Ivan Jonas - head of the Czech-Slovak-Swedish Society


Ivan Jonas, the head of the Czech-Slovak-Swedish Society, lives just outside Stockholm. He retired recently, but for many years he worked as an engineer at the well known Swedish company Ericsson. While many of the Czechs in Sweden left Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of 1968, Ivan Jonas stayed in Prague until 1971. When we met at a Stockholm tea-room, he said he and his friends had hoped to offer some kind of resistance to the Communist authorities after the invasion.

Ivan JonasIvan Jonas "We were very naïve. In '68 I was engaged in this non-party member active-club, or whatever, non-partisan active club [Club of Engaged Non-Party-Members], which was one of these organisations which were kind of very badly regarded by the Soviet leadership, so it didn't continue after the marching in."

This organisation you mention, the non-partisans, were basically anti-communists?

"It wasn't really anti-communist in '68. If you remember the atmosphere of '68, it was a very forgiving atmosphere. We were taking the Communists at their word. They said this is an opportunity for all, so we were the all and we started to do something totally from the bottom, without their guiding. And they didn't know what to do, and of course they were under pressure from two sides, and started to dampen it."

When you left in '71 did you come straight here to Stockholm?

"Essentially yes, essentially yes. I was seeking some contacts as well, but what I really found was my colleagues from the university; I started working at the university in a low position. I did research type work and I continued with it both in Sweden and in the United States, in Salt Lake City, Utah, through the '70s. By the end of the '70s I decided to go into industry, which I did first in America and then here in Sweden."

So Sweden was your first choice, was it? Because I know some people didn't get to go to where they wanted to go. Sometimes there was a need for, I don't know, carpenters in Australia.

"Well, I decided to go there because I knew these people here who I went to meet, so I just headed here, yeah."

How long did you spend in America?

"It was altogether three stays, each about a year, so three and a half years or so."

Stockholm is quite different from Prague, but Salt Lake City must have been another world from Prague - how did you like it there?

"It's heaven on Earth, Salt Lake City! Because I am a nature lover, I am an outdoors man, so whenever my experiment broke at noon I was on a snowboard or skiing at one o'clock or two o'clock in the afternoon. And of course there were all the national parks within a one-day drive, and there was the big American desert...around the corner. So that was a nice time; I really enjoyed my stay in Salt Lake City."

In those days could you ever go back to Prague to visit, or was that not a possibility?

StockholmStockholm "Not really, because in the '70s they accepted people who would make a total coming to the cross and deny everything they did, and even that wasn't sure, so I never thought about that. Then in the late '70s and '80s there was an initiative from the Czechoslovak government towards exiles, but they were mostly meant to split them.

"And they really made a good job of it. They gave people different opportunities how to get on terms with them. You could kind of cheat your host country and make a deal with the government, you could renounce your Czech citizenship, or you could just leave things be and then you couldn't go.

"My father died and then my mother was dying and on that occasion I chose to renounce my citizenship, so that was the way I did it. And then after '84 I was back on two or more visits, but of course there were some problems. I had some problems with the border police directly and they wouldn't give me a visa again. So it wasn't so many visits before '89."

Why were the Communist authorities concerned to split the Czechoslovak groups in exile?

"Obvious reasons. People are split and they spy on each other and they can't do much against them. And of course they were still concerned about these people. It looks like the regime in the end was getting this spasm of death because they were looking for old ghosts.

"They dug up old Gottwald and put him on the money, they talked about '48 and they talked about us emigrants. I was surprised why they bothered at all, but they were weaker than we thought."

How strange was it for you going back to visit in the mid '80s? Was it a very strange experience?

"It was kind of eerie. I was kind of looking for the country and I suspected the people wouldn't understand, that I would be a stranger to them. Actually the experience was quite different. I was coming for Christmas, the last one I spent with my mother then, and I came on Christmas Eve to Prague, which was empty, and Wenceslas Square was totally empty, no trams, nothing. No people. It was a kind of eerie ghost town.

StockholmStockholm "I was surprised because that is what I looked for, the city as such. Then my mother and I went to midnight mass and I saw the people and I felt directly how I liked them. It was a very funny experience!"

It wasn't depressing, to see Prague looking so grey in those days?

"It was. But there was the reverse. I still felt very close to the people. You never know what to expect when you go somewhere after 15 years."

How much do you stay in touch with events and affairs in the Czech Republic? Do you follow the news for example?

"Well, I do. I do. I read newspapers in the beginning. There are usually possibilities to watch TV as well, and then of course I see the country quite often."

That was my next question - how often do you go home?

"It depends very much on my work load. Some years I was there five times, sometimes I couldn't get there more than once. And now because I don't work any more I can stay longer."

Do you feel more at home here or there?

"You don't really feel at home anywhere! I must stay I've started to be kind of cosmopolitan, but I feel pretty much at home in both places."

For information about the Czech-Slovak-Swedish Society go to www.geocities.com/stsfse/ (in Swedish)


Choose Karel Gott´s greatest hit (More)