Personal Experiences from the Years of 'Late Normalization,' 1980s: Study at SS Cyril and Method's Theological Faculty in Litomerice
Nearly 20 years after the Velvet Revolution, and the Czech Republic (among other neighbouring post-communist countries in Central Europe) has begun to expose its recent history for public consumption. Archival documents and memories of the contemporaries have often caused upheaval widely covered by the press in these countries. One of the most current topics concerns the collaboration of religious denominations with the Communist regime. In 1948, after the Communists - atheist by nature - seized power, the new rulers pretended that they wanted to defend constitutional civil rights and that they respected the freedom of the religious denominations in Czechoslovakia.
In fact, from the very beginning of the new regime the communists deliberately placed all Churches under the strict control of the state. This was especially true of the Catholics who were closely watched and persecuted. According to former Bishop Vaclav Maly,
The Catholic leaders were, with only several exceptions, people manipulated by the StB (Czechoslovak secret police).They were mostly such people who had been affected by some weakness in their own personal lives and thus they became convenient tools for the ruling power (…)
In accordance with new Czechoslovak legislation passed in 1950 all the existing theological faculties and also non-university Protestant high schools started to be “reorganized”. The Catholic Theological Faculty was oved from Prague to a small town Litomerice in Northern Bohemia. This faculty, with a long tradition, had been a part of Charles University founded in Prague in 1348.
The re-organization of the curriculum in 1950 meant that the majority of the professors and even many students were forced to leave the faculty. The communist press at the time however, presented this action as useful and necessary for the “improvement of theological study.” During subsequent decades – from the 1950s until 1989 – the management of the faculty was constantly negotiating for compromises with supervisors from the Ministry of Education and the local supervising officials; people extremely suspicious of and hostile to religious groups. The remainder of this commentary is based on the memories of a former student of the Theological Faculty, Jan Jandourek, who studied at the Litomerice from 1984 to 1989.
These were the last years before the Velvet Revolution, the last phase of the “normalization” - the Brezhnev era, which had started after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The late 1980s were more relaxed in comparison to the period of Stalinism in the 1950s when all the monastic orders were banned, high and ordinary clergy persecuted and many priests and monks sent to labor camps or imprisoned. Despite the fact that the Cold War was winding down, Communist practices towards the clergy remained intact.