Dana Němcová

    is a Czech psychologist and communist-era dissident, based in Prague. The mother of seven children and one of the first Charter 77 signatories and later its spokeswoman, she also helped found VONS, the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted.  In 1979 she was detained for six months and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for subversion before being released on parole. She was banned from practising as a psychologist and worked as a cleaner. From 1990 to 1990 she was a member of the Czechoslovak Parliament, representing the Civic Forum and later the Civic Movement. She provides psychological and legal counselling to refugees and chairs the board of trustees of the Goodwill Committee, a charity set up by Olga Havel.  In 1988 she was awarded the Order of Merit, First Class. “I hope that, seen from a historical perspective, a shift has occurred, given how much more cruel, ruthless and less civilized we used to be. Sometimes I wonder if deep down we have preserved a kind of genetic core that makes us suspicious of everything that’s different from us or thinks differently, sometimes letting us respond to it in an aggressive way. OK, I won’t go around killing people but I might spread opinions of Gypsies, generalized stereotypes about their thieving and so on. If we are still animals at our core, we must try and humanize ourselves. But where can we find those values that make us human, especially nowadays, when we still harbour so many residual aversions from our recent past? Most people these days are of a consumerist bent, literally materialistic.  After all, [former Czech President] Klaus insisted that first we have to sort out the basis, i.e. the economy, and only then can we have the cherry on the cake, i.e. the superstructure. I would rather invert this ideology and rely more on people’s own heads, provided they could be more diligent, capable of learning from the past and keeping an open mind, as well as a sense of what is good and what is evil and what one does or doesn’t want, at the very least. Of course, sometimes things happen against one’s own will but then you must deal with it and not go into denial. And that is precisely what many people are still doing now, twenty-five years later, claiming: we were forced to do this and that, we didn’t actually do very much, we didn’t actually hang or kill anyone. So everything was all right really, wasn’t it?”