Obituary: Jir Pelikn

JIRI PELIKAN had the rare skill of surviving - even at times prospering - in potentially risky situations. Holding a key position at the time of the Prague Spring as head of Czechoslovak television, he had already survived five months in a Gestapo jail during the Nazi occupation and the treacherous world of the Stalinist-era Czechoslovak Com-munist Party. As television chief from 1963 he had moved from upholding orthodoxy in a party-controlled dictatorship to presiding over a forum for vigorous political debate.

Even the crushing of the Prague Spring by the tanks of the Warsaw Pact in August 1968 did not end Pelikn's career, despite his removal as television chief. He was named cultural attache at the Czechoslovak embassy in Rome, a post he held throughout the "normalisation" (the reimposition of orthodox Communism).

It was only in September 1969, when he was recalled to Prague, that he declined to return to his native land, announcing his decision in The Times. He decided to remain in Italy, where he received political asylum. After being stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship he was naturalised as an Italian.

In exile he earned his living as a writer and commentator, and published a series of books on post-war Czechoslovak political history (in which he had played a part). In 1971 he founded a leftist emigre journal, Listy, billed as the "Journal of the Czechoslovak Socialist Opposition", which he continued to publish (from 1989 in Prague) until 1997. It was not long before he found his feet as an Italian politician, being elected to the European parliament in 1979 on an Italian Socialist Party ticket. He served two terms as an MEP.

Born in Moravia into a family of artists and intellectuals, he was the son of the sculptor Julis Pelikn. The late 1930s were eventful for his country and for him. In 1938, Moravia and Bohemia jointly became an autonomous unit within Czechoslovakia. The following year Nazi Germany seized control of Czechoslovakia and designated Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.

Pelikn joined the Czech Communist Party in 1939 and became active in the anti-German resistance movement and was soon jailed by the Gestapo. From 1941 until the end of the occupation he lived in hiding. His parents were arrested in reprisal and his mother perished in a Nazi concentration camp.

During studies in Prague after the war, Pelikn was active in Communist student groups both before and after the Communist coup of 1948. He became the head of a party youth commission which screened students for admission to universities and denied entry to thousands of non-Communists. Pelikn later called the episode the "greatest shame" of his life.

In the 1950s and 1960s he held numerous party posts (including ideological and propaganda posts, a parliamentary seat and an eight-year term as president of the Prague-based International Union of Students). His highest post came in August 1968, when he was elected to the party Central Committee at the "secret congress" in Vysocany that took place days after the invasion.

Following his refusal to return to Prague in 1969 and his support for the leftist opposition to the Communist government, the Czechoslovak regime vented its anger on him with the venom reserved for betrayal by one of its own. He was vilified in the state-run press. In 1972, the party newspaper, Rude Prvo, alleged that Pelikn had sent "written materials and instructions to Czechoslovakia inciting hostile individuals and groups to anti-state activities".

The secret police, the StB, was believed to have been behind a number of attacks, including a letter bomb mailed to him in 1975. He escaped injury when he noticed smoke coming out of the half-opened package and threw it into an adjoining room as it burst into flames. This did not deter him from political involvement in his homeland. In 1977 he made a clandestine return visit - a highly risky undertaking that nearly saw him kidnapped by the authorities.

The end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989 allowed him to return and the following year he joined the motley crew of advisers to the newly elected president, Vclav Havel. However, his dubious past as a Communist functionary and allegations that he had collaborated with the Gestapo soured his last years. When he received the Order of Merit from Havel last year these accusations were revived.

A warm, energetic man, Pelikn never lost his commitment to the "historic battle of the Czechoslovak socialist opposition", as he described it in the 1970s, however discredited that later became.

Showing only limited regret for his part in the Communist repressions, he remained a child of 1968. The aim of the Prague Spring had been, he wrote in 1970, "to rid socialism in Czechoslovakia of its inhumanity". He was saddened that the aim of the new revolution of 1989 turned out to be to rid Czechoslovakia of socialism.

Jir Pelikn, politician: born Olomouc, Czechoslovakia 7 February 1923; married Jitka Frantov; died Rome 26 June 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness