It's that man again. Jan Kavan's appointment as foreign minister brings back bleak memories of Prague politicsby Susan Greenberg / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Jan Kavan, the new Czech foreign minister, was the first man I ever met who had me composing his obituary on our first introduction, more than 11 years ago. It was not so much the inherited heart condition as Kavan’s pronounced sense of his own place in history, his connection with sweeping events and lofty goals. But perched on such a pedestal, it was that much easier to fall off.
Kavan-a leading dissident activist in London following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968-became a focus of controversy following the 1989 “velvet revolution,” when he was accused of having been an agent of the StB, the communist secret police. Kavan fought to clear his name in the Czech courts and succeeded two years ago, re-entering politics as a senator for the Social Democrats. Following elections this June the party formed a minority government and he became foreign minister. But with his high profile restored, the attacks have revived, too.
Even without the StB accusations Kavan was always a controversial character with a gift for making enemies. I know about this gift from first hand. He was one of those people who always ended up meaning trouble. When I saw the headlines re-emerge this summer my first thought was: “Not him again!” But when I looked over my old papers and re-read the definitive essay by Lawrence Weschler in his book Calamities of Exile (which finds Kavan not guilty as charged but probably unsuited to public life), the bad memories returned, and they were not about Kavan.
When the accusations first emerged against Kavan in March 1991, I was in Prague as Czech and Slovak correspondent for the Guardian. I knew Kavan well, having joined the band of people who carried messages to Czech dissidents and helped out at Palach Press. Like many others, I had subsequently fallen out with him, and when the accusations surfaced my first reaction was to believe them. I wrote in my diary, “When you first find out someone you know well was a spy, your body flinches, as in the moment when you know you are about to have an accident but you can’t prevent it.” But I quickly experienced another revelation. While the public, and some of his friends, realised for the first time what a flawed bastard he was, I realised the same thing about Czech politics.
The sheer poisonousness of that…