Veteran writer, politician and broadcaster Pavel Tigrid dies aged 85

Pavel Tigrid in 1989, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic woke up to some sad news on Sunday - the death at the age of 85 of the veteran writer, politician and broadcaster Pavel Tigrid. Tigrid spent much of his life in exile, and many Czechs remember him for his broadcasts on the BBC during the Second World War, and later Radio Free Europe during the Communist era.

Pavel Tigrid,  2000,  photo: CTK
Pavel Tigrid was undoubtedly one of the most influential Czech personalities of the 20th century. His life was closely intertwined with the history of Czechoslovakia, and he devoted much of it towards freeing his country from totalitarian rule. But while he was a strong advocate of peace and reconciliation - he was a fierce critic of the post-war expulsion of Sudeten Germans for example - he never lost his ability to apply a dose of common sense. Here Pavel Tigrid, a devout Catholic, talks about efforts by the Catholic Church to win back property confiscated by the Communist regime.

"The Catholic Church, to my mind, made a very, very grave mistake by fighting, rightly so, but fighting for the return of confiscated property, which is immense. Not only of course churches and buildings, but woods and fields etc. Too much stress and too much noise has been made about this, and so to say, faith and God have been forgotten. And that did a lot of damage to people who otherwise would be sympathetic to the Catholic Church, because in the media, most of the talk over the last few years was about property. That's bad."

Pavel Tigrid was born Pavel Schoenfeld in 1917. His parents were non-believing Jews, fully assimilated into Czechoslovak society, and they had their son Pavel christened. This was not enough to save them from the Nazi menace however - his mother was deported to Auschwitz. When war came Pavel fled first to Slovakia then across Germany to England, and reached London. In 1940 he began working for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, broadcasting to his fellow citizens - then under Nazi occupation - on the BBC World Service. He was asked to choose a radio name, and he chose Tigrid - he later explained that in school, he always used to get the name of the River Tigris wrong - calling it Tigrid instead. The name stuck - Pavel Schoenfeld officially changed his name to Pavel Tigrid after the war.

Pavel Tigrid,  1989,  photo: CTK
Czechoslovakia didn't remain free for long, however, and Pavel Tigrid was once again forced into exile when the Communists came to power in 1948. This time he began a new life in West Germany, and was given the task of establishing and running the Czechoslovak section of Radio Free Europe, which began broadcasting to Communist Czechoslovakia in 1951. After demanding greater editorial freedom from the RFE headquarters in New York, Pavel Tigrid left the station, later working for Voice of America. After that he settled in Paris, becoming a key figure in the Czechoslovak exile community in France. He set up and published his own magazine - Testimony. Copies of it were smuggled across the border into Czechoslovakia.

After the fall of Communism in 1989, Pavel Tigrid returned to his native country, becoming Minister of Culture in the government of Vaclav Klaus. He later became a close adviser to President Vaclav Havel. The former president was among the first to pay tribute to Pavel Tigrid on Sunday, describing him as a man who could leave this world satisfied that he had left a rich body of work behind him. Tributes from President Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and many others soon followed. The present Culture Minister Pavel Dostal summed up his predecessor's life in the following words: Pavel Tigrid was a legend of Czech journalism and the Czech exile community, whose writing contributed to the victory of democracy in this country.