one, and another: “Long live informers.” With plump, meticulously manicured hands, he carefully folded these notes and slipped them into his shopping bags.
Until last March, Kavan, 44, was considered a shining example of unsullied commitment to the cause of Czech freedom. The son of a Communist Party official who was framed and imprisoned during the Czech show trials of the 1950s, Kavan was a powerful student leader in the ‘60s. Later, from exile in England, he spent 20 years smuggling books into Czechoslovakia and manuscripts out, keeping alive the democratic ideas that later built the bloodless “Velvet Revolution.” He returned to Prague in the middle of November, 1989, just as his friends were taking power, the first prominent emigre to return home. He threw himself into the revolution and won easy election to the new Parliament on Vaclav Havel’s Civic Forum ticket in June, 1990. Having delayed much of normal life during exile, he even got married. This should have been the place where the screen fades to black, the rightful happy ending. But something more happened.
Last February, Kavan was called before a parliamentary commission and told his name had been found in the files of the Statnibezbecnost, or STB, the Communist regime’s enforcers, said to be the most powerful and sophisticated secret police in Eastern Europe. He was told he must resign his seat or his name would be read out loud in front of Parliament and the nation, branding him for life as a collaborator.
Kavan, protesting his innocence, refused to resign. On March 22, a Friday, his name resounded through the stale air of the huge, Soviet-style Parliament hall and was spread throughout the country on television and radio. After that, when his name came up, it was greeted with a beat of silence. He sat isolated, in a new kind of exile, at the center of a conundrum in Prague.
It is a conundrum special to the modern world, intensifying in the last two years. As Eastern Europe and now the Soviet Union move swiftly from totalitarian rule to democracy, the thorny question of how to deal with the issue of collaboration insinuates itself into the festivities, overshadowing the present’s promise with the sins of the past. Almost before the many candles lit in protest in November and placed at the base of the statue of St. Wencesclas had gone out, here were accusations of collaboration and calls for opening the secret-police files in Czechoslovakia. In Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, East Germany and now Moscow, the same cry has been repeated.
According to Ladislav Hejdanek, a professor at Charles University in Prague and an acknowledged voice of the Czech dissident movement, collaboration with the police in Czechoslovakia was “massive, much more than France--a big percentage of the population collaborated.” In the STB files, begun in 1954, there are said to be half a million names. Yet, how to cope, politically or legally, with collaboration so far has proved to be a business as nasty and disorienting as its subject. To investigate collaboration, new governments must delve into the instruments of the oppression they just escaped--the secret-police files themselves. That a government must return to this embodiment of torture in its quest for justice is more than ironic; it is dangerous. Without a legal framework to protect the rights of the accused, without an independent inquiry to balance the “evidence” in the files, the files become the only source of truth. Each time one of the new governments in Eastern Europe has tried to “cleanse the past,” it has opened up a Pandora’s box. A member of Hungary’s Parliament said in August that he wished his government had had the wisdom to burn its secret-police files, as was done in Greece, after the fall of the military dictatorship, and in Spain, after Francisco Franco’s death.
The Kavan case is the story of a man caught twice in a web--by the secret police and again when the Parliament tried to look into the secret-police files. After 40 years of injustice, the case is, in part, a dark vision of the past’s hold on the present and, in part, a fragile hope: Will there be justice in the new Czechoslovakia?
BEFORE PEOPLE “CAN forgive, they must know what they are forgiving.” The words, through a translator, came from Petr Uhle, a member of Parliament and the director of the state-run Czechoslovak News Agency. He sat in his office just off Wenceslas Square on a Saturday morning and led me through the Kavan case. During the Communist regime, he was a blacklisted journalist and a dissident of the stature of Havel; he spent a total of nine years in prison. Last January, as a member of the Security Committee, he helped draft the resolution that gave Parliament the power to open the secret-police archives and search for collaborators in its ranks.
Uhle chain-smokes--a prisoner’s habit--and he speaks in a deep, cigarette-eroded voice. “The need for a screening (of Parliament members) wasn’t brought up in January for the first time,” he explained. “Especially in the first half of 1990, there was a public demand to open the secret-police files. People demanded to know the history in a very detailed way of those who wanted to rule and run for office. They wanted to know how things were done--by whom and why.”
In response to the demands, everyone who ran for office in June, 1990, signed a document promising to submit to a screening, including Kavan. A private screening took place: the interim Minister of the Interior checked the names of the candidates against the ministry’s computers. Kavan’s name was not found. A number of candidates, including 15 on the Civic Forum ticket, were confronted, admitted to being collaborators and withdrew. The Civic Forum did not want to go further, fearing some version of revolutionary justice would be unleashed. “People may throw the responsibility for all the incompetence of the past at one another’s heads,” Havel said. “There is a danger almost of chaos.”
There was also the sticky question of the Communist party. Were those who had joined in its heady, early days collaborators? What about the ones who joined later, when the party was clearly corrupt? And the people who worked for the party, such as STB agents, were they to be arrested for just “following orders?”
Add a political reality: In November, 1989, in order to transfer power peacefully from the communist regime to the newly organized Civic Forum, Havel and the leaders of the Communist Party “shook hands,” said Jan Sokol, a member of Parliament. “And when does one withdraw one’s hand?”
What emerged that spring was an agreement that the Communist Party would not be banned, that its employees would not be punished simply for having been employees. (STB officers could be criminally prosecuted for having harmed someone during an interrogation, for example, but not for interrogating.) Some former secret policemen and party functionaries were simply and quickly “retired.” But the question of what to do with collaborators remained.
In this tenuous, post-revolutionary atmosphere, a wild rumor circulated that the STB had orchestrated not only November’s student protests but the whole revolution in order to install Havel, a puppet of the Soviet Union, as president. When the new Parliament was elected in June, 1990, Czechs looked toward it to resolve the rumors. A commission of 15 members of Parliament (MP), the 17 November Commission (named for the date of the largest demonstration of the revolution), was appointed to look into the alleged STB/student connection. Newly elected President Havel appointed a new Minister of the Interior to begin the delicate job of deciding who among the remaining old police could make the transition to the reorganized Federal Information Service.
But even as these efforts to tame the police and ease the transition were being made, the past would not rest. In the first year of Czechoslovakia’s democracy, people throughout the country discovered, through old grapevines, who among their friends were collaborators. A former agent was discovered in Parliament. Petr Uhle discovered that a man he had suspected of informing had been doing so for 10 years. Even Kavan found an agent in his former smuggling network.
By the end of 1990, the rumor was that old agents of the STB and the KGB were blackmailing former collaborators who were elected officials into derailing the revolution. The Parliament, said Jiri Ruml, chairman of the 17 November Commission, was “infected by the STB.” Frustration with the slow pace of change and the stagnant economy fueled the rumor mill: “You begin to see enemies,” said Jan Sokol. “You believe somebody is blocking change.”
Finally, in January, 1991, MP Vaclav Bender, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party, proposed that members of Parliament be screened for collaboration. Parliament agreed that Uhle, Bender and three others would draft a resolution giving the 17 November Commission the power to open STB files. Parliament passed Resolution 94 with no dissents.
Five months later, in the wake of the Kavan case, Uhle protested. “I didn’t mean to clean up the past, although I still think a former STB agent should have nothing to do with Parliament, but that is up to his electorate.” Then he added ruefully: “The danger we saw in January was exaggerated. Only one person received a blackmail offer, and that was for money, not for political favors. I have changed my opinions about the screening. I know we made serious mistakes.”
WHEN RESOLUTION 94 WAS brought to the floor of the Parliament last January, Jan Kavan voted for it easily, without giving it much thought. “I didn’t want to sit in the same room with people who were guilty of denouncing my friends,” he said.
About a month later, on Feb. 22, he was surprised when he was told to come over to the 17 November Commission’s offices. Four members were there, sitting stiffly behind an oblong desk. Kavan smiled and greeted them, but no one smiled back. He felt the hair rise at the back of his neck. Chairman Ruml, for whom Kavan had arranged letter-writing campaigns when Ruml was jailed in the early ‘80s, gave him the news.
“They told me they had detailed information, receipts, evidence of financial rewards,” remembered Kavan. “That it was a clear-cut case. After my shock at what I thought was a bad joke, I argued with them. I asked to see the evidence. They read me excerpts. I didn’t take notes; I thought they would give me the file. But they didn’t. I asked how I could defend myself. They said there was no procedure. I tried to argue, and they said they weren’t set up to decide guilt or innocence or to investigate, only to find those who were registered. All discussion was pointless.”
Indeed, Resolution 94 had given the commission a specific and limited charge: “to ascertain who of the members of Parliament, members of government, ministers, deputies, employees of (Parliament) and employees of the presidium was registered as a collaborator of the secret police and in which division.” Those registered were to resign from office within 15 days or have their collaboration publicly announced.
The commission had gone to work right away. All secret-police files were transferred from outlying stations to the Ministry of the Interior in Prague. The registry of the Second Directorate of the STB, its domestic arm, was contained in “large, thick books,” says Jiri Ruml. “Each page carried about 20 names.”
Sometimes the names were marked with letters, decipherable codes that designated the kind of collaborator a person was: “D,” for example, meant a “confidant,” a person who had no contract with the STB, a minor player at most. A “D,” Ruml explained, might not even know he was in contact with an agent. Other categories included the designation “N.O.,” for “enemy person” and turned out to be dissidents who were registered for their work against the establishment. Ruml’s name was found among the latter. Each entry listed a code name for each registrant, indicated an operating officer and gave a number that directed the reader to archives of the complete files. Looking through the Second Directorate registry was relatively simple--"the work of a trained dog,” Uhle said. In these registers, the commission found at least seven members of Parliament.
But the files covering the foreign operations of the STB, the First Directorate, were not so neat and orderly. “There is no registry in the First Directorate,” said Jan Ruml, Jiri’s son and a deputy minister of the Interior. Not only was there no registry, the codes in the First Directorate didn’t match the codes in the Second, said Ruml. The commission, “going beyond their mandate,” he said, delved into the First Directorate files.
“They didn’t ask our advice,” Ruml said. “The commission decided that it would be possible to judge safely according to the files. I think to judge the files you need to be experienced.” Three MPs were found. Jan Kavan was one of them.
Kavan’s thick file covers the period from early 1969 to July, 1970, and only that period. It consists of reports sent to Prague from a diplomat in the Czech Embassy in London, Frantisek Zajicek. Among other things, the file says that in 1969 Kavan, under orders from Zajicek, stopped a student protest in London planned for the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. It describes the falling-out between British journalist William Shawcross and Kavan after Kavan tried to pump Shawcross for information on a report on the Show Trials that was smuggled out of Prague. Kavan’s code name, the file reports, was Kato, and the letters before his name were “DS.”
There is no evidence in the file that Kavan denounced or brought harm to anyone. In it there are three reports written by Kavan. The file ends abruptly in July and records displeasure in Prague over Zajicek’s bookkeeping methods. Zajicek was recalled to Prague in the fall of 1970 and demoted.
The file was odd; everyone who read it agreed. “If you read one sentence, he’s innocent, and then the next one, he’s guilty,” said Miroslav Jansta, a member of the commission. “You think he didn’t know (Zajicek was an agent), then you think, it’s impossible he didn’t know.” In an effort to settle the question, the commission, without consulting Parliament or the Ministry of the Interior, decided to talk to the agent himself, who was still living in Prague. Zajicek contradicted what he wrote 20 years ago. He told the commission, for example, that while he asked “a lot of questions of Kavan, I didn’t pass on any instructions.” He said that “Kavan never knew I was an employee,” then equivocated: “at least that’s what I still believe.” Asked how many times he met with Kavan, he said, “About six or, at the most, once a month.” When confronted with a record of 46 meetings, he replied: “I didn’t write that. It’s not my responsibility.”
Despite these contradictions, and the beginnings of dissent on the Kavan case among its members, the commission called Kavan into the private meeting on Feb. 22 and gave him 15 days to resign. Kavan left the office in a state of shock.
IN THE BAD, OLD DAYS IN CZECHOSLOVAkia, dissidents arranged themselves in loose groups, each circle containing about 10 people whose trust in one another was absolute. Peter Uhle’s circle included Vaclav Havel and Jiri Dienstbier, the present Deputy Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs, and from 1987 to 1989, it included Jan Kavan. Kavan was living in London, running his underground channel. Sometimes it carried letters from Havel to his friend and fellow playwright Tom Stoppard and brought into Czechoslovakia banned books like those of Joseph Skvorecky and Milan Kundera. Kavan became a trusted source on Eastern European affairs for Western journalists. He did opposition work by day and taught Czech language and literature at adult night school.
Born in London in 1946, the son of a Czech diplomat and a British teacher, Kavan was reared in Prague. His father, Pavel, returned to Czechoslovakia in 1950, two years after the coup that left the Czech government dominated by the Soviet Union. Pavel Kavan, who worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, remained a loyal party member, even after it was clear that the party was no longer trustworthy or democratic, and even after it finally turned on him.
Jan Kavan remembers that day clearly, though he was only 5. “We lived on a hill overlooking Prague on the first floor of a villa with large gardens. Several men with stiff expressions knocked on the door and came in. My mother looked very frightened. My father was very quiet. He quickly packed a few small things into his briefcase and left without explaining anything. He said goodby to me.”
In the Slansky Trial, part of the Show Trials, a purge orchestrated by Soviet Union, Pavel Kavan and other leading members of the party were tried under false charges with false testimony and imprisoned or executed. Many were Jews. Pavel was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served five and then, because of a change in the party leadership, was released but not exonerated. He died in 1960, at 45, of a heart attack.
When Pavel went to prison, Jan’s mother Rosemary and her two sons moved from the villa to two rooms above a railway station. Kavan changed schools. He was beaten once and called a Jewish Bolshevik swine. Other children were not allowed to play with him. “I understood finally that I was the son of a traitor,” he said.
Kavan grew up in the ‘60s, just as Czechoslovakia was beginning to move away from the Soviet Union. He was a Communist; he believed the party could be reformed. But his friends were, he says, “anyone who believed politics is not about persecution, not about power, not about sending your pawns to prison. Anyone who was prepared to risk his career for a friend was an automatic friend. Anyone who believed in telling the truth, and was not a coward.
“Cowardice was very important to me. Because I blamed--maybe wrongly, I don’t know--the entire generation of my father for silence. I imagined my father in prison, waiting for his friends to speak. Their silence must have been deafening.”
In 1967, Kavan’s dean suggested he go to England to write his thesis on the Czech/Austrian student opposition during World War II. He studied in the British Museum by day and worked as a hospital orderly by night. Because he was the president of the Czech Students Union, he sometimes dropped in at the Czech Embassy to talk to diplomat Frantisek Zajicek, the liaison to the Ministry of Education in Prague. Zajicek asked Kavan to write three reports on the need of Czech students for grants and extensions of their legal stays. These reports, which Kavan thought were going to the Ministry of Education, ended up in his STB file.
A student strike in November, 1967--demanding electric lights in the university study halls--called him back to Prague. On his arrival, he was interrogated by the STB, accused of working for British intelligence and threatened with the removal of his passport.
By early 1968, town meetings were being held all over Prague at which people demanded to know the truth about the Slansky Trial and other crimes of the past. Youth rallies drew thousands. What became known as the Prague Spring began. It was crushed by Soviet tanks that rolled into Prague on Aug. 17, 1968. Kavan was in the United States at a conference of student leaders. In September, he went home. He organized student strikes and hoped to stay in Prague, but his dean refused to grant him permission. He returned to London and began his work at Oxford.
During the next two years, torn between politics and his studies, Kavan whipsawed between the two countries. Finally, in September, 1970, knowing that if he returned to Prague he faced a life that would certainly lead to prison, he allowed his passport to expire and became an exile. Almost immediately, he began setting up what he calls a “structure designed to help the people there.” He bought an old van, and with the aid of an experienced smuggler, outfitted it with secret compartments. Then, he hired a driver to smuggle a duplicating machine to the friends in Prague who would later be called dissidents.
KAVAN DOESN’T REMEMBER WHERE he went after he left the commission chambers that day last February. “I think I went back to Parliament,” he said. “I remember contacting friends from the opposition days. I described it all to Peter Uhle, who said he would go and talk to them. I called friends in England to see if they had any notes or recollections, but it was such a long time ago.”
In the next few weeks, Uhle and Kavan worked furiously to keep the ax from falling. Uhle talked to the commission several times. When he heard from Kavan what had happened, he was alarmed. “We ordered the commission not to prove who was an agent but who was registered,” he said later. “We did this on purpose. We didn’t want them to be a jury.”
Uhle questioned them about the code “DS.” The last time he talked to the commission, two days before “Black Friday” (the day the names were read aloud), he says, they weren’t sure what “DS” meant.
Kavan continued to call his friends in London for help, among them Shawcross, who immediately wrote a letter to Kavan. “I understand that a Czech diplomat called Zajicek, whom I knew, alleged that you tried to pump me for information. . . . This is absolute nonsense,” he wrote.
Shawcross offered to fly to Prague to make a statement on Kavan’s behalf. But the commission said it was not a judicial body and refused to hear any testimony. Letters supporting Kavan from Labor Party officials in London, from Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and from Helsinki Watch arrived in Prague.
The news that Jan Kavan’s name had been found in the STB files hit dissident circles like a bomb. Petr Uhle, Jan Ruml and Oldrich Cerny, President Havel’s Internal Affairs adviser, became interested in the file. Each managed to read excerpts. Havel himself remained publicly aloof from the situation, making only generalized statements about the need for “independent courts.”
Finally, on March 18, four days before his name was to be read aloud, the commission called Kavan in, apologized for its earlier behavior and allowed him to read an excerpt of about 60 pages.
Minutes after Kavan seated himself in front of the file, Jiri Ruml arrived and insisted that the door be propped open so a secretary could watch him. Kavan was allowed to take notes. When he was finished, he asked the commission members who were present what the code “DS” meant.
“They told me it was a ‘confidential collaborator,’ and that was the category under which I was registered. I asked them if they were certain about it, and they said yes. Later, I met the spokesperson for the commission on the street, and he said he was going to secret-police headquarters to check on the code again. He told me it seemed to him it didn’t mean collaboration. I thought the nightmare was over.”
That same week, the commission found itself deeply divided over whether or not his name should be read. If Kavan had resigned, they reasoned, that would have let them off the hook. But when he refused, their doubts deepened. Miroslav Jansta says that week was among the worst in his life. “It took us several days of talking. On the last day, we started to talk and it went on until midnight. It was an incredibly tense atmosphere.”
Jiri Dienstbier, the son of the foreign minister, was also on the commission at the time (he has since resigned). Dienstbier, who is in his 20s and spent parts of his youth in New York City, said: “I didn’t realize what it was going to be like. I thought it would be much easier. If the information was true, then Jan Kavan was cooperating, but on the other hand, there were parts in which the officer mentioned that Kavan didn’t have to know. If one looked carefully, there was no proof.”
“This sort of thing can’t be decided by Parliament,” said Jansta, “it’s too political. Only a judge really had a right to figure this out, but we were not a court, so we voted.” The vote was six in favor of reading Kavan’s name, five against.
The next day, Petr Toman, the commission spokesman, stood facing a bank of TV cameras. Beyond them were row on row of MPs, each sitting at a small desk. Kavan had heard from Uhle an hour before that his name would be read. He sat at his desk in the center row, writing careful notes for the speech he planned to give in his defense.
Toman read 10 names in all; Kavan’s was fifth.
Kavan gave his speech. As he opened with the words, “I do fervently hope that at least some of you will be able to listen in good faith to what I have to say,” 35 MPs walked out.
He continued, “I am being condemned not to eight weeks or to eight years imprisonment but to being branded a secret-police collaborator for the rest of my life.”
A month later, an 11th name was added to the list, a Christian Democrat who had been a member of the Resistance during World War II and had been imprisoned for 12 years under the Stalinists. When he was released from prison, he was compelled to sign a document promising to collaborate. This document remained in the files and was enough evidence to cause his name to be read aloud.
When he was named, the old man “made a beautiful, powerful speech,” Sokol said. “He said his life had been a series of injuries, and this was the last drop.”
PETR UHLE SAT IN HIS OFFICE BEHIND a full ashtray, shaking his head, contemplating the opening of Pandora’s box. “The first mistake we made was that the resolution didn’t address the consequences of the screening,” he said. “Second, we thought the registers would carry the appropriate in formation. We didn’t know that the registers had the names of people who never knew they were in contact (with an agent.)”
He hunched forward. “The commission decided to judge whether information in the First Directorate was relevant to be published. Instead of asking, they decided to do this by a vote among themselves.”
He sat back, lit another Sparta.
In Oldrich Cerny’s office in the Hradcany Castle, the seat of Czech government since the 10th Century, the noise of tourists in the courtyard was like the roar of the sea. Cerny raised his voice. “The commission blames Kavan not for actually informing but for falling into the trap. They think he should have realized (that Zajicek was a spy). What they tend to forget is that Kavan was 20 years old. They lost contact with reality,” he said. “There are people on that commission who are slightly paranoid. They see a secret agent behind every tree.”
Jan Ruml, in his office at the Interior Ministry, protected by a guard, believed the procedure was upside down: “The first people who should have been screened were the party apparatchiks,” he said, “then the agents, then the collaborators--their victims.”
The hindsight of the three men could do little to end Kavan’s nightmare. He and the nine others who refused to resign had been tossed into a legal limbo. They could not be forced out of Parliament--no law had been passed that would cause that to happen. Neither could they be tried--collaboration was not against the law, and besides, as members of Parliament, they were immune from criminal prosecution. The commission was also protected by immunity, which meant they could not be sued for slander, a criminal offense in Czechoslovakia.
Kavan and the others took the only legal route left--each filed a suit in civil court, using a vague law in the civil code that protects “personality, health and civil dignity,” against the Minister of the Interior as the person who made the files available to the commission. (District Court Seven in Prague decided it had jurisdiction over the case but no proceedings have begun.) All 10 MPs hoped that the government would propose a new law on screening. There is no law that defines collaboration and no criteria by which a court can evaluate the files.
In late May, as Kavan sat isolated at his desk, the assembly wrestled with a new bill proposed by Bender, the same MP who proposed Resolution 94. The bill would have released to the public the files of the 10 MPs who had refused to resign, as well as the names of 1,500 ordinary citizens also found in the files.
“To imagine that the registers should be opened and published, we are idiots,” said Ladislav Hejdanek, on the day Parliament was going to vote on the proposed bill. “We don’t know who was coerced. It doesn’t have any meaning. And the terrible thing is,” he continued, “people who did collaborate are not able to speak about it openly. It’s not possible for them to exorcise it. We so much need an act of forgiveness.” He was silent for a few seconds, then went on: “The best position is to say we are all responsible. Every person is responsible and has no right to speak of others.”
That afternoon, the room housing the Parliament was filled with MPs, the visitor’s gallery crowded. Jiri Ruml gave an impassioned speech favoring the bill; Petr Uhle spoke against it. When Prime Minister Alexander Dubcek made a brief address proposing that any naming of names be postponed until there was a law governing the rights of the accused, a young man in the visitor’s gallery spat onto the floor below.
It was late afternoon when the vote took place. Jan Kavan was paler than usual.
The first vote was in the House of Nations, Petr Uhle’s section of Parliament. The proposal passed. The second vote was in Kavan’s House of the People. The vote was 46 in favor, 54 against. A bill must pass both houses to become law. A friend of Kavan’s walked outside and bought him a rose.
IN THE OLD KOUNICKY PALace in downtown Prague, where red poppies bloom in the courtyard, Kavan shared a private office with the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly. His desk was covered in letters, clippings, faxes, reports and journals. It was warm; someone had opened the windows onto the courtyard, and the lace at them billowed and fell with the breeze.
“I hardly remember him,” Kavan said. “I met with him, around a dozen times. I was in a dilemma as to how to finish my studies in Britain without becoming an emigre. At the beginning, before I realized I would have to make a choice, I thought I could postpone the choice. That motivated me to talk to Zajicek to see if he could help me get permission to stay in England. He gave the impression of understanding my feelings, even supporting them. It was believable to me that he could have been a Dubcekite in 1969.
“People say now,” he continued, “that I am either lying or naive because every member of a foreign office was supposed to have been a member of the secret police, and that was clearly the case before and after that spring, but not in ’68 to ’69. In the post-invasion shock, a lot of people who had been conformists expressed sympathy for those of us who were against the regime.
“At the same time, now I seem to have the vague, vague feeling that some of the questions made me think he was playing some kind of game. In 1970, when things got worse in Prague, sometimes the questions he asked seemed too sensitive, and I answered with non-answers.
“The file acknowledges,” he said, “that at the end, his superiors tell him it’s obvious that I am unwilling to answer questions about student friends. While I didn’t mistrust the man, I didn’t give him information. And when he was recalled before the end of his diplomatic term, I thought it was proof that he was who I thought he was--a cautious, former conformist, trying to help in his way.
“I don’t really expect anyone to believe me about this now,” he went on. “I feel like Alice in an absurd realm of the most horrific dream,” he went on. “But I can be helped by any law that defines what collaboration means, how the files should be evaluated.”
As he waits for the Assembly to come up with a law--later this fall, a new proposal will be discussed--Kavan tries to carry on his life. He has had two heart attacks, one in London and the second the day he took office in Prague. He is on a waiting list for triple-bypass surgery in London.
He gave up his parliamentary salary to make it clear that his position is a moral one. He attends Parliament sessions and votes but is given very little committee work.
His time is taken up by his own case, by letter campaigns and petitions. This is the kind of work he used to do on behalf of his friends in the old Czechoslovakia. He is living a life very much like his life in exile, but within his own country.
Joan Baez has written him a supporting letter from Humanitas, her human-rights organization.
Writer Joseph Skorvecky has called.
A private petition supporting Kavan with 200 names from the United States, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria was sent to the Federal Assembly.
While support from the West has been immediate and gratifying, support within Prague has been disappointing. “Many of my friends expressed their support,” he said. “But not all of them did. Or not all of them did it in a very open manner.
“This,” he said, “was the source of my greatest sadness. I have to admit that none of my friends have turned against me, none of my friends believed in this awful accusation. But some friends are more . . . silent.”
Because it is like the silence that deafened his father, Pavel Kavan, in prison, Jan Kavan believes that some of his prominent friends are not coming to his defense because they want to protect their careers.
This may be true, but it is also true that the file has driven a wedge into his old, tightly knit group of dissidents. Even Uhle said that before he read the file, he was concerned that there was some kind of “gentlemen’s agreement” between Zajicek and Kavan.
“Mainly I tried to get whether or not he knew Zajicek was an agent,” Uhle said. “There were two important sentences.
“In one, Zajicek said: ‘I can only say my personal opinion, which is that Kavan knows that the information he is presenting is used by Czech institutions, and without any doubt he knows that he is cooperating with the intelligence service, even though he is still being approached under cover of the Czech Embassy.’
But about a month later, Zajicek writes to Prague: ‘I am not asking Kavan further details about his trip to the United States so as not to arouse his suspicions.’ For me, that sentence is proof that Zajicek never mentioned to Kavan that he was an agent.”
Jan Sokol had also read the file, and the file of another MP who resigned rather than have his name read aloud. “The Kavan file is not clear on either side. The other one was very convincing, very real. Yet in the Kavan file, there is plenty of documentation. It’s not the sort of information a normal diplomatic officer would need. The suspicion is difficult to dispel.”
Doubt shadowed the faces of Kavan’s friends even as they defended him. That doubt was a gift from the STB. “The old regime was shuffling the cards,” said Jansta. “The STB book is the tombstone of the regime. The worst thing they did was destroy the trust between people.”
In early August, Kavan wrote: “My baby daughter is three weeks old today. Since she was born, I began to think more frequently about the sense of my present struggle. I definitely don’t want her to be brought up in this kind of atmosphere. . . . On some level it would remind me of my own childhood.”
In much of the rhetoric surrounding the word democracy these days, what is forgotten is that democracy rests on how well the rights of one person are protected.
“The new and obviously fragile democracies have to protect themselves against witch hunts, lack of legal safeguards, intolerance toward political opponents, struggles for power using undemocratic means and lack of responsibility in the media,” wrote the London-based East European Reporter, which Kavan helped found. “All this requires no less courage than that displayed in the past by the dissidents.”
“If we were courageous,” said Sokol, “we would not give the screening so much weight.”
Hope for Kavan lies in the sort of person who recently wrote him from a small village:
“You have to prove in court that you were innocent, otherwise no one will believe you. I admit sometimes I don’t believe you, either. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed, and I believe that you can convince the court and us.”
Yet, not even justice will restore to Jan Kavan something irrevocably lost.
"(During the years I was in London) when I thought about what it would be like to return,” he said one afternoon in the Parliament dining room “I thought I would disagree with those in power. I didn’t have a clear idea of what kind of life it would be or what kind of system it would be, but it would be tolerant enough to allow me to live a normal human life. I did not set up any normal life for myself for my entire 20 years there.
“I regarded the whole time there,” he explained, “as a sort of temporary stage. I didn’t get married, didn’t start a family, didn’t get a proper job. I thought, when I returned that would be the opportunity to continue my normal life.
“I believed that most of my friends would be in the same situation. I would be working, living with my friends, the student leaders from the late-1960s--as well as with friends I made during the last 20 years by helping the opposition. In that microworld--because of the good atmosphere between us, shared aims, and beliefs--I would be happy.
“My great joy was that it didn’t happen that way. In fact, it was my friends who won. We didn’t go through that intermediate, what I thought would be a long, intermediate stage. In fact, the most democratic, the most courageous, forces won. That was to me the source of the greatest joy in November and December, 1989. It was the fulfillment of even the most secret dream. Before all this happened, I was very happy indeed.”