Pop star Gott admits signing letter pleading for Communist leader’s pardon

Karel Gott, photo: CTK

On Tuesday a letter emerged allegedly sent by pop singer Karel Gott to former Communist chief Gustáv Husák. In the letter, which Gott admits signing, the pop star pleads for more artistic freedom and asks, after staying too long in West Germany, to be able to come home.

Karel Gott, photo: CTK
Album after album of hits and no less than 37 Czech Nightingale Awards have established Karel Gott over the past five decades as the undisputed king of Czech pop. As his career developed throughout the sixties and seventies, Gott’s fame extended beyond this country’s borders, with the singer releasing a number of hits in German and touring extensively in both East and West Germany.

It was on one such tour of West Germany in 1971 that Karel Gott and two of his songwriting team considered emigrating. The group had left Czechoslovakia in May to play a week’s worth of concerts; by the end of July, they were still not back. The West German press was starting to speculate that Gott would ask for asylum and, according to reports, the Czechoslovak secret police were in a state of frenzy.

On Tuesday, a letter bearing Karel Gott’s signature and seeming to shed new light on the incident emerged. Dated July 21, 1971, it is addressed to the general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Gustáv Husák. In it, Gott explains what drove him to leave Czechoslovakia and pleads to be able to come home.

In the letter, Karel Gott points out that he towed the government line during the period of normalisation - playing concerts in the Soviet Union shortly after the Soviet-led invasion, opening himself up, he says, to charges of ‘collaboration’. But despite his submission, he complains, he is still under immense pressure from ideologues and censors.

It is no longer possible to ‘create anything beautiful’ in such conditions, Gott laments, and asks Husák to give a guarantee that things will improve if he is allowed to come home.

On Tuesday, Karel Gott admitted signing such a document, but did not say whether he was its author. According to the singer, he was then summoned by Husák to the Czechoslovak Trade Mission in Frankfurt :

“Husák offered us a guarantee that nothing would happen to us, that there would be no sanctions and he said that he wanted to go through all of this back in Prague. So this letter preceded Gustáv Husák’s summons.”

The letter, which comes from secret police files, does not necessarily reveal much new about Gott – who was famous for signing a pro-regime response to the human rights petition Charter 77. But it does show the amount of pressure that even artists thought friendly to the regime found themselves under during that period.