Premiere of the exhibition “Prague Through the Lens of the Secret Police” and launch of the eponymous book
BRUSSELS, April 7, 2009
– The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in cooperation with the Security Services Archive, opened the exhibition “Prague through the Lens of the Secret Police” today and launched the eponymous bi-lingual book, both of which lay bare the activities of the State Security Service’s Surveillance Directorate during the latter part of the Communist era. The communist political police (Státní bezpečnost – StB), or more specifically, its servicemen employed in the Surveillance Directorate, succeeded in capturing not only persons of interest, but also the unique atmosphere of Prague during the “normalization” era of hard-line socialist entrenchment in the 1970s and 80s, following the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The opening, marking the European premiere of both the exhibition and book, took place on the premises of the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the European Union, with the participation of Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the European Union Milena Vicenová, Director of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes Pavel Žáček, Director of the Security Services Archive Ladislav Bukovszký, and almost 90 guests from myriad European institutions located in Brussels. In addition to the photographs in the book and on the exhibition panels, exhibition attendees have the opportunity to view a video recording from the surveillance of Czech novelist, playwright and poet Pavel Kohout from November 17, 1982, when he flew to Prague and was immediately in the viewfinder of StB cameras. In 1978, Kohout and his then wife had been allowed to make a working trip to Austria; they were subsequently denied re-entry into Czechoslovakia and their citizenship taken away from them. Kohout was returning to Prague to visit with his daughter; the resulting surveillance recording is on a tape now in the collections of the Security Services Archive. Transferring the tape to digital form to screen it at the opening proved a formidable task. According to Vratislav Rypar, the expert at Czech Television who undertook the task, the original recording was made on ½ inch tape in the norm EIAJ-1. “Unfortunately, the signal from cameras of that period does not correspond with today’s, nor even with the television norm of that time (it has non-standard synchronization pulses, line and picture frequency do not correspond, and the picture therefore has an inconstant number of field lines. The monitor displays the picture without problem, but any kind of further processing (transferring, digitization, etc.) of such a signal can be problematic,” summarized Rypar. Regarding the contents, he added: “No sound is recorded on the tape. The recording is black and white, consisting of rough cuts from individual mounted cameras, evidently controlled remotely from one surveillance headquarters. Considering the technical options available at that time, (the Vidikon recording system of industrial cameras of the day), the footage is flat, soft, but readable.” In the end, the shots were successfully digitized, and now make up a part of the exhibition. In the future, a tour of the exhibition is planned in European as well as other countries, in order to give the public around the world the opportunity to see for themselves how the communist secret police, which kept the regime in power over 40 years, actually functioned.