European Archive of Voices

Translation – Alena Wagnerová

Interview by Tereza Reichelová

Czechia, February 12, 2020

Reichelová: First, I want to know what was it like to be born in the ’30s in Brno? 

Wagnerová: Well, I would say that my own micro-history entered “big” history when I was two years old. I was sitting on my little potty in the bedroom, the door opened and there was a huge shadow walking up the stairs of our family house in Brno, the Královo Pole district. As the shadow came closer, I realized it was my father and I exclaimed, “Daddy, you’re back!?” – my dad had just been demobbed. He returned as a defeated soldier in autumn 1938. He was glad to come back to his family, glad to be alive, but he had also returned as a defeated soldier. When we were older and he spoke about it later, he told us how his pupils – he was their favourite teacher – at the trade academy in Brno—snapped at him after his demobilisation, after the Munich Agreement [The Munich Agreement was a decision concluded by Germany, UK, the French Third Republic and the Kingdom of Italy in Munich in 1938, which stated that Czechoslovakia should turn over the Sudet territory to Germany; from the Czechoslovakian perspective it was named the “Munich Betrayal”]. They used to say to him, “Professor, why did you lie to us? What you taught us about democracy, about the Republic: it wasn’t true.” When I was thinking about this, when I was older and almost an adult, I realized that that was the moment, when I entered “big” history.

I grew up in a three-generational family, which is not unimportant as I came to have [a better] understanding for old people. There was no distance between us. Our family were Protestant converts, that is, my parents were Protestants and my grandparents Catholics, but it didn’t cause any problems. [Our] grandpas used to go to a Catholic church, we used to go to a Protestant church. I think we were a deeply democratic family also living in the spirit of Masaryk. Masaryk [Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, president of the First Czechoslovak Republic from 1918-1935; he took part in a modernist movement, which was liberal and democratic; through his policy he tried to detach Czechoslovakia from the past, which was dominated by foreign rule by Austro-Hungary. He was also opting for a secular state] meant a lot to my parents, and especially to my father. My father was a grammar school alumnus in Uherské Hradiště and thus he was Moravian. My mother was Moravian as well, she grew up in Brno, but her family origins lie in the Moravian city Diváky. So in a sense, I am pure-blooded Moravian. I laugh at that and say it ironically, but I think that being Moravian plays a role, as in being in one way sharper but also calmer. Moravia is geographically divided by two mountains the Sudetes and the Carpathian Mountains, which meet each other in the middle. In Haná [region in central Moravia], which is a plain that is permeable from the north to the south, there were always different people/nations passing through, for example Jews from Poland. Therefore, the Haná- region is anchored in the Moravian consciousness as a transit area. Bohemia on the other hand is a plain that is like a pan – surrounded by mountains on all sides [pauses].

How did we experience the war? [pauses] In the street I grew up on there were eight semi-detached houses, in which families would live. Two out of the men, who were living in those semi-detached family houses, were held in captivity during the war. One in Dachau and one in Buchenwald – that man was the major of Brno before, Dr. Spazier. A collaborator lived across the street, and it was him who denounced us. Two houses down, there lived a family whose daughter had to move abroad, to the US, I think, because she was married to a Jew. And before I forget that: The son of the family that was living in the house on the corner, he was fought for the English army. It is interesting that history had such an impact, even in our small street [laughs]. My father was a Sokol [gymnastics] instructor in Královo Pole. That meant he was in danger as well, but probably because of that he didn’t go off to fight in the resistance. There is a hypothesis in the family: he probably had a secret agreement with his brother-in-law, Čeněk, who was a Russian legionary and a colonel in the Czechoslovakian army. That meant he took part in the resistance movement Obrana národa [Czech resistance organization that fought against the German occupation from 1939 to 1945]. In 1940 he was detained, sentenced, imprisoned and finally died in 1944 in Kassel prison. Between him and my father there was this secret agreement, that my father would take care of his family and grandmother and that he would join the resistance.

So as children we would survive the war without any major shocks. My parents were calm and matter-of-fact. I think they were trying to protect us children from all the problems. They were striving to make sure we had a good childhood. Of course, when I was six, in 1942, I started going to school, and from day one we were taught German. If I remember correctly, we had to salute with our right hand in the air. Yes, I remember this, because one teacher, she slapped one of the students’ hands, when he raised his left hand [laughs]. So, there was a different climate in our school on Palackého Street (Pekařova Street before the war). There was [also] a German school on the first floor, and these children used to beat us up when we were just out walking, once even with their bags. What was important for me, I think, was the experience of violence, namely in the first grade of primary school, when children had to kneel next to the dais and were slapped on their hands. I didn’t suffer from that, but my classmates did, especially the boys. And it was unbearable for me. To see the others getting blows on their fingers, from a ruler no less—that was my first encounter with violence. I was growing up without smacks, without slaps, without beatings, without major punishments. I have to say: I got scarlet fever after Christmas in 1942 and I think it was a direct result of this violence against others that I couldn’t stand. 

I would like to point out that our neighbour was the only one near or far who had a phone, because he had been the mayor of Brno. When our father was kept late at school, he used to call so that mum wouldn’t worry that he’d been arrested. So he would always call and the maid of the neighbour’s house, Pepička, would come over and let us know. Across the street lived that collaborator, Aujeský, who would observe what was going on in our street. He couldn’t know that we kept in touch with our neighbours and went to visit the house of the person who was [later] locked up in Buchenwald. We used to go through secret doors in between the gardens, which also allowed us to play with the neighbours children who were, otherwise, separated by a wooden fence—that’s how it was [pauses].

Reichelová: [Interrupts] I have one more question regarding the war. Did your parents ever tell you not to talk about something in public? Did you feel that there were some things you weren’t allowed to talk about in public?

Wagnerová: Well, I don’t remember them ever telling me “You can’t say this,” which is probably connected to the fact that our short street was a Czech street and we had good relationships with our neighbours. There was practically no danger, not even in school, because there were Czech teachers. There were no collaborators. 

There was a collaborator across the street, though, and eventually he denounced us. He said my father was screening films about Masaryk. It was in 1942, during the Heydrichiáda persecutions [carried out in the aftermath of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German SS and police official during the Nazi era and a principal architect of the Holocaust]. The Gestapo came and my mum was very calm and unemotional. When the Gestapo officer showed her his badge, he expected her to be scared, but she remained calm. One of the Gestapo officers was Austrian, and my grandmother had worked in Vienna when she was young so she could speak the Viennese dialect. There was a theory in the family that this played a certain role—you know, the fact that they spoke the same dialect [laughs] and the fact that afterwards the officers headed to the school where my father was able to explain that these screenings took place long before 1938, before the protectorate, therefore it was legal. And so nothing really happened, but of course, it could have ended up badly. My dad, who was a Sokol member had a suitcase ready throughout all of the war, that my mum packed for him, in case they would come for him. There he would have all his stuff, simply so that he wouldn’t have any problems. That was my mum, who was very down-to-earth, whereas my father was a spiritual person. I think I’ve inherited both from them. 

That’s an interesting thing, just before I switch over to talk about the end of the war—I was eight or ten years old when I heard a sermon about Mary and Martha by Viktor Hájek, who also baptised me, and later became a synod elder. For me that was an interesting sermon because he was talking about the down-to-earth Martha, who was practical and would take care of everything and about Mary, the one who remained at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words. And I thought “That’s what I would like to be like, like Mary and Martha” [laughs]. So, I was trying to follow this a bit, because I could see the practice of spiritual life in my father and the matter-of-fact practicality in my mother, who certainly helped us, you know, to live during the occupation, as far as it was possible, given that our uncle was imprisoned, but she was trying to maintain calm. 

Now, to the liberation: Brno was obviously bombed. We were spared this experience, I mean in Královo Pole. But we would see, for example, Údolní street where of a row of houses were only ruins left. We could see the bombing of the city and that a factory in Kuřim wasn’t destroyed. Then the battles in Brno began and my parents decided to stay home, to not go anywhere. Granny left for her son’s place in Boskovice and my parents outfitted our cellar so that we could stay alive in there. During the days of fighting in Brno, dad was reading Masaryk’s dialogues with Karel Čapek to us [laughs]. So, you can see what kind of family we were [laughs]. 

My parents’ attitude was comforting, in a certain way. And then, a day later than in the rest of Brno, at the end of our street members of the Hitlerjugend [youth organization of the Nazis in Germany] were shooting so the Russians couldn’t pass, and they had to go through the gardens, and obviously they shot the Hitlerjugend, they killed them, or dropped a little bomb there. Then the young people, who were killed, were lying there in our front yard, and this was something we were not allowed to see, neither I nor my sister. The Russians arrived and they were a bit different, they had red hair [laughs], they were gingers, and they started to wash themselves immediately. Washtub in the garden, my grandpa was cutting their hair and they were washing themselves. It wasn’t a fighting encounter, but it was an encounter indeed [pensive].

For one thing, we were glad to see them and for another, before they got drunk, they were very amiable. They had a lie-down in one of our rooms, which was empty, and we had to play the piano for them. I was singing, my sister was playing the piano. They were shouting “Dievoczki, dievoczki.” [roughly translated to “the wild ones”], because our mother took us away once in a while because she was a bit nervous. And they were lying there, in my parents’ bedroom, some of them taking out photos of their children. Typical Russians. It wasn’t pleasant when they got drunk though, they started to be sort of aggressive. In Brno, there was Malinovsky’s army composed of various released criminals and so on, it wasn’t ideal, so to speak. A young girl from the neighbouring house used to sleep in our cellar so that nobody could harass her at night. There were such cases but fortunately my mother was not affected, and this daughter of our neighbours wasn’t either. The rapes certainly took place elsewhere, which our father, I believe, knew about. He knew how debauched an army becomes after three years of war. When news about the brutality of the Soviet army reached us, through the newspapers, he always used to say, “That is a sort of warning, an army that has been in action for such a long time can’t have fine manners, right?” He knew, as he himself was in World War I. He was on the Italian front in Montello in 1918 and he went through the whole terror of the end of that war. 

So, this was the end of the war—and then [laughs], a Russian colonel came to live in our house. He had a servant who bathed him every day. We little girls could bathe by ourselves. But he, Mr Colonel, needed someone to bathe him [laughs]. That was a memorable experience, because the servant used to insist, “Ja niet komunist, ja zbozhnyj czeloviek” (“I am not a communist, I am a religious person”). Then they left, we bid them goodbye on the 9th of May 1945 under a blooming apple tree. Thus, the post-revolution era started. My father became the head of the trade academy, and he went through a lot of strife. For instance, students were trying to have some teachers expelled, cleaners didn´t want to work and so on. We have a weird relic of this time. A taxidermied skull, poorly prepared, of an unknown person which our daddy found in a bin. [Pause.] I still have it. [Pause.] There is a bullet hole, the lower jaw is missing, the front teeth are missing and there are one or two bullet holes in the head. Was it a German person, was he Russian? We don’t know. I am still considering handing it over—I should, right? Because these findings are being stored up now, but I don’t know where. In Germany? Or here? [laughs]. We don’t know who the person was, but for me, this was certainly a symbol of the war. 

And then we started to go to school. After fifth grade, I went to the first grade of the grammar school in Jánská street where Gregor Mendel gave his famous lecture on the heredity of peas in 1884, establishing the science of genetics. I studied there for a year and then the school reform came after February 1948. We perceived the [events of that] February as sort of destabilising—action committees and so on—but only in a certain sense. My father was a Social Democrat and then he eventually joined the Communist Party; he was also the presbyter of our protestant congregation, back in the ’50s, before it all tightened later. I was studying in the first grade of grammar school, it was a city girls’ Realgymnasium, later Jan Masaryk [Son of Tomáš Masaryk and foreign minister] Grammar School. Then the first reform came— the unified school system—and I had to go back to Královo Pole for secondary school. I think it influenced me because I learned to work diligently at grammar school, thoroughly. They required that and they used the polite form of address with us. At the secondary school, I could work half as hard and get top marks anyway, except for drawing. So, I lost my diligent attitude toward work for some time. For the whole time, I kept visiting the Land Museum and its archaeological expositions. As a child, I had a strong interest in archaeology.

Reichelová: How come? 

Wagnerová: I was interested in history. Originally, I wanted to study archaeology, but later when I was excavating in Slovany, in Old Town near Uherské Hradiště, I realised it was enough [laughs]. That was the first crisis of my life. I was quite lonely as a child, I had hobbies that most of my class did not share. I found a group of friends only after graduation from the unified school, when I went to the classical grammar school in Brno which had retained much of the classical grammar school ethos, professors, etc. You know, it’s important to realise: 1948 was a coup, of course—the Communist Party seized power in the then-republic—but our family, our generation was still living on the reverberations of the ’30s. Of the first Masarykian republic. And we lived in such an atmosphere even at grammar school. We were reading Romain Rolland. Of course, we did the Fučík badge of courage [Julius Fučík, a communist writer executed by Nazis in 1943. Soon he became part of the official propaganda of the communist regime – the badge of courage named after him promoted reading books between pioneers], but we were reading Romain Rolland and we were thinking, so to speak, in the Masarykian spirit. 

Then, in the first grade of grammar school, my classmates were now famous people like Pavel Švanda, the author, poet, and writer, we set up a group; there were six of us. We used to meet and discuss things. We had an immense feeling of freedom, and we didn’t feel any direct oppression. Of course, some families were affected [pensive]. Well, not really affected, but they perceived the situation more critically than I did because I was the only protestant in class and there was a sensitivity in terms of social questions in the protestant church which the Catholic church to a certain extent lacked. I definitely added a more leftist element than other members. Then, due to the combining of two grammar schools, an interesting personality arrived in our class, Jiří Paukert. You probably know him as Jiří Kuběna [art historian and poet]. He formed a connection between us and Prague’s Šestatřicátníci [“Thirty-sixers”], and we met them at summer hop picking, that was very nice. Right after the final exams, we hitch-hiked to Prague and met up at Nebozízek. Václav Havel [who would later become the last president of Czechoslovakia, until the dissolution in 1992 and first president of the Czech Republic from 1993 – 2003] was there, Ivan Koreček, Standa Macháček and others too, we were the Thirty-six Company, and this lasted for a year or two. They were also publishing a magazine, old Mrs. Havlová inspired us, Rozhovory 36 [“Dialogues 36”]. That’s where I published my first article “Death and Immortality”. [laughs] It was re-published recently, and I was surprised, reading it after all those years, that the line of my thoughts had already been there back then. That was really nice, that free fellowship, a fellowship of discussion. We were sitting at Nebozízek and our colleagues from Prague were drinking wine, which I wasn’t used to. But it was a wonderful company indeed. Today, it is interesting for me to see how intellectual elites emerge quite early. When they’re seventeen or eighteen years old. The resistance group Předvoj [“vanguard”], whose members were, for instance, philosopher Karel Kosík, law theorist Karel Bertlman, Radovan Richta and many others from this generation, for example Karel Hiršl, executed at the end of the war, they all started to position themselves quite strongly during the Protectorate—and this proves my point, too. The general mindset shifted more to the left, the belief in the Communist Party, which they didn’t know as Stalinist. They became communists through literature, not because of the Communist Party, which was illegal, by the way—but that’s not our topic. So, it was very liberating and very nice indeed. 

Then I started to study biology after graduation. Sociology was deemed to be a bourgeois pseudoscience back then. I couldn’t connect biology with philosophy as I would have liked to because it wasn’t allowed to study at two faculties at once. 

Reichelová: You mentioned that, even then, you perceived a difference between men and women, in their understanding of such innocent young groups. That all the men were longing for a career….

Wagnerová: [Interrupts] Well, when reading Dialogues 36 now, it is very surprising that Havel and Kuběna were thinking in terms of their life mission, in terms of their career, so to speak, what they were actually going to do. I have never thought in these terms. I was interested in the world, interested in history, I was reading a lot, I studied, and that was all very interesting for me—but the notion that I should be somehow significant, that wasn’t a question for me. As a child I would play and pretend to be an actress, but that was only a play. It wasn’t a serious intention. 

To participate in the life of society, yes, certainly. That was a crucial point for us Thirty-sixers: to be actively engaged in the life of society as it is, if that’s possible, without losing oneself and one’s ethical stance. There was a discussion about activism and whether it was possible or not. As far as I know, Havel asked this Vítězslav Nezval [Czech poet and translater; co-founder of the surrealist movement in Czechoslovakia], for instance, and several others how that could be possible. I think he went to ask Holan and several other representatives of Czech culture who were not officials in the Party. That was the question whether it was possible for one to be engaged or not, where to get engaged, to be able to handle it without collaboration with the party. 

In contrast to the previous one, in our generation were very few committed communists. I’m not saying that many people were not in the Party for various reasons but thinking back on what I saw in our generation, there were only a few staunch communists. That is in contrast to the previous generation who, in a sense, expected us to carry out what they wanted. I call it “to keep up and shut up.” [laughs] We—or no, I will speak only for myself—I didn’t really like the preceding generation because they were showing and telling us what to do. Like every new generation, we wanted to create something on our own, and that we couldn’t do. We, for example, found out that young authors in France were founding magazines when they were eighteen years old. We were not allowed to do that, but we did it anyway, and then the police came and told us to please stop it. They were polite, they didn’t punish anyone, but they were saying no. “That’s not possible, you simply can’t do this, you can’t publish a magazine.” That was the atmosphere we were living in. In our grammar school we had a new class master, Miroslav Karkan, who was a communist, but a critical one, which we didn’t know. He was a historian and he taught history very broadly, not in a dogmatic way. Just imagine, in 1953 we were in the mountains before graduation, and it was the 7th of March, and we were celebrating Masaryk’s birthday. In 1953. That was his idea. Then he became a staunchly reformist communist and I think he left the Party, but I am not sure about the details. I’m holding Miroslav Karkan in esteem as a professor and a class teacher, and I haven’t forgotten him. 

In my case, the question was what I should study, and my dad, too, was wavering between natural sciences and spiritual sciences. In the end, I decided to study biology, but I wanted to attend lectures on art history and I also wanted to study philosophy because we had Emanuel Rádl’s History of Biological Theories in our library. So, I said yes, I will study biology and I will be interested in the history of developmental theories. It was also certainly influenced by the fact that the biology department was not as ideologically burdened as philosophy. The humanities were much more ideologically directed. I started studying biology and I don’t regret it, because it taught me to be exact and to think in an exact manner. Of course, my thinking is a bit different, and everyone from my generation has huge gaps in, let’s say, philosophical education. There are gaps because we didn’t have access to it. There was Marxism and Marxist philosophy at school, I even passed an exam in it; economics too, that was obligatory. Our Marxism-leninism teachers were not bad. We had, for instance, Dušan Vodseďálek at the university, and he was an old communist.

Reichelová: Does he have something to do with Ivo Vodseďálek?

Wagnerová: [Laughs.] No, no, that’s someone else. I think he was a Vodseďálek but he was an old communist. One normally got on well with old communists because they were not dogmatic. I was very careful to make a distinction between pre-war communists, communists who joined the Party in ’45—they were fine. And then there were communists who joined the Party after February ’48, and they were fiercely dogmatic. We didn’t like them, because they didn’t have any grounding and they did what they were supposed to and obliged to do. But I must not forget, regarding my grammar school years, the Slánský trial [show trial against leading members of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia who were falsely accused of anti-state conspiracy] played a big role. Interestingly, I wasn’t affected by the trial of Milada Horáková [a Czech politician, was convicted of treason and executed in 1950; the verdict was annulled in 1968 and in the 1990s Horáková was fully rehabilitated] to the same extent, but I was very strongly affected by the Slánský trial because it was broadcast on the radio, and these voices which were throwing accusations at each other, made-up accusations. That was horrible from my point of view. Dad was a chemist, so I asked him, „Please tell me, what did they do to them?” And he told me he didn’t know of any chemical that could do this. He didn’t know how you could affect a person’s soul and slowly destroy it in such a way that the person would plead guilty to everything. The terrible thing was that when verdicts arrived, they stated, “of Jewish origin,” “of Jewish origin,” “of Jewish origin,” “of Jewish origin.” I have to say that for me, Judaism was connected only with Jesus Christ, but here, one encountered something that could be called anti-Semitism. These people were sentenced to death or to long prison sentences and it was understood to be something disgraceful— to be of Jewish origin, of Jewish origin, of Jewish origin. I remember how that affected me, that [being of] Jewish origin was taken to be a disgrace. That affected me deeply. I haven’t forgotten about these trials, but I don’t think we ever discussed it. 

When I think about it today, I would say, we lived with double consciousness those days. Spiritually we lived in the 30s, but the reality we lived in, was different and established by dogmatic Marxism-Leninism. And these two different consciousnesses weren’t standing against each other, but next to each other. 

Regarding my status as a woman, for example among Thirty-sixers: there were no women in the Prague group. It was an all-male group. In our group, there were three boys and three girls. But they always expected that we would accept the male worldview. We didn’t call it the male worldview at that time, but it was a male worldview. The way in which men defined certain things and so on, the notion that we would adopt their ways and that once we had memorized them, we would be accomplished [laughs]. Jiří Paukert and I, we liked each other. Jirka, I think, respected me, and I liked him and respected him, too. At university—I studied art history in addition to biology—we used to go on long walks together around the Lenin’s library and he used to tell me, „You’re good, Alena, but you can’t reach the heights of the male spirit.” 

Reichelová: Nobody would put it so explicitly anymore. 

Wagnerová: [No, No, No] Jirka told me this several times, but I also appreciated it. But obviously, this affects one’s soul. Certainly, in my generation, there were these aspects. In today’s generation, women reflect on the position of women very consciously. Very consciously. 

Reichelová: When your friend told you, „You’re fine but you’re not a man,” how did you feel? Did you take it as a compliment?

Wagnerová: [Pensive] Well, no. I didn’t take it as a compliment, I took it as a judgement but not as a verdict. It was his opinion. I don’t think I would have said at any point “Jirka, what you’re saying is bullshit.” You have to understand that in my generation, with regard to intellectual matters, our role model was the father, not the mother. My mum had a secondary school diploma, she was a graduate of Vesna in Brno, a school for female occupations, which meant a lot at that time, but we didn’t have female role models at the level we wanted to reach. My sister, who was a chemist and worked at the academy, says that women of the current generation are much more self-assured. This generation simply behaves in a completely different way. They are much more confident. She used to be completely alone there, or there were only two of them. 

Today’s situation is much different. But back then the times were like that, and also my view on women was that they were the helpers of man, albeit equal. That was very interesting for me when I started to write in 1965. I was on my way back from Jindřichův Hradec [city in the south of Bohemia] and I had one of my first short stories in my head and I thought, “There will be problems in my relationship because I will need much more space for myself. And that is exactly what happened. I left for Germany in 1969. It was a development of sorts. Certainly, from the very beginning, I understood there was equality in the family, but one has to slowly realise the specificity, what exactly it means to be equal. If you have a look at my book Cestou Životem, there is a short story about a huge and unjust revolt against Franz Kafka where I compare the women in his life, Milena Jesenská, Otla Kafková, Felice Bauer, etc. How their lives ended and how his did. It is important to realise that the female revolt costs an immense amount of strength, and it is linked with a deep uncertainty as you have to surpass male norms of perceiving the world that had been binding so far. You can get over them only by exaggerating a little. In the short story “Venkovská lékařka” (“Country doctor”), it is exaggerated. Today, I wouldn’t write it like that. 

At that time, I had to exaggerate it because back then I didn’t feel adequate as a woman. And I thought to myself that this revolt is a manifestation of my insufficiency in my role as a woman because I have always felt that we, men and women, have a common homeland, and this notion was destroyed by the revolt. We, as women, are servants in the male homeland. This is true even today, in the minds of some men. In their imagination we have our backyard, which is expanding, yes, but still, there are limits—and men are the ones who set them. I don’t know how today’s generation of women feel about it, but I think that these limits are present and that it is always possible to feel them. When I came to Germany, I felt them very strongly in the West German society. Nothing was expected from me, as a woman. It was just expected that I would start crying in a situation of crisis [laughs]. 

Now we are moving towards my experience as a woman, and in a sense, my relocation to West Germany meant a step back for me. From emancipation in Czechoslovakia to the traditional world where the life of a woman was defined by the family and children, and where the man was the leading force in the family. I have to say that my German husband did not accept this. Recently, I asked him how he was able to stick with me, such an emancipated woman. He told me that during the war, when his father was at the front, his mum ran a shop. So, he remembered her as a self-sufficient woman—it was probably because of this. But everywhere around you, in society, the feeling that nobody expected anything from you, was very strong. For example, our landlord came by and asked if my husband was home and I told him he wasn’t. I asked if he needed something, and he replied that he had a fuel bill. So, I told him I can pay for it too and he got completely terrified, saying, Seriously?” [laughs]. Then the second wave of the women’s movement came and was linked with the German student revolution, where female students were told to make coffee and that the woman question was not a problem for the revolution at all—so one of the female students threw tomatoes at these patriarchs and the second women’s movement emerged from that. 

That was obviously an enormous change in German society, certainly it was very radical. For me, it was too radical, as I grew up in a different context. I was already an emancipated woman from Czechoslovakia, so I didn’t have many needs and I didn’t need to re-formulate certain things as they were already clear to me. Also, in our country, women’s emancipation was not framed as a fight of women against men, as it was in the West. Men and women always fought against a certain power limit, part of the emancipation of the Czech nation was emancipation of woman. During socialist regime, those enemies were dogmatic officials. I am not saying that in our country, men were always supporting the emancipation of women [laughs], but the idea of women fighting against male patriarchs never existed. The national liberation required women, too. We have five women in the nineteenth century literary canon, German literature does not have that. We have two men who were promoting women’s emancipation, Náprstek and Masaryk. Germans are always shocked when I talk about Vojta Náprstek, they cannot understand. In Prussia, there was a reformer who used to say that women should be more educated so that they were not a source of shame to their husband [laughs]. That’s the justification for women’s emancipation in Germany [laughs]. I mean in the nineteenth century. 

Now, I would like to come back to my biology studies, thanks to whom, I think, I learned to think in an exact manner, since there are always clear facts which you can’t shape in any way. It was the second half of the 1950s and, interestingly, we already had Mendelian genetics with Professor Cetl. They had not arrived in Prague by that time. The Mendelian tradition in Brno was more deeply rooted after all. I received my degree in 1959 or ’60, and at that time, some spaces of freedom were getting more and more open. For instance, they were considering allowing people to study sociology again. This was an example of progress on the part of our Marxists. I remember that one of the Marxists, who wasn’t my, but my then-boyfriend’s teacher, invited us over once, and she was talking about French literature with us because she knew my boyfriend knew his way around it. We had a nickname for her, Spectre of Communism, and this was an enormous surprise for us—her and French poetry [laughs]. She was Jewish and she had been in Auschwitz, so there were many reasons for her to be as she was. 

At the university, we witnessed the first student demonstrations. I took part in them in 1956. For instance, we wanted only the Czechoslovak anthem to be played and not the Soviet one. That did not end very well as Hungary ended quite badly, but fortunately, we were not expelled because the rector of Masaryk University, professor Martinec, microbiologist and an old communist, was a sensible man. When he saw there was a rebellious spirit in me, he summoned me before I was about to specialize in microbiology and told me to be silent from now on [laughs]. He told me this in a very nice manner because he didn’t want me to get expelled. Then I finished my thesis, which was the first thesis in molecular biology at the university. It was a very demanding work, because at that time people didn’t know much about DNA and our laboratory equipment was outdated. The doctor who was supervising my thesis was politically reliable, which is why he was a guide at EXPO 1958 in Brussels. And, imagine this, he arrived and told us that the best and most peaceful promotion was the Vatican’s. We were astonished to hear him say this because he was a staunch communist. He was an exceptional microbiologist, and he was strengthening the position of microbiology at the university. In 1991 I did my viva under his guidance and got my Ph. D. in natural sciences, too. 

The Marxists were very diverse. For instance, in the philosophy department they were very good, they had a broad vantage point. I perceive the socialist era as an era that was too tight. There were many things we would like to have done but couldn’t. Intellectually, in terms of spirituality, literature and so on, we were living in the ’30s. Certainly, we felt strongly negative towards collectivisation—for example, children from the countryside couldn’t study—but we were lucky because there was little oppression around us. An attitude of deep anti-communism did not emerge in me, also because I felt that microbiology was not enough for me, and I missed the spiritual and human in it. So, I started to orientate myself more toward culture. I started to learn how to write and then I had the opportunity to write reports for Plamen [“Flame”] magazine. It’s necessary to say that the editor-in-chief of Plamen at the time, Jiří Hájek, is the person who made it possible for our generation to be published. It is a credit to Hájek’s, indeed. Czech society in the ‘60s was very dynamic, and it was concerned with humanisation of Marxism and with re-thinking the meaning of the revolution. The ‘60s made it possible for me to write and publish, and I have felt their influence throughout my life. 

Working on a journalist report about the resistance organization Předvoj was of enormous importance for me, as it helped me to understand the path of the generation before us, born in the mid ‘20s: how and why they had become communists during the war, not through the party, but through socialist literature. By then, Vladimír Janovic and me also met Karel Kosík, known then for his Dialectic of the concrete that we both gobbled up.

The ‘60s were a fruitful era, even though there were many setbacks. For instance, the meeting of writers in 1967, which was exceptionally critical, and it ended with the Association of Writers handing the Literární noviny (“Literary Newspaper”) over to the ministry—that was a setback indeed. 

Reichelová: Listening to the flow of your memories, I find it interesting that in the ’50s, there are debates with your peers, whereas in talking about the ’60s you keep mentioning institutions. 

Wagnerová: Ah, see! That’s an interesting question you’ve raised because it really shows that in the ’50s, institutions like magazines were inaccessible. It was possible to have a discussion on the private level where one could be free. In the ’60s, one could realise one’s potential in cultural institutions. That is an extremely interesting question. [Laughs] Of course, in the ’50s there were many discussion topics among the older generation, too. I am currently interviewing a member of this generation and he tells me how they used to debate all the time. For me, it is very interesting. He was born in 1924 and he tells me how when he came back from military service in 1953, he felt that the atmosphere had changed. On the level of these forever-debating Marxists, it already had changed in 1953 or in other words, after Stalin´s death. History of state socialism, as we call it now, is much more complicated because, on the one hand, there was dogmatic communist rule, but on the other hand, there was the broad base of communist intelligentsia, forever debating. The image we have of the ’50s should be much more vivid: it was not just the StB [State Security Police].  

In Hölderlin’s [German poet and philosopher in the 18/19th century; key figure in German romanticism] words: The state is a high wall, which encloses the garden with the flowers and fruits of human life. Enclosed in those walls is the living world that cannot be destroyed. But if you would bump against the wall, you’d get into hot water because the wall was very high. There were a lot of arrests and all that. And then there was the group of people who were quietly but persistently resisting the regime. 

Then we have the ’60s and loosening and renewing, the real reconstruction of reality as I call this era. Its full manifestation was during the Prague Spring [period of mass protests, political liberalization and an attempt to reform the communist government; January – August 1968]. It’s necessary to realise that there were two forces, the leftist intelligentsia and the Party. There were also reformist communists, but not all of them were reformists and they had varying opinions on what was possible and what wasn’t. Then there was a broad layer of leftist intelligentsia who were born in the ’20s, and all of them became reformist communists. There is a list from the StB from 1971 that I’ve seen, and it contains 1,155 names, all intellectuals, dangerous people, Kosík among them. One thousand fifty-five is a huge amount of people, and they certainly didn’t get all of them. This generation was turned into reformist communists by World War II. The Prague Spring came, Dubček [de facto leader of Czechoslovakia 1968 – 69; he tried to reform the communist government during the Prague Spring] took power and on the 25th of February he talked about Prague’s beauty. It was something unimaginable.

Then there was a democratization process going on, where the cultural circles didn’t realise that the radical change of culture cannot happen so quickly. For me and the circles I moved in, some things happened too quick. Then one day the Russians arrived. Yes, we felt the pressure from the Soviets, but we couldn’t imagine the Russians would eventually arrive. 

Somehow it must have been known on that Tuesday already because Ripellino [Italian Slavistiv scholar, poet, writer and translator], who was staying in Dobříš was urged to quickly leave for Italy and not to stay in Czechoslovakia. He left and he didn’t tell anybody. I was living in Letná and at 3:30 am, from the dark, I heard airplanes landing. That terribly reminded me of that morning in 1938, when I was a little girl and, in the darkness, I heard the same sounds. I can still feel the darkness inside me when airplanes land. Then Russian soldiers were going through Královská street in military vehicles. There were cars full of soldiers ready to shoot. That was the end. The nation was on the defensive, and it was a clever defence. These were exceptional and extremely significant days which one would experience in an intense way and which ended with the Moscow Protocol. It autumn it became clear that the sense of loyalty to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was stronger than the sense of loyalty to the Czech nation. That was in a sense also Dubček’s fault. He, to use harsh words, betrayed the Prague Spring. In August 1969, on the anniversary, I was in Prague, and I saw the demonstration and the long list of punishments signed by Dubček, a so called Club law. So, a certain faction of the Communist Party betrayed the Prague Spring; not those like Kriegel and others, they were not numerous. Then normalisation came but I didn’t experience it in Czechoslovakia because I had legally moved to West Germany.

Another interesting thing about the university was the theology department, which was completely separate from Charles university back then. They used to go do forestry temp jobs in the Jeseníky mountains. It was possible to join even if one wasn’t studying theology, so I went twice. It was in Aloisov, near Bruntál, and there was the intellectual society of young theologians like Jan Čapek, Petr Pokorný—who died recently—and Božena Komárková, who was a professor of philosophy at the original classical grammar school in Brno who couldn’t teach after 1948. She’d been in a concentration camp for her activities in the resistance organization Obrana národa, too. She used to give us lectures, about theology and philosophy.

And that was, obviously, unusually productive. It was a former German area where the houses in which we stayed were the houses of the old foresters who had left. We were once again confronted with the question of the expulsion of the Germans, because here and there you’d still find a little shoe or something like that. Questions came to mind automatically: Who lived here? Who were these people? Why did they have to leave? 

I still remember spending holidays in Sobotín in 1946. We went on a trip and stopped for a long time in a village near Šumperk and next to us there was a train full of Germans who were being expelled. I was sitting there, and a little girl came out of the train, she was very tired and warmly dressed. Because she was tired, she leaned against the train and I was afraid that the train would start moving, so I called out “Pass auf!” [“Be careful!”] to her, I told her to be careful. I suddenly realised that we were in such a different situation, that we were in a liberated homeland, happy that we had our Sudetenland again, and they were leaving. I also remember us going for a walk with mum on the road around the railway station in Sobotín. Near the station, there were several fully loaded carriages waiting for relocation. An old grey-haired woman sat on a feather quilt at the very top of one of them, waiting for the expulsion. And my mum turned and walked down a different road so that we wouldn’t have to walk past them. And I asked her why? She said she couldn’t go past them because she was ashamed. My parents did not bear a grudge against the Germans, and that was, I think, very important for me. 

Back then we used to meet at Professor Komárková’s place every week for philosophy lectures. I think professor Komárková liked young men better [laughs], because they were like the sons she never had. She didn’t like us girls very much [laughs], with a few exceptions. During normalisation, she had a liking for some of us, but generally, she didn’t like us very much. That is typical for that first generation of women to achieve a certain level of emancipation, whether by their university education or their work in the resistance or, as in her case, by teaching philosophy at a grammar school. In the ’30s, that was a significant occupation. These women made it on their own and they considered it their personal achievement; they didn’t foster solidarity. Only the next generation of women practiced solidarity. 

Reichelová: I am interested in how your 1960’s turned out.

Wagnerová: Wait, you mean later in Germany?

Reichelová: Yes, it feels like in the ‘60s you had already become interested in the field of women, and it might have been an obstacle for your private relationships, right? I don’t mean for the question to be too personal; I just mean to ask whether at that time, women who were emancipated and could articulate it like you had problems with young men or not?

Wagnerová: I wouldn’t say I had too many problems with young men. Speaking of the personal, my first husband was a poet, Vladimír Janovic. That was my first marriage, which originated as a rebellion against the home, against the family. It was a choice made by two young intellectuals who were trying to find their use in culture and in public life, to rebel. He, a poet and I, in the area of journalism, as a documentarian, etc. In a sense, we were successful, despite the critical situation of his family as his mother was gravely ill. For us, it was a significant experience. We lived with our family, which was how it was back then, because there were no flats. That was not ideal because you simply can’t make your own way of life; we’d had the experience of a three-generational family and my mum was inclined to reproduce the three-generational family and that wouldn’t work. Then we had a borrowed flat in Prague for two years, because Vladimír Janovic was Czech, and I was Moravian and he wanted to go back to Czechia and to Prague. I was strongly against it; it was hard for me to leave Brno but when my German husband came, I left Prague, I left Brno and I went to Germany [laughs]. 

Regarding this personal dimension of my life, we met in 1967 in Vienna, in the European House, which was very lively at that time, and it was possible to get a visa and go there for a conference. Miroslav Jodl, a sociologist, recommended me. I gave a lecture about art and the future. Which became my future because there was a European federalist in the audience, my future husband. We used to have discussions until midnight. I couldn’t speak German perfectly then and I am surprised it was not disturbing him and that we managed to become close. And for me, it was impossible to think about a different person than the one I lived with. So, we decided to break up [with our partners]. 

On the one hand, it was a marriage of protest, yes, but it was very important for me, and it gave me a lot. In many respects, Vladimír Janovic was more forward-looking than I was. But it didn’t last long, because my marriage to my German husband was a marriage of return to family tradition, and my husband was very similar to my father. It was the year 1969 when I came to the Federal Republic. I am not an emigrant, I simply moved out. 

Reichelová: That was possible?

Wagnerová: In 1969, it was possible. I had to give up my heritage and the things that were connected to it. They wanted me to pay for my studies. I responded that the Masaryk University devalued my studies when it did not allow me to work as a teacher, because I would have been expected to leave the church. I didn’t want to. I had some conflicts with the church, but this option seemed cowardly. When religion was persecuted, it was good to stick with it. 

Reichelová: In your memoirs, you write that you were trying to study sociology in Germany, but the situation was not quite normal.

Wagnerová: [laughs] I studied German literature and then I wanted to catch up with sociology and switch, but it was sort of difficult because there were only two professors. One of them was a Hungarian refugee who almost had a fit whenever he heard the word communism and the other one was a staunch Catholic.

When the slightly delayed student riots began at Saarbrücken university, there was a young man studying sociology, a really wild leftist, who, whenever a seminar was starting, would say, “Anyone has a right to propose a topic for the seminar and I propose this, who agrees and who doesn’t.” Many years later, a person told me that he was sitting in the same class and that I was the only one who said that I didn’t see any reason to change the original topic [laughs]. I was one revolution older/wiser, because I saw how [in Czechoslovakia] after February both professors and students were expelled from universities; so, for me, this revolution was sort of wild, primitive, useless and non-strategic at the same time. 

I had to leave sociology because I couldn’t stand it mentally. Everything I said during these revolutionary meetings was obviously wrong. 

Then I got the opportunity to write about women in socialism and it was interesting for me, so I interrupted my course of German literature. I started to write this monograph as a comparative study of the situation for women in West Germany and the situation for women in Czechoslovakia, taking into consideration the situation for women in other socialist countries as well, but there was very little literature about that. However, there was a big problem: sociology in West Germany was much more theoretically and analytically developed than our fledgling sociology. It meant a lot of empirical work with huge data sets containing questions like Why is the woman employed? For what reasons is she not employed? —solid empirical work which, however, did not lead to the creation of any theory. These are, however, very precious studies, which until 1961 were claiming that due to the emergence of the socialist state, the woman question was solved, there was no problem. This is also what Libuše Háková wrote in 1961 and in 1966: that there are still some conditions to be met. In the ’60s, sociology was evolving, but it couldn’t reach the level of the Western sociology. I got hold of materials for all my sociological studies, but I had to try to raise it to the level of sociologist thinking in West Germany. I think that my study is the only existing monograph on women in socialism in Czechoslovakia. 

Then I wrote two more things on this topic: One of them was about woman and employment. At that time, there were discussions about women’s employment and there was a popular theory that stated that the socialisation of a child in the first three years of life is essential and that the mother, necessarily the mother, has to be present. Mothers who go to work before the three years are up, are hurting their children. The emerging wave of repression in Germany directed against women who wanted to be employed, was very interesting. A completely undemocratic and utterly repressive wave. In socialist Czechoslovakia, the big issue of deprivation was treated in much more humane terms than in democratic West Germany. The whole question of women’s emancipation was much more advanced in Czechoslovakia than in West Germany. Nobody likes to hear that nowadays. Especially anti-communists don’t like to hear that.

Reichelová: West Germans don’t either, right?

Wagnerová: In West Germany, everything was much more restricted. Paragraph 1356 of the family law stated that a woman had a right to be employed only if it was not harmful to her work in the family and in her marriage. That was it, and the law didn’t change until the late ’70s.

Reichelová: If I’m not mistaken, you adopted two children in Germany? Was the situation less intense then?

Wagnerová: You mean our children? We adopted our first child in 1976 and our second one in 1978.

Reichelová: And the repressions were weaker at that time?

Wagnerová: [Laughs] Well, not really. When you needed to visit the psychological advisory centre, you got a form first which read: mother, employed, unemployed, how many hours per week. [Bangs on the table.] I put it away and left. It wouldn’t be like that today. For instance, when a child was wetting the bed and its mother was at home, it was a trial. When a child was wetting the bed and its mother was employed, it was because of her being employed.

Today, the situation throughout all of Germany is completely different. Completely different. You can see a lot of young men with children. They carry them in their arms, in a pram, they have them sitting behind their neck. It wasn’t like that in the past. When the Wehrmacht occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, those soldiers were astonished to see men walking with prams. And my uncle, who was a legionary, had to procure civilian clothes because he was not allowed to walk with a pram while in uniform. Well. [laughs] Well, that was the ‘30s you know. Things used to be like that, but today, the situation is very balanced. Especially this generation of young men. Parents often divide their time so that first he is on leave for a while and then she is on the leave for a while. This is such progress. But obviously, the financial sector and banking still is a male domain. The important power is in the hands of men. And it is not a coincidence that the first female chancellor, Angela Merkel, is from East Germany, as she had a different experience growing up than those who grew up in West Germany. Her independence is on a completely different level.

Reichelová: It is quite interesting that there was an analogue of normalisation [the period after the soviet intervention in 1968 till the Velvet revolution in 1989] everywhere. In Czechia, the main anti-communist narrative is based on the interpretation that normalisation came from the outside and it was, in fact, subjugation to the foreign. The same narrative is not plausible for West Germany, but still, the situation tightened after the ’60s.

Wagnerová: You can’t say the situation got tighter in the ’70s while there was normalisation in Czechoslovakia. At that time the second women’s movement was gaining influence in Germany. When a new movement emerges in capitalism, like the Green movement or the women’s movement, the first reaction would be to ridicule it. They would try to degrade it by ridiculing it, not by abolishing it. If they were not successful, they would begin to acknowledge it and start to see some interesting aspects in it which it are possible to make use of for the political system. And they also would see certain aspects which are subversive and present in any social movement and which could potentially be dangerous for the system, and these could be easily suppressed by careful, handy strategies related to acknowledgement and institutionalization, with the system being safe. The institutionalisation of the women’s movement meant, for instance, that you had female representatives to speak about the woman question. In the city, at the university, in the factory, everywhere—and these representatives were not elected but chosen. They are part of the system, which is anti-democratic, in a sense. Thus, the women’s movement was institutionalised, formalised. Some of the women, that were part of the first wave, got jobs at universities. What has been the strongest aspect of this second women’s movement was certainly a different economic question: the problem of caregiving, unpaid work and so on. Simply a different world, in which men and women would share their homeland. And this subversive moment was lost with institutionalisation. The Greens had this subversive moment, too. Due to their acknowledgement though, this moment was lost, and it is being renewed only today by the obvious, undeniable impending climate crisis and ecological crisis.

Reichelová: In this last phase, the Green movement has been emptied by the discourse of technologization, which states that it is a technological problem, not a political one; that it is not a problem of social relations, not a problem of capitalism, of the inequality between the first, second and third world.

Wagnerová: And you consider this emptying? 

Reichelová: I think that techno-optimism has emptied the Green movement a great deal, yes. 

Wagnerová: Yes, yes.

Reichelová: What was the problem with the women’s movement? When did it lose its subversive moment?

Wagnerová: Well, with institutionalisation.

Reichelová: Which is made personal in the form of these representative women, right? It was enough to say, “You women are everywhere already. What more do you want?”

Wagnerová: “What more do you want? What more do you want?” You see, when you are a female official in a city, you have certain obligations, you can’t do certain things. It means that institutionalisation always brings the emptying. We can observe this in every movement. When Christianity as a movement turns into the Church, it loses something, right? And that something is not little. Well. So, these are the problems. The peak is that men have a big cake of supremacy, and they give bits of it to women. You get bits of this big cake, so you think something’s changing. You lose your subversive drive, like in the case of the Church. Look, Jesus says, “Love your enemies”. These are great, strong words that make it possible for us not to be inhumane. When you love your enemies, you can’t be inhumane. And what’s become of it? Does the Church do it? Does it love its enemies? It doesn’t. Oh, such wrongs have been done by Christian churches. Institutional mischief [laughs.] But unfortunately, the thing is that institutions must exist. A movement per se can’t continue as only a movement. It must become an institution, sooner or later, if it wants to gain influence.

Reichelová: That is very interesting, right?

Wagnerová: Is it?

Reichelová: Because in the case of Czechoslovakia, institutionalisation came first. It came first and was not preceded by any women’s movement.

Wagnerová: The problem is that in Czechoslovakia, women got their emancipation politically, from above. That meant they didn’t learn how to fight. Women in the West had to fight for everything, which meant they had to fight and reach for the political level and create theory at the same time. In Czechoslovakia it was a part of the politics of the socialist state, of Marxism: the liberation of women is part of the liberation of man. Women accepted it, but to fight . . . There was the Czechoslovak Union of Women, and it could say, for instance, “We need to make a crosswalk for children in prams to cross the street,” right, or something like that. Specific things from which women benefited. But these women did not learn how to fight. Because in 1989, when the first sexist ads started to emerge, like “I have already had the He-Goat” [refers to a commercial of the czech beer brand Kozel (“He-Goat”) that built his add on the joke of “having a beer” of “He-Goat” being simultaneously “having sex” with the “He-Goat”], women were only laughing to it. Brothels were opening up. Did women protest the brothels? Did they not realise that brothels mean renewal of woman’s subjugation in the sexual field?

Reichelová: But Pražské matky (“Prague Mothers”) emerged in 1989 and they used the position of the mother, the real mother who cares for children, to make women questions a public topic. 

Wagnerová: Yes, yes. They started and they were the only real women´s movement, these Prague Mothers. Are they still active?

Reichelová: I think they are. But they are grannies now, so now it would be more like Prague Grannies. And I think they don’t have the rebellious spirit anymore, or the position. 

Wagnerová: Yes. Because there are maternal centres for threatened mothers and institutions for families like Ruth Kolínská’s project. I took part in establishing these maternal centres because I was wondering what was going to happen: capitalism will come, and it will get worse for women. I was lucky enough to meet Ruth Kolínská on Epiphany in 1990, we got in touch, and everything was very spontaneous; she was interested. Then I realised they had to see it for themselves, and when they went to Munich and saw a maternal centre there, they decided to establish one. Such a blessing—Ruth is a mother of six and what she did was magnificent. I couldn’t have managed. 

Reichelová: When you were crossing the border in the ’70s and ’80s, I suppose you were keeping your eye on parallel developments between the two countries? Naturally, when distanced from one’s everyday life, one can observe the difference more clearly.

Wagnerová: But you know, my visits to Czechoslovakia were sad.

Reichelová: Did you consider the country as stagnant as it is normal to present normalisation nowadays?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Wagnarová: In the second half of the ‘80s, it started to change. The Masaryk Society was founded, people used to meet. In 1988 it was the seventieth anniversary of the republic. Then it got very strong. I was in Prague back then. Wenceslas square was full, many young people, everybody unbended, also many secret agents, but you could identify them by thrown cigarette stubs. We were at a loss. And the demonstrations with those keys, how big was that. It was the renewal of the first republic. It was beautiful and then it was all lost, right? Then Václav Klaus [Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1992 – 1993; president of the Czech Republic 2003 – 2013] came along and said, “Whoever writes well, sells well.” He said that Kafka was of no worth and it all started to be neoliberal capitalism. Neoliberalism simply gained the upper hand. Throughout the world.

Reichelová: You said that in 1990 you assumed that capitalism would bring many social problems.

Wagnerová: Social problems, yes. It’s necessary to realise that during ´70s the elevation of society, German society, connected with the second women’s movement; it was a massive dynamic, like in our country in the ’60s. People were discussing everything: a reduction of working hours, a long list of essential questions which are being repeated today. It represented immense progress. The Social Democrats were in power. They improved the family law, things like that. And then Kohl [German chancellor from 1982 – 1998] came to power in 1982. And that was the end. Kohl was replaced by Schröder [German chancellor from 1998 – 2005]. British Blair [Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK from 1997 – 2007] and German Schröder, Social Democrats, both accepted neoliberalism. Neoliberalism literally spread all over the world. And then the simple clauses began, deregulation, privatisation, efficiency, individualism; and Social Democracy accepted it—out of necessity, apparently. 

And yet, it is exceptionally interesting. I was in the women’s committee of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. And I always used to say that this was a topic for a project, how the situation for women changes and how the situation for women is marginalised by the return of capitalism. And nobody wanted to accept that. I was saying that this was a crystal-clear example of why capitalism couldn’t liberate women. I proposed this several times, but nobody agreed to it. They were simply not able to think like this.

In our country, on the other hand, anti-communism made society reactionary regarding women. Sexism was not present before. Maybe some chaps said a sexist joke at some point, yeah, but what [current Czech president Miloš] Zeman dares, no communist official during socialism would have dared to do.