One of the most highly respected foreign journalists in Prague, Alan Levy, passed away at the age of 72 on Friday after a short but brave battle with cancer. Mr. Levy was editor in chief of the Prague Post, a popular English language weekly which he helped to establish in 1991. His column, "Prague Profile," introducing personalities from all walks of life was one of the weekly's most popular features. In the course of his career, Mr. Levy interviewed personalities such as the former Czech President Vaclav Havel, Fidel Castro, the Beatles, Sophia Loren, Ezra Pound, Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene and W.H. Auden.
Mr. Levy's ties with Prague go back to 1968, when he covered the Prague Spring and the tragedy of the Soviet-led invasion, events illustrated in his book Rowboat to Prague, also published as So Many Heroes.
Levy and his family were expelled by Czechoslovakia's communist authorities in 1971, as he put it because of the "sin of truth-telling". In an interview for Radio Prague, Mr.Levy recalled how he and his wife were summoned to the foreign ministry to be told they were no longer wanted.
"At two o'clock in the lobby of the Cernin Palace down came Dr
Blastek, the head of the Foreign Ministry press section, a Stalinist who
was known as the White Rabbit because he was almost completely albino
except for pink eyes that twitched. And he came down very coldly, he
didn't offer us a seat, he didn't sit down himself, and he said:
"Your press accreditation please". And I said: "But, Dr. Blastek, you've known me for two years"... "Your press accreditation please...".
And when I handed it to him he reached into his pocket, which was why he didn't sit down, and attached to his buttonhole with official ribbon with the colours of the Czechoslovak flag - white, red and blue - was a scissors, with which he snipped my accreditation in half, he looked at his watch and said:
"It is now 2:04 pm Tuesday, you must be out of the country at 2:04 pm Thursday". So then my wife asked the question: "What about me?" And Dr Blastek said:
"You're as guilty as he is. You're as guilty of spying as he is. You're living with this man, sleeping with this man. You know he was writing this book, which we won't allow to be published, and you did not report him to the authorities. Under socialist legality you're as guilty as he is," and she had to accept that.
And we started to leave, and as we left he called after us: "And the children have to leave too". Well, we weren't about to leave two little girls aged six and seven in Soviet occupied Prague in the middle of a "Siberian" winter to finish a semester. I turned around as said: "Are they spies also?"
And he looked up at the chandelier which was where the microphones were, that his Russian nurses were listening to, and he said into those microphones with his head aloft:
"We have information that your daughters, Monica 7 and Erica 6 cultivated friendships in the playground at Novy Svet for the purpose of gathering information for their father the notorious Alan Levy." That's the way Stalinists talked in those days. Then he put his head down very proudly and my wife just looked at him and said:
"Dr Blastek, like every mother I have always thought I had remarkable children. Now we know!" And we left laughing."
American journalist Alan Levy -who is sadly no longer with us - recalling bitter days in the Czech capital which he came to know and love.