Jana Rejskova remembers the "human face" of Alexander Dubcek

30-07-2002

Alexander Dubcek is one of the myths in the post-war history of Czechoslovakia. Some see his attempt in 1968 to introduce "socialism with a human face" as a brave experiment, others as naive folly, but on one thing there is consensus. As a man, Dubcek was warm and likable. In the light of the Soviet invasion that followed, there is an almost unbearable poignancy to the broad smile that we so often see in television footage of Dubcek from the time of the Prague Spring. The following story gives some insight into Alexander Dubcek as a person. The professional interpreter Jana Rejskova remembers interpreting for him at an event a couple of years after the fall of communism, not long before his death, when Dubcek was once more in public office, but didn't seem to relish all the trappings.

Alexander DubcekAlexander Dubcek "The story that I'm going to tell you now happened some time in the early 90s, and this was a time when we were still one country, Czechoslovakia. Mr Dubcek at that time was speaker of the Federal Assembly and we met at the British Embassy. Now, at the British Embassy interpreters usually sit behind their clients and they just provide the service they are paid for - the words they interpret when they are asked to interpret - and they're never invited to join the people at table. All they get is a glass of water when they ask for it. Mr Dubcek just could not bear this situation. He hated the fact that there was this lady sitting behind him, who had nothing to eat and just a glass of water to drink, while he had all this champagne and the rest of it. And he insisted that I get my own plate. Now the Ambassador kindly explained to him that this was not done at the embassy, so the first course was served, then the second course was served and it was absolutely apparent that Dubcek did not enjoy the meal, because he was suffering like hell, simply becausAlexander DubcekAlexander Dubceke this lady was sitting behind him with nothing to eat. So then at the end, with pudding being served, he looked at the waiter and said: "I have had enough. I insist that the lady be served the pancake (or whatever else it was), just as everybody else is, because I don't want her just to sit behind my back and interpret for me for nothing. I think it is quite interesting because it tells you that Dubcek was a powerful person, if you want, but he was one of those powerful people who apparently hate being powerful and he couldn't bear the fact that simply because he was in the position he was in there was this big difference between him and the person sitting basically behind him all the time."

30-07-2002