It has been truly difficult for each of us to cope with the profound sadness of the passing this weekend of our friend and leader, Oldřich Černý. Olda, as his friends and colleagues knew him, had an inviting smile, infectious energy, and a steely determination towards advancing the cause of human freedom. We all loved and admired him.
Olda’s life story is nothing short of exceptional. In August 1968, as a 22-year old Charles University student, Olda anonymously penned an open letter entitled, “To All Students of the World.” Published in the University’s student magazine, the letter did more than represent the first underground issue circulated in then-occupied Prague, it voiced his plea to the world: “Don’t forget Czechoslovakia.” With Soviet tanks stationed outside his window, Olda wrote with a moment of clarity during impossible times, a trait so many of us would later seek to emulate.
Following the completion of his Master’s degree in both English and Czech literature, Olda found great pleasure working as an editor of children’s books at Albatros, and later as a freelance translator of foreign films into Czech. While his special skill set enabled many famous Hollywood movies to be enjoyed in Czech, his talent for languages eventually sent him underground. When asked about his life during the run-up to the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Olda always remained humble and modest; seldom would he mention his translation work of dissident messages and manuscripts into English for foreign journalists. During this moment in history, in many ways, Olda was the voice of Prague.
Following the Revolution, Olda returned to the dubbing studio, ignoring multiple calls by Václav Havel, now Czechoslovakia’s first President, to join his staff at Prague Castle. Eventually, in 1990, Olda relented and was appointed National Security Advisor to President Havel. After the peaceful split of Czechoslovakia in January 1993, Olda was named Director General of the Czech Office for International Relations and Information – more commonly known as the Czech Foreign Intelligence Service.
As Director General, Olda engineered the transition from the once Communist intelligence service, to the implementation of the Czech Republic’s first intelligence unit. For the next five years until his resignation in 1998, Olda managed the operations of this remodel effort – a transformation that earned recognition from his counterparts and merit of excellence from various countries.
In 1998, President Havel entrusted to his personal friend the position of Executive Director of Forum 2000, requesting Olda to carry out the message of President Havel, Japanese philanthropist Yohei Sasakawa, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. Without hesitation, Olda agreed.
Despite his commitment to Forum 2000, Olda selflessly realized a void in opportunity to educate and train security-minded students and policy practitioners in the Czech Republic. In early 2002, the Prague Security Studies Institute was established. During the next ten years, Olda built our organization into the leading international think tank in the Czech Republic, widely recognized throughout Europe.
What was supposed to be PSSI’s 10th anniversary celebratory year of thanks and reflection was darkened by the loss of our friend and mentor. Thankfully, we raised our glasses earlier this year and experienced together the warm gratification of this important milestone.
Olda educated, mentored, and guided hundreds of students from PSSI’s educational programs. Whether our Security Scholars Program, NATO Summer School or Master’s Degree Program in Security Studies at Charles University – all of these initiatives were catalyzed and nurtured by Olda.
In our grief, however, we remember that Olda will still be celebrating with us and wants nothing more than that we continue our good works based on the premise of “Peace Through Strength” and the Churchillian adage that hangs in our office in Prague, “Keep calm and carry on.”
Olda, who had such a profound and lasting impact on all of us, could not have done so without the love and support of Helena Kašperová, his daughter, Markéta, and his son, Matěj.
Roger W. Robinson, Jr.
Prague Security Studies Institute
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