New boss at Czech TV lied to board about Communist Party membership

Petr Dvořák shown to have lied about his KSČ membership in a post-appointment interview with the public channel he now heads

Bývalý generální ředitel TV Nova Petr Dvořák se stal na šest let šéfem České televize. | na serveru | aktuální zprávy Bývalý generální ředitel TV Nova Petr Dvořák se stal na šest let šéfem České televize. | foto: © ILUSTRAČeská pozice
Bývalý generální ředitel TV Nova Petr Dvořák se stal na šest let šéfem České televize.

The newly appointed head of Czech public broadcaster Czech Television (ČT) has been exposed for lying about his Communist Party past in an interview carried on the station he now heads.

New ČT general director Petr Dvořák categorically maintained that he was never a member of the party in an interview on the broadcaster’s flagship second channel late-evening current affairs slot on Wednesday, only hours after hearing that he had landed what is probably the country’s top media position.

Dvořák, the former boss of the ČT’s biggest rival, commercial station Nova TV, corrected the interviewer questioning him about his Communist Party membership, saying that while he had applied for membership as a youth, it had never been granted. But Czech daily Lidové noviny splashed its Friday front page with the headline “New ČT boss Dvořák lied. He was a regular member of the KSČ [Communist Party of Czechoslovakia].”‘According to my impression, I never became a member of the KSČ.’

The paper said a simple request to the National Archive came up with the bare, but damning, details of Dvořák’s party membership card dated September 20, 1989, with his application date, June 1987.

Almost two months after his application was accepted, the regime was crumbling in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall and realization that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s famous “Sinatra Doctrine” (that satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe could go it alone, “do it their way,” independent of Moscow) would hold true.

The ČT head is, however, sticking with his basic story. “According to my impression, I never became a member of the KSČ. I did not take part; I only attended a couple of party meetings at the department,” Dvořák said, referring to his days at the Czech Technical University in Prague (ČVUT) where he was a student.

Dvořák said his main motivation for getting full Communist Party membership was the desire to travel abroad, a favor that the regime was more likely to give to party members whose loyalty, and returnability, it believed it could rely on.

He said he afterwards regretted his application for the coveted party card. “I later recognized it as a mistake which I tried to correct as soon as possible,” Dvořák said, adding that he applied for his membership application to be cancelled “around November 18 or 19.” The paper pointed out that those days fell at the weekend.

If Dvořák’s hazy recollections are correct, his application would have occurred after the brutal police suppression of a students’ march in Prague on November 17, which caused national revulsion with the regime, and is regarded as the spark which launched the so-called Velvet Revolution.

Strikes were immediately declared by students in the wake of the violence with other sectors quickly rallying, even privileged workers in heavy industry which they party had  believed it could depend on. In less than a month the communist regime had collapsed and the first government in more than 40 years not dominated by the party had been formed.

Revisionist history

One historian sought out by Lidové Noviny, Petr Blažek, said Dvořák’s version that he was not even aware his Communist Party membership had been accepted was unlikely, as he would have already been drawn into the party machinery and life when he made his application to be a card-carrying member.

“The two-year delay from the original application, which applied then, meant that people were obliged to take part in party life,” added Blažek, who specializes in twentieth century history and oppostion to the communist regime.‘The two-year delay from the original application, which applied then, meant that people were obliged to take part in party life.’

He described the application, at a time when even top officials had lost real belief in the party doctrine, as overwhelming a “moral question.” He added that it was highly unlikely that the National Archive records could have been tampered with.

Initial reactions from ČT’s board suggest they will overlook Dvořák’s youthful miscalculation; board chairman Milan Uhde, who clearly championed Dvořák’s clear victory in the final run-off for the six-year post, said he did not regard it as grounds for dismissal.

Uhde added that the Czechoslovak communist regime was already going through it agonizing death throes in September and it was understandable “if some candidate might forget or not know that they had become a [party] member.” While many say the writing was on the wall for the regime, its sudden fall actually took most people by surprise, including the leader of the Velvet Revolution and future president, Václav Havel.

Lustration laws

Dvořák is far from alone among top Czechs with long or fleeting communist pasts. Dvořák’s predecessor as ČT director general, Jiří Janeček, became a full member of the KSČ in 1979 and terminated his membership in 1989. One of the broadcaster’s former head of programing, František Lambert, was exposed in 2007 as a member of the party and the party’s civilian militia. Former Finance Minister Vlastimil Tlustý (Civic Democratd, ODS) was also a party member, though he maintained this later held him back from getting to the very top.
After the Velvet Revolution, so-called lustration laws were passed banning top party members, officials, members of the judiciary, state company managers, people in the media and members of the secret police and high-ranking army officers from continuing to hold public posts.

Lambert’s example showed, if it was not already clear, that such bans could be circumvented by some basic fraud. The communist-era records were also tampered with before the end of the regime, raising suspicions that incriminating files were destroyed so that some individual could continue under the country’s new management without any problems.

Many top communists simply adapted to capitalism, often using their past connections and knowledge of how the machinery worked and what was worth plundering in the new circumstances. Many made a success of their new incarnations.