The Seeds of the Prague Spring

Ivan Klima in Eurozine:

In 1967, I worked, together with a number of fellow writers, on the literary weekly Literární noviny, which had become by then a kind of opposition mouthpiece. Above all else, it was our experience with censorship that led us, at the June 1967 Writers’ Congress, to devote so much space to issues of power and methods of suppressing freedom of speech. The speeches made on that occasion came to be viewed as the prelude to the Prague Spring of 1968.

Although Literární noviny acted rebelliously, it could not escape the constraints of the socialist system: it had its due quota of newsprint, and it was distributed by PNS (Postovní novinová sluzba, the postal news service),the only body set up for the purpose. In its advertising, PNS prided itself on importing some 5,000 titles from the Soviet Union and other “friendly” countries. Since Literární noviny was a licensed periodical, the editor received daily reports from CTK (the Czechoslovak Press Agency), including those to which only a privileged minority of functionaries and journalists had access. These reports, duplicated on red paper, usually carried commentaries broadcast by Radio Free Europe, which was otherwise subject to constant jamming, or translations of articles that had appeared in leading west European or American newspapers and magazines and concerned countries of the Soviet bloc. We were granted access to this kind of information so that we could better counteract “enemy propaganda”. We were not minded to counteract it; for us, these “red reports” were a major source of information and knowledge.

Our most important and obvious source was, however, the very reality in which we lived.