Jan Sladek is a lecturer at Charles University- Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. During our stay in Prague, we had the pleasure to meet and interview him. One of the very first questions was about the Plastic people of the universe as we were very interested in finding out what’s his opinion regarding the way the communists treated the dissidents. Here is what he said:
“This is a paradigm case of the totalitarian regime. Harriet a famous thinker of the 21st century, had this idea about totalitarian regime. She said “in a normal democratic regime you can separate private sphere, public and state sphere. Example in universities you have private, public and state universities. You can have your private life and have public. For example, I am a teacher and lecturer, and if I go to a political party I will try to get some share of the state power… that is how it works.
In totalitarian regime one of the best pictures you can find in 1984 by Howell, it basically sees no difference between this. In Howell there is a quote where he said “sex is an empty state thing”, that is to say your private intimate thing is seen by the state as an offensive. This is what happen to Plastic People of the Universe- a bunch of crazy guys making songs or singing songs de-picturing the consummate society. There was a great joke about this consummate in a country with shortage economy. A group of people who say we are consuming in the society, they didn’t even have strong anti—regime or anti political quotes but the regime was so sensitive to its opposition and felt it everywhere.
Even these things that are seen as just a normal, public expression is seen offensive and felt as an ethic on the state. Even the fact that the people choose to have long hair (which is a private thing)… the regime felt it has a state opposition. what happened was that they went into trials, most of them went to jail, this was what triggered the opposition and charta 77, which was the appeal to the court for human right and the appeal was based on the ground that Czech Republic sign a treaty saying as a country that they would defend civil liberty.
This is one of the trigger and one of the pictures of how silly the regime reacted to any kind of unconformity to identity. Fighting against music group and make it triggers the biggest opposition in the Czech republic/Czechoslovakia at the time “I think this a joke of history”
To conclude this, even though we have many face of communism and many face of dissident, one thing was sure that the regime in Czech republic was very sensitive, it was very paranoid and this is what basically, with together in the shortage economy lead to the end because if you go against people who play music then no one feels safe in the country because they were not politicians and they were not political. So if you fight this people will be afraid, and when people start getting afraid due to what they say, insecurity comes in.”
Interview transcribed by: Lesoda Otu-Iso
The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) is the most representative rock band from Prague, Czech Republic (1968–1989).
This avant-garde group went against the Communist regime and due to its non-conformism, its members suffered serious problems such as arrests. Banned and jailed under Czech communism, the Plastic People of the Universe helped to bring the regime down in 1989.
Vratislav Brabenec (saxophone, clarinet, vocals, composition, lyrics) and a member of The Plastic People of the Universe- told us his incredible story.
“Communism is something like a religion…
It is known that the communists and the Bolsheviks and the soviet institutions were built like a catholic church. Same structure. “ I know about you, you can’t go higher because we know your sins. More sins you have, more important you are for us”. They know everything about you. […]
For me, the 70s were very bad, because I was part of a band, the Plastic People of the Universe… we had lots of concerts […] and because I was a musician, I was in jail for 8 months.
I was working as a landscape architect for the historical garden; one day they came and put me with the other people, in interrogations (very heavy interrogations) and they put me in jail.
They didn’t want to put in jail people that were workers, but intellectuals. I didn’t finish the study at theology, another guy from the band didn’t finish the architecture… but our manager finished the art history. So, I was in jail for just 8 months, but our manager spent 8 and half years in the heaviest jail. Our manager wasn’t a performer, he was an organizer and also an art historian and jail happened because of his activity, the influence for the younger generation. So it was an example of how some fucking intellectuals wanted to have an influence on the younger generation with their crazy music, with their crazy poetry.
In the 80s I was kicked out of my country, striped from my citizenship, I was moved to Austria …Yeah.. they kicked me out . The secret police told me “you have two possibilities: to go to the jail again or to go abroad”. My daughter was 2 years old, my wife thought it would be better to move abroad, to go somewhere else…
In the beginning they told us that they would imprison us for 5 years or more , and after that they changed because a lot of things about our band , our cultural activities were published into the west, it helped us , and a lot of writers from the west helped us, because they wrote some protests to the communism government and they didn’t expect that… the communists didn’t expect that. Especially our former president… Vaclav Havel helped us a lot, he helped us after the jail again. We were recording in his farm, we had some secret concerts in his bar, and other things were happening, we were funny lucky people.!”
Interview transcribed by: Eduard Vasile