The actress and obstinate apologist of the communist regime Jiřina Švorcová died on Monday at the age of 84. Her career in theatre, film and television spanned more than four decades. But most Czechs will remember her as a bizarre figure who never renounced her support of communism, not even after the fall of the totalitarian regime.
The 1970s TV series Žena za pultem, or A Woman Behind the Counter, gave Jiřina Švorcová the biggest role of her life. Nine years after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, Jiřina Švorcová was at the height of her career, both on stage and in politics.
The TV series, which first appeared in 1977, revolves around a shop assistant in a grocery store, full of goods that people could hardly find in real-life shops at the time. Jiřina Švorcová played the lead role in this fine example of communist propaganda.
Unlike many of her colleagues, however, she openly supported the totalitarian regime. In 1976, she became a member of the communist party’s broader leadership. The following year, she delivered an infamous address at a gathering of the country’s dramatic artists denouncing the recently released human rights manifesto, Charter 77.
In her speech, Jiřina Švorcová denounced the authors and signatories of Charter 77, including Václav Havel, Pavel Kohout and others, calling them “traitors”. In an interview with Czech Radio in December 2010, one of her las, she said she still believed what they did was wrong.
“I think it’s wrong when someone finds out that they could not cope with the idea they helped to bring about. There were many, such as Pavel Kohout, who also believed the idea, but then they couldn’t cope with it and so they abandoned it. I think that’s wrong.”
Unlike many of her colleagues in theatre and film, who also welcomed the arrival of communism, Jiřina Švorcová never admitted she might have been wrong. She even endorsed the neo-Stalinist regime established after the Soviet invasion in 1968 although she told Czech Radio she was shocked by what happened.
“It was terrible; it was a great shock for everyone. But as soon as people started to attack the Soviet Union, calling them fascists and so on, I just could not do that. I absolutely couldn’t do that.”
After the fall of communism, Jiřina Švorcová quit acting. After having spent forty years at Prague’s respected Na Vinohradech theatre, in November 1989, her colleagues made it clear they no longer wanted to work with her.
Instead, she became a regular mascot of communist party gatherings, where she would recite poems to a crowd of aging party hardliners, disgruntled with the developments after 1989. Her unwavering support for the communist cause was ultimately the only thing even her dwindling admirers could appreciate.