Vaclav Bartuska on why he should have been shot

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In 1989 Vaclav Bartuska was a student. The Berlin Wall fell on the 9th November, and in the days that followed voices for change became ever louder in communist Czechoslovakia. As someone who already had a reputation as a dissident, Vaclav's fellow students appointed him as a student leader. The events that followed were dramatic...

In 1989 Vaclav Bartuska was a student. The Berlin Wall fell on the 9th November, and in the days that followed voices for change became ever louder in communist Czechoslovakia. As someone who already had a reputation as a dissident, Vaclav's fellow students appointed him as a student leader. The events that followed were dramatic. On the 17th of November, the police brutally suppressed a peaceful demonstration on Prague's National Avenue. This was the catalyst for the events that within days led to the fall of the regime. Less than two weeks later, Vaclav Bartuska went from being an unknown student to heading a special committee to investigate the violent events of November 17th. At the age of 21 he was given unlimited access to the files of the notorious StB secret police, a privilege granted to no-one before or since.

"I had my own personal idea that they can tap any phone call and they can listen to anything - that they can hear all our private discussions. But I think that was totally wrong. Yes you can do that, but then you have nobody who can analyse the data and just sift through it. So my biggest surprise was when I saw some of the files and I saw that there was almost nothing in there. Probably the biggest personal shock came when I saw my own file. The terrible thing was that I had some sixteen months of not very nice life, I was interrogated and charged - and then you see sixteen months of your life on one single sheet of paper, written in a very brutal bureaucratic language. I suppose it must have been the same in 45 when people saw the archives of Nazi Germany and they just saw that the extermination of people can be called in very industrial terms. So this was very similar, you could go through papers and you had the feeling that it's some big industrial compound or some huge company which deals with steel ingots or chemical supplies, not with human lives and human fates. So that was one aspect.

The other one came to me a little bit later when I was in the States and it was in 1990 one year after the change, and I was meeting in Washington some people from the US government and I suppose they were from the US companies, I mean the FBI and CIA, and when I told them the story they looked at me in huge amazement, and then one guy said: "If somebody entered our compound at the age of 21 and asked to be let into the archives, we would have to shoot him." So I suppose that's what should have happened also here if this was a normal country and a normal time, but this was not a normal time and not a normal country."