Unique 1980s dissident video magazine subject of new Czech TV documentary

Photo: CT24

On Tuesday, the public broadcaster Czech TV is airing the first part of a new documentary series dedicated to Originální videojournal, a unique video magazine established by Czech dissidents in the late 1980s. The documentary offers some rare footage from dissident circles, as well as reports about the Velvet Revolution in November 1989.

Václav Havel
In May 1989, Václav Havel shared his feelings about his release from a communist prison with reporters from Originální videojournal. These and other reports depicting the life of dissidents in the late 1980s are featured in a new documentary series by Czech TV that premieres on Tuesday. Veronika Linková is one of series’ producers.

“Czech TV bought about 200 hours of unedited material of Originální videojournal. It contains some rare footage, not only from the end of the communist era, but also from November 1989, when Czechoslovak TV reporters did not yet get that close to what was happening. So there are many shots that people might have not seen before.”

Přemysl Fialka
The idea to produce a video magazine covering the dissident movement, anti-regime rallies, independent cultural events, and other happenings originated in 1987, in the circles around Václav Havel. Inspired by the activities of Karel Kyncl, an exiled Czech journalist who in the UK produced his own video magazine, Václav Havel thought something similar could also be done in Prague. Photographer and cameraman Přemysl Fialka was one of the magazine’s reporters. He describes the beginnings of Originální videožurnál.

“I can’t remember exactly, but I think that in early 1987, there was a meeting of various independent filmmakers. There, we agreed we would go ahead. We started with one video camera they sent us from abroad but later, our activities grew bigger and bigger.”

Their reports would be secretly edited, recorded on video cassettes and distributed among dissidents, friends and sympathizers. In total, seven such video magazines came out before the fall of communism. Many of the tapes inevitably ended up in the hands of the StB, the secret police. But Mr Fialka says the police would usually leave them alone, perhaps because they did not want to lose a unique source of information. Sometimes, however, reporting on openly anti-regime activities was not an easy job. Přemysl Fialka again.

Photo: CT24
“On December 10, 1987, on Human Rights Day, there was a rally in Old Town Square, the first after many, many years. I was there with a colleague. We had a camera, but we did not dare take it out because there were so many StB agents all around. So that’s where our courage failed us.”

The new series begins on Czech TV’s 24 channel at 8:30 on Tuesday, and will air until August 12. More information can be found on Czech TV’s website.