In memoriam: Evangelical priest and major figure of Czech underground Svatopluk Karásek

Svatopluk Karásek, photo: Jana Šustová

Evangelical priest Svatopluk Karásek, a key figure of the Czech underground, has died at the age of 78. The former dissident, musician and Charter 77 signatory was persecuted by the Communist regime and spent part of his life in exile with his wife and children.

Svatopluk Karásek was born on October 18, 1942 into the family of a government ministry official, who was briefly imprisoned after February 1948.  As a young boy, he was influenced by the beat generation culture, which inspired him to search for his own path in life.

He studied theology and in 1968 began his service as a pastor. However, after repeated problems with the authorities, he was stripped of the required state approval to minister.

Karásek eventually found employment as a warden at the Houska castle and became a member of Czechoslovakia’s underground movement. He also found a way to continue his preaching by other means, replacing his sermons with biblical lyrics in his songs.

In 1976 Karásek was arrested. In the trial of members and associates of the band Plastic People of the Universe he was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Svatopluk Karásek - 'Řekni ďáblovi ne',  photo: Šafrán

After signing the Charter 77 manifesto, he was under constant surveillance of the secret police and eventually gave in to pressure to leave Czechoslovakia.

Despite the hardships he and his family had to endure, he considered the 1970s the most inspiring years of his life:

“Those times were more intense and more challenging. Today, nothing is really at stake, but then life was at stake. Friendship and brotherhood was something great, something that gave you strength.

“Although the times were tough, I regard them as the most important and the best times of my life. Compared to this, life in Switzerland seemed like being prematurely in Heaven.”

After leaving Czechoslovakia, Svatopluk Karásek settled in Switzerland, where he served as a pastor and took part in various events promoting human rights and in meetings of the underground movement abroad.

When he returned from exile in the 1990s, he served as member of the Chamber of Deputies and later as the government’s commissioner for human rights.

In 1997 he was ordained in Saint Salvator church in Prague and his sermons were always packed.

Historian Petr Blažek says Karásek was a person who spread the gospel as good news in the true sense of the word:

“Svatopluk Karásek was undoubtedly a unique person. He was very open-minded and managed to unite people. But what’s important is that he confirmed his words by his own deeds. He was ready to bear the consequences of his own actions.

“In his lyrics, Karásek used all sort of biblical parables that we can understand even years later. What was also important was his character and his approach to people and the great joy that he spread. I think he was really an extraordinary man.”