Antonín Chloupek

* 1944

  • "After a few days I said, I have to go home and change, take a shower and so on. So I set out on the night of the twenty-third [of August 1968], not knowing that they had just declared martial law that night, that you couldn't go out. I was walking from Smíchov, over the bridge over the Vltava River, I reached Výtoň at the railway bridge. Everywhere was empty. It was strange to me that nobody was anywhere, not a soul on the streets. It was ten o'clock in the evening, dark. And suddenly a taxi was driving by the railway bridge. And suddenly a Russian with a machine gun jumped out of the shadows. And he let off a burst of machine-gun fire behind the taxi. But I think the taxi was long gone, it was going fast. I was stunned that this was possible. And suddenly the Russian noticed me. He started waving one hand at me. I didn't know if he wanted me to go away or... So I turned around and started to walk away. 'Stop! Stop!' He followed me with a loaded gun. I stood still, three of them came, surrounded me like this with machine guns, a commander came with a pistol and they started searching me. I had a sweater in my briefcase, a piece of bread, because the shops were closed, there was nothing anywhere, I was carrying food with me. And most importantly, I had cameras with films, two of them already developed. And they told me to take everything out. And I thought, "Well, that's screwed. These two films are already developed, how am I going to save them?' I didn't know how to do it. They saw the magazines we were printing. He was like, 'Correspondent!' He confiscated everything. I still had an eight-millimetre camera, he told me to pull the film out of it. And then they ordered me to take the film back and stuff it back in. Maybe they didn't notice in the dark that they were already developed, maybe they didn't understand. So I saved at least the two films that were already developed. Everything else had already been illuminated, it was useless."

  • "Terrible things were happening there. People set up barricades there, on Vinohradská Street and in the adjacent streets, with everything that was at hand: a tram, a bus, a cement tanker, all sorts of things, they barricaded the streets with heavy things so that the Russians couldn't come with tanks to the radio building. They wanted to occupy the building to prevent free broadcasting. Of course, those radio technicians had already prepared a substitute workplace somewhere else, they knew that it wouldn't last forever. But the people tried to hold the building as long as possible with the barricades. The Russians were fighting their way in such a way that they would always drive the tank, hit the barricade with their full weight, the tank would reverse and hit again, and like that, like a battering ram, they would break through the barricades. Metre by metre they were getting to the radio building. And people were doing all kinds of damage. For example, the tank had a barrel of oil on it, so somebody dug through it with a pickaxe and set it on fire. And the place was on fire, the vehicles. I knew that there was an ammunition [vehicle], so I was afraid that it would explode, that there would be a big massacre, which there was in the end. But I went away in time. The main impulse for me to do that came from a wounded girl, a girl of about 20 years old, with her leg shot off, just hanging on a piece of sinew. Her thigh was tied up with a wire to stop her bleeding. And these dead and wounded people across from the radio building, people were laying them on the pavement waiting for ambulances to take them away. Until the moment I saw this crippled woman, I didn't give a damn if they killed me. It was really dangerous out there. Sometimes there was shooting because they [Soviet soldiers] were so scared. They were young guys and their commanders told them they were going to fight the counterrevolution. So they were ready to fight, full magazines, finger on the trigger. But now they saw completely unarmed normal civilians who were not attacking them in any way, just saying, 'What are you doing here? There is no counterrevolution here. You see that there is peace and tranquility here, go back home!' And the soldiers were very confused. Neither they nor their commanders knew how to react. That's why on that first day you could take pictures of almost anything."

  • "I'd put it this way. In 1848, serfdom was abolished in the monarchy [actually as early as 1781, ed.]. And a hundred years later, [in] 1948, the communists reintroduced serfdom, that is, they took away the land, the means of production from their serfs and made everyone a cooperative farm member, which means a dependent serf. And even the children of these serfs, those cooperative farm members, were not free to choose their profession. Who was from a farming family had to go back to work in agriculture. In the fifties this was the case, in the sixties it was not an more. But in the fifties, it was so that there was no chance for children from farming families to go to study a field other than agriculture. If you were going to study, you had to go to an agricultural school."

  • "The resistance was general, but when these people understood that they were being subjected to bullying and pressure, they gradually began to sign the applications, based on their character. I think by 1953, everybody was in the cooperative except my father. Maybe I could still find a newspaper clipping from 1953 which said 'Brno-venkov district fulfilled, 100% all in cooperative farms', only Antonín Chloupek was not there. So then they switched to a different tactic. They didn't go to persuade him anymore, because they knew they couldn't convince him. Political and economic bullying set in. They prescribed impossible obligatory deliveries of agricultural products. Cereals, potatoes, meat, eggs, milk. It was set up so that he couldn't meet it. And if he didn't, he'd get a summons for a fine or execution. And if he didn't pay the fine, he faced prison time. Maybe only seven days, a shorter one, but he couldn't even afford that, because who would look after the farm? The animals - cows, pigs, horses - had to be fed morning and evening. He was tied to those animals. He couldn't afford to go away for a week. That would have gone badly with the animals. Mum might have managed, but it would have been too much for her. So he always tried to pay for it somehow. The result was we never had any money. We were broke. Mom couldn't even buy us clothes or shoes for the winter. And as for food, we were lucky to have our own food. Otherwise, we probably would have starved to death because we really didn't have money for anything."

  • "There was such pressure. It seemed like when they were setting up the cooperative farm, some action trio came to our flat. Two or three guys, two comrades, communists, and someone from the national committee. Although my parents were tired after working all day, they would sit with them for maybe two hours in the evening, from nine to eleven, and they kept persuading them to sign the application form for the cooperative farm. Of course, my father couldn't oppose them very much, because any opposition would be qualified as sedition against the building of socialism in Czechoslovakia. I always wondered as a child why my father didn't tell them anything. Only later did I understand that he didn't want to risk going to prison. And - what was even worse - sometimes they invited him to the national committee and there they convinced him too. I know that he always came back after two or three hours, shaking all over, upset as he was. But he couldn't show his disgust there either, because he knew it would be for arrest."

  • "With my friend were coming from the courses that did not always take place in Prague, those regarded the art photography and returning to Prague and two girls tried to hijack us. So we took them in our car. Well and they got off after a while and we just chatted casually and told them that if they ever came to Prague they could of course come visit us. Well we did not really think that would eve happen. But those girls were nurses from the child care spa called Lázně svaté Kateřiny, that was near Počátky. And right that summer the all-republic sports games called spartakiáda was organised and those two nurses we gave a lift to, they came to Prague with the children they took care of to participate in the event. So they used the number we gave them and called us they actually came to Prague and we could meet. And so it happened that I fell in love with one of those girls and finally decided to get married later."

  • "When I woke up in the morning on 21 August, I wondered about a strange noise from the street. There were usual noise from the public transport, as trams, usual trafiic, people going to work. There was a strange kind of silence. No traffic means running, not even personal vehicles, just people walking past. When I looked out from my window, I was a growing cueue in from of the grocery store as people began to fear the war is coming and wanted to get more stock. And as I already said, no traffic was passing in the street so there was an unusual sound from the street. And I actually figured it out from the radio, because after getting up I turned it on and they were announcing that the Warsaw pact armies accupy our republic."

  • "My father was the only one in the area, who did not join the cooperative. Obviously that was a problem for the local and regional party funcionaries, as their bosses in the regional and HQ were annoyed that they did not sohw enough iniciative to get totally everybody in the coop. So they figured out a con for my father, that they did not let us study, not even in the secondary training centre. And that was pretty serious, so that my father, as the last one in the region, filed his application in 1959."

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Collectivisation turned farmer owners into dependant serfs

Antonín Chloupek, 1969
Antonín Chloupek, 1969
zdroj: Witness´s archive

Antonín Chloupek was born on 24 June 1944 in Střelice near Brno. His family had been farming here since at least the 17th century, when the first local register mentions them. His father Antonín Chloupek Sr. was the last farmer from the village to resist collectivisation. He did not sign the application form until 1958, when he was threatened that his sons would not be allowed to study or apprentice. In 1959, the wirtness was admitted to the agricultural secondary school in Roudnice nad Labem. Here he discovered his lifelong passion for photography. After a year of work in the mines in Karviná, he joined the basic military service. He applied unsuccessfully to be admitted to Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) twice. From the beginning of 1968 he lived in Prague, where he worked at the Polygrafia printing house. He spent 21 August 1968 with his camera in the streets of Prague, documenting the occupation. From 1969 he worked as an assistant art director at Barrandov film studios, where he witnessed the normalisation checks. After his marriage in 1976, he moved to Jihlava, where he found employment at the Fotografia cooperative company, and in 1992 became a private photographer.