Zdena Mašínová will be ninety years old this year, and President Petr Pavel wants to award her an award for never straying from the path set by her family legacy. The daughter of General Josef Mašín, who was executed by the Nazis, and the sister of anti-communist resistance fighters Ctirada and Josef the Younger, however, does not like to return to the past. She agreed to the interview with Aktuálně.cz because she wants to pass on her story to teach younger generations.
Last week, President Petr Pavel contacted Zdena Mašínová. Shortly afterwards, he visited the daughter of a member of the anti-Nazi resistance organization Tři králové and the sister of the brothers who defected from communist Czechoslovakia to the West in the 1950s. “Suddenly he announced himself. I was very surprised. It was nice. He was here for about two hours, we talked a lot,” she recalled of the introduction. The President praised her courage and exceptional overview of events in the Czech Republic and the world.
I’ll ask you about the president right away. Defense Minister Jana Černochová from the ODS proposes to award you a state award, have you discussed it?
We were clarifying some things. I raised an objection that I did not agree with receiving an award just because of the name. Because I’m from the Mašín family. Our family tried to fight against evil – Nazi and Communist – in our wonderful but unfortunate country. We considered it a duty, not to take any awards for it. That’s not done and that’s what I told him.
You wouldn’t accept it?
We talked about this for a long time. I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll see, it’s supposed to be on October 28th. I have plenty of time to think. But I think it would be acceptable from this person.
When Miloš Zeman awarded your father posthumously last year, you refused to accept the award from him. Would you take it over from Peter Pavel?
Am I to understand that you are happy that he is the president?
Probably yes. The recent election has sparked great debate. Many of my acquaintances, good and informed, decided not to go to the elections. I’m quite interested in it, and I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea not to go. Another choice threatened to eliminate this function to some extent. That’s why I went and encouraged a lot of people to do it. After all the information, I decided to vote for him.
You didn’t have a problem with his communist past when your brothers fought against this regime and you also suffered your own in it?
It’s not just about the past. I received a book from him about his life, which was written by the editor Jolana Voldánová. There is enough information in it. Considering how much time he spent abroad, and considering the high position he held (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, which is the alliance’s highest military position – editor’s note), his offense was probably not that big. It goes on. It is necessary to secure this country and fill the positions with capable people.
And don’t you mind that while he would honor you, he doesn’t want to honor your brothers?
No, that time was extremely hard. I was forced to live here from birth until probably the end. Both Nazism and Communism were cruel regimes and, unfortunately, cruel means had to be used against them accordingly. We talked about that too. But it’s a personal matter for everyone, including the president. Everyone has to make up their own mind about it.
How often are you in contact with brother Josef, who lives in the United States and refuses to return to the Czech Republic?
Daily. Today’s technology is good for that. I visited him three times in the States.
When was the last time you saw each other?
About three years ago. After all, traveling is demanding and you have to consider what you can afford.
Did you tell him that the president wanted to honor you?
He doesn’t like to talk about it with me, we always argue. Like siblings. He wasn’t necessarily thrilled that I went to Lošan (she rebuilt the family farm into the Memorial of the Three Resistances – editor’s note). But now he admits that I was right. We’ve always poked fun at each other since we were young. Older brother Ctirad was an authority for us, but Josef and I are closer in age – and our relationship looked like that.
There are elections in the USA next year and Josef is a big Republican. He is quite critical of the current president, Joe Biden, elected as a Democrat. Are you arguing about that too?
Although I’ve been there three times, for several months, I couldn’t get into it and I don’t even know the language perfectly. In order to break into it, one must have all these possibilities. So I don’t dare to rate it.
Aren’t you sorry that the brothers went through Germany to America and never came back while you stayed here?
Such was our fate. The time was tragic. Their resistance was of such a level that our friends paid for it with their lives. The brothers did not go to the West for a better life. They joined the US Army, they were in it for quite a long time. They wanted to free society from the communist tyranny. Most people look at it in such a way that those who went to the West went there for material reasons. It was out of the question for my brothers. They were leaving to return.
But they didn’t come back. Didn’t you blame them?
Never. Once, at a debate on the resistance, I was asked if we didn’t blame our father for joining the resistance, even though he had three children. I was left completely dismayed. I realized that I was brought up in a completely different atmosphere. The father joined the resistance precisely because he had three children. He didn’t want us to live as slaves. In the end, he took it with his life under the Nazis and our mother under the Communists. The sacrifices were great and unforgivable. That is why I am talking about this to you as a young generation.
Do you go back to that time in your memories?
She doesn’t like it. I’m not even very willing to talk about it anymore. A person experiences it differently when he is between twenty and fifty, and quite differently when he is over eighty. But I decided that I would talk to young people about it if they asked me to. This is happening more and more often. Then let them behave themselves according to their conscience when they get into difficult situations.
Do you think your family’s story is still relevant for young people?
Very. At any time, similar horrors can be repeated. I am convinced of this, and therefore it is necessary to have information. Every company has its own. The majority will never take the same approach to certain events. It will always be only individuals who are then able to influence society. You know, after 1989, I was very disappointed that there were, and still are, people who have butter on their heads. They still have influence here. That is why it is necessary to talk about it with young people.
On the other hand, the communist party did not get into the parliament in the last elections, and people with butter on their heads, as you say, are gradually leaving. Isn’t that reason for optimism?
I’m a realist. This is a normal development. But as I say, in any form, any totality can be repeated. You have to be very careful about that.
Currently, there are opinions that we are returning to totalitarianism. During covid, it was said by people who did not agree with anti-epidemic measures, now it is heard, for example, by people who do not like that the government supports Ukraine. They complain that they cannot fully express their opinions. How do you perceive it?
When we decided on democracy, everyone has the right to an opinion. But the point is that it does not affect a larger part of society. Education is important. That’s why I built a museum on the family farm in Lošany. I did it mainly for young people. Schools organize tours there. A lot depends on the cantors, who are again people from the younger generation. The family is also extremely important and what attitudes it instills in its offspring.
Let’s stay with the fear of the return of totalitarian orders. Is it justified to compare the current mood with the 50s?
This is complete nonsense. Those people don’t even know what the 50’s were.
I recently heard the comparison at the academic senate of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Economics, when it was deciding whether to dismiss dean Miroslav Ševčík at the rector’s request. Among other things, due to participation in demonstrations where people sympathizing with Russia perform.
In this case, the rector was apparently aware that this person could influence future generations in his capacity. Therein lies the danger. But there is no drama when we are talking about dismissal from office. No one is putting him in jail. You simply cannot behave like this in a university environment.
What do you think about the state intervening against misinformation? Should he do it even though people call it censorship?
Well, of course. Especially nowadays because of electronics, the internet. It is an extremely effective weapon that can easily affect hundreds of thousands of people and have unfathomable consequences. It can already be seen in many places. Take what is happening in Ukraine. It would have continued further into Europe if it had not been stopped. It’s a very dangerous situation.
When you mentioned Ukraine, how do you evaluate Czech aid?
If there was no help, it would be a reason to emigrate. That goes without saying. This individual from the Kremlin would otherwise continue to Western Europe. That was his point in the past, wasn’t it.
Earlier you said that you are not very proud of the Czech Republic because of the development after 1989. Do you have a reason to be proud in connection with the aid to Ukraine?
It’s a big shift. But it is very important that people are well informed. I am very worried about this because of the internet and misinformation. It is a very dangerous weapon. Humanity can pay for this amazing discovery.
How do you deal with it so that you are not subject to misinformation?
I am monitoring the situation. The more information a person has, the more likely he can put it together. I was used to that all my life. From a young age, we talked about politics in our family. It is important to look at who and how the information is provided, and take a position and verify it accordingly.
A movie about your family will be released in the fall. Did you participate in its preparation?
I discussed with the director and with some actors. I am very curious about it. It was a long road, several scripts were written. It will be very interesting, but I can imagine the reactions.
Do you expect in advance that they will not always be positive?
Of course, that’s for sure. It wouldn’t even be advisable for them to be only positive. We would be returning to totalitarianism if everyone nods.
Video: Josef Mašín’s daughter Barbara at the opening of the family estate in Lošany (27 August 2022)
In an interview at their former family farm, Josef Mašín’s daughter Barbara claimed that Czechs can learn from her family’s story. | Video: Blahoslav Baťa, Dominika Hromková
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