Obituary: Rita Klimova
Friday 07 January 1994
RITA KLIMOVA was an important figure in the 'velvet revolution' that brought down Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. Speaking perfect English as a result of spending her teens in New York, she was Vaclav Havel's interpreter, unofficial press secretary and media adviser.
Her reward, when Havel became president, was to be appointed Czechoslovak ambassador to Washington, where she was a huge success. Struck down by acute leukaemia, she seemed to make a full recovery after treatment arranged by President George Bush, and was able to serve almost three years before retiring to Prague, saddened by the impending break-up of Czechoslovakia and somewhat exasperated by her employer, the Foreign Ministry.
A doctrinaire Stalinist in her youth, she became an ardent reformist in the 1960s, deeply regretting her early role in ousting liberal-minded academics from Charles University, in Prague, where she taught economics. Like many of the reformers who supported the doomed Dubcek regime in the 'Prague Spring' of 1968, she was driven partly by guilt for her role in establishing the system that preceded and followed it.
Her father, Stanislav Budin, was a Communist journalist and Jew, originally from the Ukraine, who fled with his family to the United States after the Nazi occupation of Prague. Against his young daughter's wishes he returned home after the war to help build socialism, eventually infecting her with his enthusiasm. But both became disillusioned and turned to the reformist movement, supplying superb inside information to selected Western journalists during the fall of the Novotny regime and thereafter. Following the Soviet invasion in 1968, she was expelled from the party and university.
Her first husband was Zdenek Mlynar, another repentant Communist, who was a student friend of Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow and later drafted the political programme adopted by the Dubcek regime. The marriage broke up in 1966. Twelve years later she married Zdenek Klima, a former diplomat who had been expelled from the party. He died suddenly after a heart attack in 1980.
During the bleak years of the Husak regime and Russian occupation, Rita's father signed Charter 77, the human rights petition, so the family was harassed and forced to move. After the death of both her parents, her son Vladimir, by her first marriage, encouraged her to join the Charter 77 movement in which Havel was a leading figure. She became involved in distributing smuggled printing equipment, passing information to foreign diplomats, reviving an independent newspaper in samizdat form, and translating for Havel. In the autumn of 1987 she was remarkably forthright and fearless when I interviewed her for the BBC.
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