Dissident singer-songwriter Jaroslav Hutka

Jaroslav Hutka, photo: CTK

Originally from Olomouc, central Moravia, singer-songwriter Jaroslav Hutka established himself as one of the most original figures in Czech folk music in the late 1960s. In 1978, he was forced out of the country by the communist regime only to return in November 1989 when he became one of the faces of the Velvet Revolution.

Jaroslav Hutka,  photo: CTK
From his native Olomouc, Jaroslav Hutka moved to Prague in the beginning of the 1960s, and with the exception of 11 years he spent in exile in Holland, he has lived here ever since. After all those years, does he see any differences between people from Bohemia and Moravia?

“Culturally, there was a traditional difference between folklore songs; you could immediately tell which song was Moravian and which was Bohemian. But now, in the character of people today, they say that Moravians are softer, heartier – well, I don't know about that. I think that the differences have been levelled. That began with the foundation of Czechoslovakia when they wanted to merge the two cultures and that is what happened.”

Jaroslav Hutka started singing old Moravian ballads in 1968 when he came across a collection of Moravian folklore songs compiled in mid-19th century by Roman Catholic priest Frantisek Susil. Since then, Moravian ballads have become Hutka’s signature repertoire – but the issue of Bohemia versus Moravia, he says, is for him an artificial one.

“I really don't see this as an issue; I don't care about this at all. I did care about it though when I was in exile, though, when they asked me where I was from, and I had to localize it. I would usually say that I was Czech but sometimes I said I was from Moravia because I knew they wouldn't know where that was. But that was more of a joke – when they asked where it was, I said, 'That's where Sigmund Freud was born'. And people would go, 'uh-hu, I see'. That was ironic.”

After the Soviet led-invasion of Czechoslovakia, Jaroslav Hutka found himself increasingly under the eye of the secret police. His concerts were some of the last bastions of unrestrained art in the country. One of the songs that was especially irritating for the authorities was ‘Havlicku, Havle’, a playful tune about dissident Vaclav Havel.

His situation became unbearable in 1978 when he was given a choice by the secret police – jail for ‘illegal enterprise’, or exile. Jaroslav Hutka chose the latter, and moved to Holland. Did the Dutch have any idea about what was going on in Czechoslovakia at the time?

“They did not have a clue. Generally, those who knew at least something got it confused with Yugoslavia, because the names are similar. Even my landlord, to whom I had explained that Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia are two different countries, came to offer me his sympathies when Tito died. For them, this was an unknown region. Only the people who came here for holidays knew it. They were surprised that it was civilized; civilized and cheap. That was very important for the Dutch – that it was cheap.”

November 1989 marked a triumphant return for Jaroslav Hutka who went form Prague’s airport straight to singing at the largest anti-regime demonstration on Letna plain. One of Hutka’s most famous songs about freedom, Namest, was played live in Czechoslovakia again after 11 years.

After his come back, did Jaroslav Hutka see any differences between the country in 1978 and 11 years later?

Jaroslav Hutka
“No, I had the impression that it was absolutely the same thing. The regime in the 1980s was in fact the same as in the 70s. I understood the development that the 1980s were a bit softer than before. But there was nothing that could change the people; there was not enough time, either – no historical shock happened. Ten years of the same does not change anything in the people; ten years is a very short time.”

Soon after his return, Jaroslav Hutka became involved in politics, too. He first supported a small liberal party, the Civic Democratic Alliance, and last year he ran for a seat in the Parliament for the Green Party. In fact, he missed out on election by a mere 350 votes.

“Well I have been always working with some political party; it was the ODA at first. I have been always interested in those things. With the Greens, I liked them, I knew the Green Party in Holland, so I went for it. Looking back today, I don't find it particularly pleasant that I stood. They have also become a common political party, and I have lost any interest in what they are up to now. I think this was the very last time I had anything to do with politics.”

Jaroslav Hutka in 1989,  photo: CTK
Jaroslav Hutka now releases his records on his own label, which he named Samopal, which means machine gun, but also ‘self-burn’. His audiences have also grown smaller since those days of November 1989 when he played at sports stadiums. Is it his own songs or the old ballads that are more popular with his fans?

“I don't think it is as clear-cut as that. What’s more, many people don't see that as interpretation but rather as some kind of authorship, because I am the only one who sings these old Moravian ballads. But I've had smaller audiences because I haven't written a lot of new stuff. Those who do come, however, don't care which I play. I have just started playing new songs, and I have to say that I feel as if this was some kind of unpleasant surprise for the people, that they are not sure what it's all about. I think that my new songs will bring in new audiences as well, and I'll see what comes out of it. This is really a transitional period now.”

Jaroslav Hutka and Jaromir Nohavica
One of the new songs that Jaroslav Hutka has come up with has recently caused much controversy. It is called Udavac (The Snitch) and it is about singer-songwriter Jaromir Nohavica, who collaborated with the secret communist police, known as the StB, in the late 1980s. According to recently found documents, Mr Nohavica filed reports on two significant exile figures – singer-songwriter and Radio Free Europe presenter Karel Kryl and playwright Pavel Kohout. The report was filed after he made a business trip to Vienna in August 1989, three months before the Velvet Revolution.

“I was angered by his most important denunciation; the one from August 1989, a few months before the revolution in November. According to the StB report, he was sent on a ‘business trip’ to Vienna, and he was given the task of contacting certain persons – Karel Kryl and Pavel Kohout. He met those people and he reported on them. There are many such issues that he simply must explain.”