Jan Langos, former dissident and post-1989 Czechoslovak Interior Minister,dies in an automobile accident

Jan Langos, photo: Pavol Majer, SME, 16.6.06

On Thursday morning, sad news reached the Czech Republic from neighboring Slovakia: Jan Langos, whom Czechs remember as the first post-communist Interior Minister, was killed in a car crash. Mr. Langos was 59. Jan Langos' life was a tapestry of activity, both before the revolution of 1989, and after.

When Czechoslovakia broke free from communist rule in late 1989, Jan Langos took on the monumental job of Minister of the Interior. Next to the presidential office and the foreign ministry, this was no-doubt the most important post in the country. Jan Langos served as Interior Minister from early 1990 until July 1992—until the time when it became clear that Czechoslovakia was headed towards a break-up. Sociologist and long-time friend of Mr. Langos, Fedor Gal, remembers when Jan Langos became Interior Minister, and what awaited him:

"It's important to say that entering high-level politics in the immediate post-November 1989 era was very different than it is today. These were not people who were elected to posts on the basis of free elections, but rather people who were nominated. Accepting such a position was connected to a great deal of risk, and the whole political situation was very uncertain. Jan Langos became the federal Minister of the Interior under these conditions. There was a great mess waiting for him at the ministry, and the huge task of ridding this institution of the hated StB [the communist-era secret police]. He managed to achieve this rather quickly, but he earned a great many enemies for himself in the process."

Prior to the Velvet Revolution, Jan Langos belonged to the underground in Slovakia. His presence during illegal samizdat book-binding sessions was frequent, and he was very close to the Slovak Catholic opposition. In November 1989 Jan Langos joined the Slovak-based Public Against Violence group, and began his association with the world of high politics.

When Czechoslovakia broke apart, Jan Langos became a Slovak MP and until 2001 he served as the chairman of Slovakia's Democratic Party. When he left parliament in 2002, a new chapter started in Jan Langos' life: he devoted all his energies to ensuring that Slovaks would not forget their 20th century history. In 2003 Jan Langos became the Director of the newly-established Slovak Institute of National Memory, for which he fought tirelessly. Friend Fedor Gal says that work with this institute became Jan Langos' calling:

"For Jan Langos, the problem of communism, totalitarian regimes, and the question of national memory was a mission. The fact that he managed to establish the Slovak Institute of National Memory is an incredible feat. He encountered very strong opposition. The way in which he went public with StB documents on the internet caused a wave of aversion, not to mention numerous court cases. As a result, Jan Langos had many enemies and I think that in essence he was a lonely person. Of course he had several great friends, but his public work was risky and he committed himself to it fully."

Jan Langos not only worked to ensure that Slovaks would face their history openly and build a national memory—a national consciousness—but in recent years he also worked closely with his Czech colleagues and friends to see that a similar institute would be established in the Czech Republic. A Czech Institute of National Memory is likely to appear in early 2007, but one of its most important spiritual supporters will not longer be here to welcome it.

Jan Langos died tragically just two months short of his 60th birthday.