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Monday, November 13, 2017

Ludek Pachman, Political Activist (Part 2)

     Prague Spring. That's what a brief period of liberalization in Czechoslovakia under Alexander Dubcek is known as and it changed Pachman's political views. 
     Soon after Dubcek became first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party on January 5, 1968, he granted the press greater freedom of expression; he also rehabilitated victims of political purges during the Joseph Stalin era. In April he promulgated a sweeping reform program that included autonomy for Slovakia, a revised constitution to guarantee civil rights and liberties, and plans for the democratization of the government. 
     By June many Czechs were calling for more rapid progress toward democracy. Although Alexander Dubcek, who Pachman enthusiastically supported, insisted he had things under control the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries viewed the developments as a counterrevolution. On the evening of August 20, Soviet troops invaded the country and quickly occupied it. Hard-line communists regained power, reforms were curtailed and Dubcek got booted out the following April. Ludek Pachman was in the thick of the call for reforms during Prague Spring and was considered one of its heroes. 
     As unrest grew, Pachman increasingly spoke out in support of Dubcek and against the policies of the Soviet-installed government. In August 1969, Pachman was arrested and spent months in prison without being charged, going on a hunger strike at one point to protest his treatment. He was released in 1970, but was rearrested in January 1972. At one point in his incarceration, he attempted suicide by jumping head first from his bed onto the floor, causing permanent injuries to his head and spine. In his later years when Pachman spoke of his political enemies he always referred to them as “they.” The odd thing is that at one time Pachman himself was a “they.” 
     In his later years he was almost completely involved in politics and even at chess tournaments he could be seen in restaurants hanging out, not with other Grandmasters, but with “other” types. Pachman spoke several languages and could easily switch from Czech to German to English or Spanish or even Russian. 
     The Lugano Olympiad took place in 1968 two months after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and all the Czech players in the Czechoslovakia-USSR match wore black armbands. Pachman wasn't playing for the Czech team as he was too involved in politics, but he did go to Lugano where he almost stirred up a political debate at the FIDE Congress.
     When the Soviet delegate proposed the immediate exclusion of South Africa from FIDE, the then FIDE president Folke Rogard called the Soviet delegate in for a conversation and showed him a letter from Pachman and added that if anyone should be kicked out of FIDE it was the six Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union. Rogard also warned that if the Soviet Union insisted on excluding South Africa, he would make Pachman's letter public. Nobody knows what was in the letter, but the issue of South Africa' s FIDE membership was removed from the agenda. 
     Back in Czechoslovakia, Pachman received permission to tour the country giving simultaneous exhibitions and lectures and drew large crowds. He didn't lecture on chess though. His lectured about the political situation and what could be done to attract the world's attention to their problems. He was also involved in underground meetings, distributing pamphlets, calling for for civil disobedience, organizing demonstrations, writing letters of protest and distributing them to any and all organizations and political and social activists. Naturally, Big Brother was watching.  
     In the summer of 1969 Korchnoi and Keres played in an international tournament in Czechoslovakia and one day Kochnoi found a note from Keres at the hotel stating that he been invited to meet some interesting people and would be back in the evening. The meeting was with Pachman and the visit did not go unnoticed. The following day when Korchnoi and Keres returned to Moscow as soon as he stepped off the plane, Keres was escorted to KGB headquarters at Lubyanka and subjected to an interrogation for several hours. 
     It's not known who ratted on Keres. Olympic athlete Emil Zatopek a Czech long-distance runner who won three gold medals at the 1952 Summer Olympics was at the meeting and Pachman later told Korchnoi that Zatopek was the culprit. But then Keres was constantly being watched and, also, anyone who came into contact with Pachman fell under suspicion.
     Pachman was arrested in 1969 and even in prison he wrote protest letters to the President of the republic, to Fidel Castro and to the United Nations. He was released in 1970 only to be arrested twice more. When he went on a hunger strike they force-fed him, but Pachman closed his eyes and didn't open them again until his release; he also stopped speaking, communicating with prison guards and doctors only in writing. When Pachman's wife visited and spoke to him, he wrote down his replies. Fearing for his mental health, a doctor asked him, if released, would his behavior change. Pachman's reply, in writing, was that he would open his eyes and begin speaking. 
      At first Pachman didn' t want to emigrate, but in November 1972 he left Czechoslovakia and moved to Solingen, West Germany where his friend ran one of the strongest chess clubs in the country. Several years later Pachman moved to Passau and added another “n” to his name, making it sound more German. In 1978 “Ludek Pachmann” won the championship of West Germany. 
     Grandmaster Genna Sosonko described a situation at the zonal in Barcelona in August 1975. Francisco Franco was in power at the time and about ten days before the tournament started several people were sentenced to death for killing a policeman. Upon arrival he was discovered some representatives of Eastern European countries, namely some strong GMs from Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, had refused to come in protest. Players from Romania and Hungary showed up, but decided not to play out of fear of reprisals by their governments. 
     In the first round Sosonko and Pachman played a GM draw which they didn't even bother to analyze and after the game reporters from Radio Catalonia besieged Pachman and he spoke passionately against politics weaseling its way into sports, especially chess. He also spoke of many people from Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union who had been given long prison sentences for writing letters of protest or publishing their work abroad. Sosonko commented that while listening to Pachman's emotional speech it was hard to imagine that at one time Pachman himself had been a “they.” In fact, Pachman had been a significant cog in the Communist machine. 
     One year at Lone Pine, Sosonko ran into Pachman early on a Sunday morning and Pachman informed him he was in a hurry; he was late for church; Pachman had become a zealous Catholic and had even written a pamphlet about his conversion to the Catholic faith. Pachman wrote that when he went to back to prison, he realized that when he was at home he felt he was a believer and while in prison he had long discussions with God and in his head he argued on both sides; He told himself he was very sinful and promised to change his life for the better. He believed that was impossible in prison and he could only do it at home.
     Pachman became an active member of the Christian Social Union, a political party siding with the extreme right (harboring conservative views or opinions on economic, political, and social issues). When their annual congress took place in Passau, the speaker was Franz Josef Strauss, the long-time leader of the party and he an Pachman became close friends.
     Pachman was very valuable to the party because he was an excellent speaker and debater. He had all the qualities of a politician: extraordinary ambition, enormous confidence in himself and his purpose. He was a master of intrigue could see the weaknesses of his opponents and exploit them. His biggest weakness was his argumentative style and inability to compromise. 
     When the Velvet Revolution, a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia, occurred from November 17 to December 29, 1989, took place the 65-year old Pachman returned to take part.  Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party resulted in the end of 41 years of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent dismantling of the planned economy and conversion to a parliamentary republic. 
     Pachman died in Passau , Germany on March 6, 2003. The editor of the Czech chess magazine knew Pachman well in the last period of his life and described him as very nice, kind and responsive, always ready to help someone and a person with whom it was interesting to spend time. Pachman never had much interest in money. He wouldn't ask for a fee when he wrote articles for chess magazines, willingly gave simultaneous exhibitions and lectures and never insisted on getting paid.

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