Covert Defiance: An Interview with Former Dissident Jan Urban

By Costanza, Justine A. | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Covert Defiance: An Interview with Former Dissident Jan Urban


Costanza, Justine A., The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


Prior to November 1989, individuals could be detained by the Czech Communist Party simply for holding a meeting. how did you, Vaclav Havel, and other members of the dissident movement manage to hold meetings and eventually organize a mass movement?

We were never able to organize a mass movement. It simply happened through demonstrations on 17 November 1989. Remember this was before email. It was a time before mobile phones. If you needed to communicate, you did so by leaving messages and trying to meet as often as possible. On some occasions it worked. But often it did not.

Describe the media prior to the Velvet revolution in 1989 and why, despite censorship, it managed to play such an indispensable role in overthrowing the communist regime.

There were three categories of media. The first, official media, did not help at all. On the contrary it was a tool of the counterrevolution. It was the media of the regime. We had four or five different newspapers, but if you laid them all on a table, they would all cover the same topics. Sometimes they would even use the same headlines. All of them would go through censorship before being printed.

The second [category] was the unofficial independent media which had an extremely low circulation. According to secret police estimates, around 5,000 copies circulated but only about 1,000 people were able to read it each month. The foreign radio stations were the third and most powerful media that we used. Our collaboration with the Voice of America, Federal Radio Liberty, and the BBC was the most effective way of communicating our ideas and information to our citizens.

It was all about fear and security. If you were caught with an independent medium, you would get into trouble and face imprisonment. If you listened to foreign radio in the privacy of your own home, hopefully no one would report you and you'd be safe. Sometimes when I would lean out of my window, I would hear foreign broadcasting all around me. It was funny because half of my neighbors were army officers. It was less risky compared to any other means of finding independent information.

As a member of the dissident movement prior to November 1989, did you expect that the regime would collapse as it did, if at all?

No. I never believed I'd see the end. I didn't think about it because it seemed impossible. None of us were prepared for it.

On 17 November 1989, you and fellow dissidents partook in what you have described as a "huge tragic mistake" that would have lead to your arrest had the regime not fallen before they could catch you. You wrongly informed all of your media contacts, including foreign broadcasting stations, that a student named Tomas Smid was killed by police during a large demonstration; the student's death was later revealed to be a hoax. how much of a role do you think the event played in the ensuing days of the Velvet revolution?

It was a crucial moment because the whole regime was built on a social deal. The regime was to take care of decent living standards for most of the population, especially compared to other communist countries. In exchange you had to shut up. It worked beyond imagination. Then came this information [about the student's death] and the deal was off. If you humiliate people and teach them to humiliate themselves, it's one thing. If you start killing their kids then there is no deal. This misinformation, this professional blunder, electrified an entire population and made the change possible.

Despite confirmation of this hoax, there were several confirmed reports of a protestor lying on the ground in order to probe media coverage of the event. Yet it has been debated whether someone could lie and remain stationary on the ground for four hours in the cold. what do you believe actually happened?

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I don't know. It is still debated today. There was even a parliamentary commission put in place to investigate this. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Covert Defiance: An Interview with Former Dissident Jan Urban
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.