By Will Watts
The Leadership Forum had a special guest last week. Executive Director of External Communications Dennis Miller introduced Vaclav Rericha, founder and owner of Olomouc Training Center, in Olomouc, Czech Republic, and a professor at Palacký University. Miller explained that Rericha is fluent in several languages and is one of the few fluent speakers of Old English in the world.
Rericha is one of only three fluent speakers of Old English in the Czech Republic. After a brief introduction, he began to tell his story.
He was born in 1949, the year after the communists took over the Czech government. He enjoyed Western music, and in particular loved 1960’s rock and roll.
“I learned English from the Beatles, because I wanted to know what they said,” Rericha said.
He learned to play rock music by listening to illegal radio broadcasts. Rock music was a major influence on his life, he said.
Rericha would often spend his days learning to play rock and roll over a six pack of beer. One day, however, everything changed.
In 1968, Czechoslovakia went through a period of liberalization. The government sought to liberalize the media, decentralize the government’s authority and allow more self expression. In August of 1968, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact invaded to put a stop to the reforms.
Rericha was minding his own business, listening to his music in his home. The broadcast was interrupted by the news that they were being invaded. It said that the Russians were in Rericha’s neighborhood, and looking to arrest political dissidents.
Rericha looked out his window and saw Russian tanks. The Czechs took apart street signs, threw Molotov cocktails and attempted to slow down the Warsaw Pact troops, but it was no use. The Prague spring was over, and so were the reforms.
“What amazes me about communism, which is an extreme form of socialism, is how it reduced the eighth richest country in the world…When I visited with my wife in 1991, it looked like a giant ghetto,” said Miller.
Rericha described periods without toilet paper, and the inefficiencies of Soviet bureaucracy.
“In a planned economy, people lose initiative,” he said. “I think [government] should wait and see if people blossom. Government should be like a zen master who sits back and watches people grow…Czechoslovakia is proof that socialism does not work. It is a nice dream, but it does not work.”
Rericha said that all news was government controlled. There were multiple newspapers, but the only difference was their topic of focus, not their viewpoint. The Communist Party controlled everything. They had free education, but it was limited by the communists.
He described a dystopia full of inefficiency, desperation and crumbling, subsidized government flats.
Rericha relayed several jokes from the era. He explained that humor was their only way of maintaining sanity.
Eventually, Rericha left Czechoslovakia, and went hitchhiking in England. He got a job in a facility processing cauliflower. Before long, he was a foreman.
He discussed the role of propaganda in the Soviet Union and warned about the dangers of that happening to us. Rericha warned against internet censorship, and to always stay vigilant.
When asked what it was like when the USSR finally fell and his people were free, Rericha said, “It was the light at the end of the tunnel… we celebrated like crazy.”