Eastern_Europe   Czecho-Slovakia   Czech Republic

 

Rita Budinova-Klimova

by O. Kyn

Rita was my colleague and very close friend at the economics Department of the Charles University in Prague in 1960s. We co-authored some papers and a textbook of the History of Economic Thought. She translated some of my papers from Czech to English and in turn I helped her to translate Samuelson's economics textbook from English to Czech. When I first time met Paul Samuelson at some party in early 70s, he told me about that terrible Marxist woman in Prague who wanted him to drop some critical passages about the Soviet type planning from the Czech edition. I told him that she was not such a terrible Marxist and that her request was motivated purely by the desire to pass his book through Czech censors.

 

 

He said that he would never agree with any politically motivated changes in his texts. Rita's translation of Samuelson has never been published, but it did circulate unofficially and had its impact on several generations of economists. Twenty years latter, after the fall of communism, the text was translated again by Michal Mejstrik, who on one of his trips to the USA stopped in Boston to ask Samuelson for permission to drop the positive statements about the Soviet-type economic system.

Mejstrik thought that it would look ridiculous under the new conditions. Paul refused again, but this time the book was published. In Spring 1989 Rita was first time in twenty years allowed to travel abroad. She came to New York to visit her relatives and friends (the well known writer Phillip Roth was one of them) and stopped also for few days in Boston. She even gave a talk in my Ec397 course.

 

A year later she was back as a Czech ambassador to Washington. In the following two years she came several times to Boston. On one occasion I made a dinner party for her and invited Paul Samuelson among others. They liked each other, chatted about Joseph Schumpeter, but it appeared that Samuelson was visibly to the left of her views. On another visit to Boston she gave a public talk at BU with all top dignitaries attending. After the fabulous dinner party thrown by Silber she collapsed. The next day she was in the hospital with leukemia. Miraculously chemotherapy worked, although doctors gave her only 20 percent chance.
She came to Boston again soon after she was released from the hospital and just before she resigned her ambassadorial position. Last time I saw her was the following year in Prague. Then two years after that the cancer stroke again. Here are some excerpts from obituaries:

 


National Public Radio:
All Things Considered January 2, 1994

DEBORAH AMOS

 On a cold winter night in November 1989, Rita Klimova was convinced that there would be no revolution in her beloved Czechoslovakia. 'We haven't fought for more than 300 years, and we're not going to fight now,' she told me in the chilly living room of her modest apartment in downtown Prague. Just a few days earlier, West Berlin had been transformed as thousands of East Berliners had simply walked into the western half of a city that symbolized the divisions of the past. The wall was down, the frozen history of the Cold War was in motion, the unimaginable was happening. Rita Klimova, the editor of an anti-communist underground newspaper, a figure in the human rights movement, was wrong about her country. Two days after our meeting, a group of students changed the course of a legal march from Prague Cemetery to Wenceslas Square where security guards were waiting. The violence of that night catapulted Prague into history and placed Klimova on the stage of the Magic Lantern Theater, the English translator of the Velvet Revolution. Hers was a voice at once familiar to Americans....
 

 


The Washington Post, January 4, 1994
Rita Klimova
at Home in the New World

by Roslyn A. Mazer

The United States was Rita Klimova's hobby. She had deep affection for this country, an attachment that took root in New York, where her family sought refuge from the Nazis in 1939 and where she attended elementary and junior high school. Her family returned in 1946 to Prague..... She was a signatory of Charter 77, and engaged in a period of courageous dissident activities, writing a column in a "samizdat" newspaper documenting the failures of the Marxist-Leninist system under the nom de plume "Adam Smith."....Long before her formal posting to Washington, though, Klimova was every bit as much an ambassador to the United States, using her extraordinary language skills to translate the dissident works of Havel, coal stoker turned foreign minister Jiri Dientsbier, and a host of others and arranging their delivery to friends in the United States.... Fate brought her to the United States just months before she was diagnosed with leukemia, and she battled the disease bravely. Following exceptional care at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, she enjoyed a nearly two-year remission. In that period of grace, she seized dozens of opportunities to speak, teach and travel in the United States and abroad. She took in a few baseball games and accompanied President Havel to a Hollywood dinner, where she befriended Warren Beatty. She adored American films. And Larry Eagleburger. In early October last year, during her last visit to the United States, when she confirmed the dreaded news of cancer returning, I suggested an ethnic restaurant in Bethesda for dinner. We had nearly arrived there when she said, "You know, what I'd really like is a hamburger." We made a U-turn and drove back into the city. The burgers were charcoal-broiled, lip-smacking good. She was cheered by this, her last, befitting meal in the United States. She died last week in Prague at age 62.

 


The New York Times, January 7, 1994
Czech Dissident. Also Translated War Novel
 

To the Editor: May I add a note to your Dec. 31 obituary artticle on Rita Klimova ("Rita Klimova, 62, Czech Dissident Who Became Ambassador to U.S.")? During the 1970's, when Mrs. Klimova was dismissed from Charles University in Prague and expelled from the Communist Party, she spent some of her time translating into English "Life With a Star," a novel by Jiri Weil, a Czech Jewish writer previously unknown to the English-speaking world. "Life With a Star" is a superb book largely about one Jew's survival under the Nazis. Mrs. Klimova revised the translation with her American editor, Roslyn Schloss, and when the book was published in 1989 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, it received unqualified praise from Arthur Miller, Irving Howe, Harold Bloom and James Atlas, among numerous others. At the time the manuscript was being prepared for publication, it would have been politically dangerous for Mrs. Klimova to take credit for the translation, so the name that appears on the title page, along with Roslyn Schloss, is a pseudonym Mrs. Klimova chose, Ruzena Kovarikova. But it was Rita Klimova who, with all her other brave and valuable accomplishments, introduced Weil's remarkable novel to the United States and later to Britain.


PHILIP ROTH
Cornwall Bridge, Conn.,
Jan. 3, 1994

 

 


The Independent, January 7, 1994
Obituary: Rita Klimova
by RICHARD DAVY
 

...A doctrinaire Stalinist in her youth, she became an ardent reformist in the 1960s, deeply regretting her early role in ousting liberal-minded academics from Charles University, in Prague, where she taught economics. Like many of the reformers who supported the doomed Dubcek regime in the ''Prague Spring'' of 1968, she was driven partly by guilt for her role in establishing the system that preceded and followed it. Her father, Stanislav Budin, was a Communist journalist and Jew, originally from the Ukraine, who fled with his family to the United States after the Nazi occupation of Prague. Against his young daughter's wishes he returned home after the war to help build socialism, eventually infecting her with his enthusiasm. But both became disillusioned and turned to the reformist movement, supplying superb inside information to selected Western journalists during the fall of the Novotny regime and thereafter. Following the Soviet invasion in 1968, she was expelled from the party and university. Her first husband was Zdenek Mlynar, another repentant Communist, who was a student friend of Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow and later drafted the political programme adopted by the Dubcek regime. The marriage broke up in 1966. Twelve years later she married Zdenek Klima, a former diplomat who had been expelled from the party. He died suddenly after a heart attack in 1980. During the bleak years of the Husak regime and Russian occupation, Rita's father signed Charter 77, the human rights petition, so the family was harassed and forced to move. After the death of both her parents, her son Vladimir, by her first marriage, encouraged her to join the Charter 77 movement in which Havel was a leading figure. She became involved in distributing smuggled printing equipment, passing information to foreign diplomats, reviving an independent newspaper in samizdat form, and translating for Havel. In the autumn of 1987 she was remarkably forthright and fearless when I interviewed her for the BBC.

 


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The Daily Telegraph, January 7, 1994
Obituary of Rita Klimova :

RITA KLIMOVA, who has died in Prague aged 62, played a crucial role in Czechoslovakia's revolution of 1989, and was credited with coining the phrase "Velvet Revolution". During the fortnight before the Communists relinquished power Klimova became a familiar face to television audiences around the world as the English- language spokesperson for Civic Forum, the opposition alliance. Seated beside Vaclav Havel, she presented daily news conferences in what he accurately called her "beautiful American English". In February of the next year she was appointed Ambassador to the United States, where she served until August 1992. ... She was the first female ambassador in the history of Czech diplomacy. Initially Klimova had to contend with a hostile environment in Washington, as the embassy staff was still largely composed of the old guard; she had also been diagnosed as having leukaemia. But she threw herself into the job with her usual energy and flair. It is a sign of the high esteem in which she was held that President Havel has written a personal tribute to Klimova in the current edition of the New York Review of Books. She was born Rita Batova into a Czech-Jewish family in Prague in 1931. Her father, Batya Bat, was a well-known journalist and writer, under the nom de plume of Stanislav Budin. .. Klimova was on friendly terms with such liberal-left dissidents as Jiri Dienstbier (who is now an opposition leader) and the Thatcherite economist Vaclav Klaus (currently the Czech Prime Minister). The former dissident Petr Pithart, who served as Czech Prime Minister from 1990 to 1992, credits Klimova with introducing the conservative philosophy of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman to Czechoslovakia. A genial and vigorous person, she was at the same time soft-spoken and sensitive. A friend described her as the "only really intelligent person I've ever met who is also very funny

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The Washington Times, January 10, 1994
Farewell to a woman who saw what her country needed most


Ken Adelman, in his Jan. 5 column "Salute to a brave dissenter," rightly praises the late Czech Ambassador Rita Klimova for her role in bringing freedom to her country and enlightenment to others. Her views on communism and its aftermath, delivered on March 20, 1991, at our conference on "The World After the Gulf War" testify to her perspicacity and her courage: ". . . over the past 45 years, there has been a very large-scale experiment carried out - an experiment dealing with millions and millions of human guinea pigs, experimented with social engineering whose purpose was to prove that one way of doing things - the method of producing and consuming material goods known as the market mechanism, which has been around for thousands of years - was not a good way of doing things, and that we humans could engineer and design alternative systems that are much better and which would bring us prosperity and affluence, with social justice assured." "That experiment has clearly failed, and we are witness in the twentieth century to the unique process whereby for the first time - probably and hopefully for the last time - there will be experiments with human beings relative to those used in physics, chemistry and biology. Human engineering aiming at short cuts, at doing things in a way that is different from the ways in which things have done for thousands of years, has proven wrong -proven to have failed completely." Looking to the future, she observed that: ". . . the United States, as a developed country, has plans for assisting the countries in transition. I think the situation at the end of World War II, when the Marshall Plan was given, was entirely different from that of today. Economies then were physically devastated because of the war, but were essentially intact. The market economy, ownership was intact. . . . "Today, I do not think that massive sums of money given by the U.S. or by anybody will lead to the solution of massive social problems - problems which we have to solve ourselves. We hope there will be foreign investments, for example normal commercial investments. But I don't think my country should depend on outsiders." Wise words - which President Clinton might bear in mind during his visit to Eastern Europe.

LORNA HAHN
Executive Director Association on Third World Affairs, Inc.Washington

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The Guardian, January 12, 1994
VELVET VOICE OF PRAGUE;
Obituary: Rita Klimova
by MICHAEL SIMMONS

WITHOUT the dignity and the persuasiveness of Rita Klimova, who has died in Prague aged 62, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia would have been very different. And without her cajoling, the "image" of Vaclav Havel, the rebel playwright who became president, would have been very different too. ... Klimova was vital to the revolution. She was one of the handful of charismatic and tireless people at its very centre, acting as interpreter - in heavily Brooklyn-accented English - and as unflappable spokesperson, even when the going was rough. She was apparently totally bilingual and seemed able to read Havel's mind and the minds of most of his nagging questioners.

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The Washington Post, January 14, 1994,
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Rita Klimova:


The Picture Wasn't Always Pretty It is difficult to write about someone who cannot respond in kind, but Roslyn A. Mazer's eulogy of the former Czech ambassador to the United States [" Rita Klimova: At Home in the New World," op-ed, Jan. 4] indirectly distorts a part of history that should not be made pretty or swept under the carpet. .. I never met Ambassador Klimova, and I do not know what she was like after the Marxist doctrine failed to "bury" the West, as Khrushchev promised. I do, however, know more than enough about the regime she chose to support by joining ther Communist Party. She took that step at the age of 18, the earliest she could become a full member. ...There was no way Ms. Klimova could have been deceived about the nature of the system she took for her own: Its ideological lockstep was flaunted in all media, its hatred for democracy was visceral, and its oppression was naked. Iron Curtain communism in the '50s was unflinching, merciless and unabashed in its disdain for human rights and "bourgeois" decency. ... I cannot help marveling at Ms. Mazer's assertion that Ms. Klimova "had a deep affection" for America dating her back to her New York childhood... That's simply absurd. Total rejection and abuse -- vitriolic, crudely insulting and incessant -- of all things American was at the very core of the creed that Ms. Klimova joined when she paid her party dues and put on her pin with the hammer and sickle. Postwar Stalinists were even more single-mindedly anti-American than the Nazis. To suggest otherwise misleads The Post's readers and creates an Orwellian memory hole as brazen as "1984."

MILAN J. KUBIC Bethesda

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The Washington Post, February 6, 1994,
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
' Rita Klimova: Czech Patriot'

Just as Milan Kubic [letters, Jan. 14] admittedly knows nothing of the late Czechoslovak Ambassador Rita Klimova's recent life, I know little of her activities under communism. But I can attest to her courage in opposing the communist regime, her love for America and its people and her great contribution to Czechoslovak- American relations. Rita Klimova was 14 when she and her parents returned to Czechoslovakia. She became an economics professor but was fired by the communists together with the other Prague Spring reformers after 1968. She later became involved with the Charter 77 human rights movement led by Vaclav Havel. I first met her in April 1988, when she served as my interpreter in interviews with dissident and other ex-prisoners for a Human Rights Watch report on Czechoslovak prisons; her home was a center for the Charter 77 movement. She was then starting an underground newspaper with leading dissidents Vaclav Havel and Jiri Dienstbier, and I recall her refusing me a souvenir of the first issue because each copy had to reach many Czechs. She next interpreted and otherwise assisted me when I went to monitor Vaclav Havel's trial in February 1989 so that Helsinki Watch could publicize and condemn the proceedings. Mrs. Klimova's actions again required great courage because security was tight. As for her love of this country, had he known her, Mr. Kubic would not have doubted it despite the official party line 40 to 50 years ago. And he is obviously unfamiliar with her many diplomatic achievements, detailed in the obituaries, including accelerating most-favored-nation treatment. Even after her retirement and while fighting cancer, she continued to work for Czech democracy by helping to bring in foreign advisers. To disregard all this is to ignore reality in favor of preconceptions and stereotypes. Vaclav Havel considered her quite "redeemed." That is a pretty good endorsement.

 HERMAN SCHWARTZ Washington

 

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