Inside Outsiders

In explaining the fall of Communism, most analysts talk about pressure from the inside (dissidents) coupled with pressure from the outside (Gorbachev, Reagan). But equally important were the inside-outsiders. These were people from the region who found themselves in other countries as a result of war, uprising, or other dislocations. The Hungarian-born financier George Soros helped opposition movements with the tools they needed - like copy machines - to organize more effectively. The Polish-born Pope in particular provided inspiration to the Solidarity trade union movement.

And people like Milan Horacek, who escaped Czechoslovakia in 1968, played a key role both in the country he left and the country that became his new home.

In West Germany, Horacek was a co-founder of one of the historic parties of the Cold War era: the Greens. He also set an important precedent by becoming a Bundestag member who was obviously not originally from Germany. At the same time, he was supporting imprisoned activists like Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Adam Michnik in Poland.

As importantly, perhaps, Horacek brought these two worlds together. He established linkages between the independent left in West Germany and the dissident culture further to the east. The formed what might be called an "Ostpolitik from below" that worked in parallel with the official "East Policy" of the West German government designed to promote détente with the Communist governments to the east.

"Our political exiles, but also a big part of the independent Left, kept in mind the experience of what the Soviets did during the Spanish War and what Stalin did before and after the Second World War, for instance killing Trotsky," Horacek told me one evening in Prague. "They knew that he was not a democratic politician, that he killed people, and so there was no trust in him. But the idea of reducing armaments was suitable to both sides. We were still kind of skeptical because we did not know what concessions would be necessary on behalf of the West towards the Soviet Union. We remembered 1953 in East Berlin, 1956 in Budapest, 1968 in Prague, and other steps the USSR took in order to maintain its power. But still we could see how Bahr's motto of 'change through rapprochement' bore some fruit up until the 1975 conference in Helsinki."

I first met Horacek at Klub Konicek, which is located in the Lucerna, a building that was once owned by the Havel family. It was returned to the family after 1989 and is now owned by Ivan Havel, the brother of Vaclav Havel. It is a large building with many shops and restaurants. Hanging from the ceiling at the very center is King Wenceslas riding a dead horse (a sculpture by David Cerny that mocks the official statue in Wenceslas Square). Klub Konicek is a private room in the basement where Charter 77 signers, Velvet Revolutionaries, and other dissidents, along with a few younger personalities and a sprinkling of foreigners, gather once a week to talk and drink.

It is a great place to meet the founders of the Velvet Revolution and listen to their thoughts about current Czech politics. You can find there not only the spirit of free-thinking but also the solidarity politics that brought people together across national boundaries to fight for a certain moral politics. Central to this solidarity were the inside outsiders like Horacek. These veterans of 1989 imagined a Europe without borders. Today, they continue to push for a greener and more just region.

The Interview

How did you end up leaving Czechoslovakia in 1968?

I was considered a politically unreliable person. In 1965 I was drafted, not to join the normal military services but to join the "road units." This was something similar to what was in East Germany: technical work support, without weapons. We helped out on construction jobs.

At the same time, my friend with whom I studied to be an electrical fitter, was chosen to join the units at the Austrian border. There he found out that what I'd been telling him was true - that we were all living in one big prison. All the barricades were facing inward towards those who would like to escape, not towards the "imperialists" on the other side. He volunteered to learn how the guards tracked escapees by their footprints in order to be able to cross the border. In 1968 he offered to help me get to the other side of the border. Then he decided to come with me. One September night, around two weeks after the occupation, we escaped together.

Had you always planned to go to West Germany?

No, it was a reaction to the Occupation.

Coming from an anti-communist family, did you get into any conflicts with local "leftists" in West Germany?

Yes. I got into conflict with part of the socialist groups that inclined towards either Moscow or Beijing. These groups were not "leftist" but radical, some of them even "Stalinist."

Did they have any misconceptions about communism in Eastern Europe that you were able to educate them about?

There were definitely some misconceptions. Back in the 1970s, the German Left could be defined on a very broad scale. On one side it included social democracy with Willy Brandt as a leader (he then became chancellor when I started living in Germany). But later on, when Helmut Schmidt took over the chancellor's office, the situation started to become significantly more conservative. The non-orthodox/more liberal left was neither a typical social-democratic party nor did it incline towards Trotsky. It didn't lean toward Moscow in general, nor did it support Maoism (Beijing). Personalities such as Rudi Dutschke, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and Joschka Fisher represented this "liberal" left. You could also find a "middle" left with the artist Joseph Beuys and the writer Heinrich Böll.

What was the process of your becoming involved with the Green party?

Right at the beginning of the 1970s, I used to work on issues related to exiles. For example in Frankfurt we published a magazine called Frankfurt Messenger. I was also a representative of the Road '68 Association. That's how I got in contact with the German middle-left but also with Christian people who were in some way interested in Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe. Then I started collaborating with a group around Jiří Pelikán - Listy (Letters) - and served on the editorial board. Around 1974 we started to publish a German version.

Since I was in close touch with the Czechoslovak political opposition, the middle-left part of it, I could also cooperate with the German middle-left party and thus communicate with the personalities I mentioned before (Böll, Beuys, Cohn-Bendit, Dutschke). I was invited to all the discussions concerning Eastern Europe, or I would organize them because people were interested not only in Czechoslovakia but also in what was going on in Poland and Hungary. As an example, we did an event of solidarity for student leader Jiri Muller together with Jiri Dienstbier and Jaroslav Šabata in the middle of the 1970s. .

As I already mentioned, in 1974 when Helmut Schmidt became chancellor a discussion started between people who were discontented social democrats and those who were neither social democrats nor orthodox communists. They wanted to start a party that would be to the left of social democracy but to the right of extreme communism. Rudi Dutschke's motto was: "Better than standing with one foot in Moscow and one foot in Beijing, it's better to stand with both feet in Germany." During these discussions of 1974-76, other socialist movements arose covering all different areas: anti-nuclear, feminist, peace, and of course an environmental movement, which was quickly becoming very popular in society. Some of the "hot" topics were the high mortality of forests due to acid rain, or river pollution causing the extinction of all fish. While living in Frankfurt at that time, I witnessed how the chemical waste from the factories was being released straight into the river.

The people who took part in these movements -- environmental, feminist, anti-atomic bombs and anti-atomic power -- started discussions about a new political party. I stayed in touch with all of them because I worked with all the young socialists in order to support our political prisoners. For example, Rudi Dutschke and I went to Rome in 1976 where we met with Lucio Lombardo-Radice and other members of the new socialist party to support the East European political prisoners. Adam Michnik came from Paris where he was at that time visiting Jean-Paul Sartre. He also spoke at the big solidary meeting in Frankfurt at the beginning of 1977, which was held to show support for Charter 77. After that he went back to Poland where he was imprisoned. So, that's why we then organized an event of solidarity for Adam Michnik.

From this collaboration with all different socialists, "green, alternative, or colorful lists" started to appear in 1977-78 across all of Germany. They were not specifically parties, but more like groups of people who were against the system. For the first common European elections in 1979 we got even closer together when Petra Kelly, Herbert Gruhl, Joseph Beuys, and I ran together. In the state of Hesse, in Frankfurt where I lived, there was the Green list of Hesse, on which we ran for local state parliament in 1978 but were not successful (we were elected four years later). In 1981, I became one of the six town representatives in Frankfurt parliament. That's where we came in dressed in white and wearing gasmasks. I also got elected with the first fraction of the Green to the Bundestag in 1983 as the first "foreigner," someone who was obviously and audibly not a native (I had German citizenship but spoke still with a Slavic accent).

There were a lot of connections between you and the Greens in West Germany and the dissidents in this part of the world - Adam Michnik, Charter 77, and others. At the same time, there was the official Ospolitik of the West German government toward the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and East Germany at the government-to-government level. How did you evaluate Ostpolitik then and how do you evaluate it now?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.