A legendary Czech exile from communism and radio broadcaster has died. Ivan Medek’s voice became a vital link to the outside world after he began broadcasting back to his homeland at the end of the 1970’s. With the collapse of communism, Medek came back to try and recreate a better society.
For many Czechs and Slovaks under communism, Medek’s voice and broadcasts were not just a symbol of freedom but also a window on what was really happening in their homeland.
So it perhaps is not surprising that the simple front page headline of one of the Czech dailies on Thursday after his death aged 84 was simply: “Ivan Medek, Voice of America, Vienna.”
Medek’s unexpected career as a broadcaster came after he was forced to flee Czechoslovakia in 1978 after a brutal beating by the communist secret police. His persecution started after he signed Charter 77, the document drawn up by dissidents calling for the authorities to adhere to their international commitments and respect basic human rights.
In Vienna, he often broadcast news about the small and closely watched dissident movement with whom he kept in close contact. As former president Václav Havel told Czech Television, that role was crucial.
“Without his work at Voice of America, the Charter and the whole movement would, by a long way, not have had the same weight, influence and reach.”
Medek was of course more than just a broadcaster, though that is probably what he would like to be remembered for. He had studied as a musician but the communist authorities sacked him from his job at the Czech Philharmonic. When he returned from exile in 1989 on the overthrow of communism, he contributed to an overhaul of the local media as head of the office for radio and television broadcasting. In 1993, he was appointed to the office of the president, later becoming the head of the office.
“Most of the time we agreed quickly and easily on everything. But it happened that sometimes we could not agree and in those cases I had to give way.”
One of Ivan Medek’s colleagues at the presidential office was Jiří Pehe.
“My memories of Mr. Medek are very, very positive. I think he was an exceptional man who really embodied the ethos of the First Republic in many ways, although he only spent his childhood in the First Republic. But he came from a very important family. His father was General Rudolf Medek, a famous Czech Legionnaire in Russia and writer. His grandfather was Antonín Slavíček, a famous Czech painter. He somehow embodied the values of the First Republic, I should say the best values: patriotism, courage and democratic principles. So for me, working with Mr. Medek was really a privilege.”