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Czech diplomat Frantisek Cerny dies

Frantisek Cerny made it his life's work to bring his homeland, the Czech Republic, and Germany closer together. Now the diplomat and bridge builder has died in Prague at the age of 92.

Marianne Allweiss

Frantisek Cerny's life is an example of the breaks in Czech history in the 20th century – his life's work represents the tireless will for reconciliation with Germany.

Cerny was born in Prague in 1931 into a middle-class family with German and Czech roots. He speaks both languages ​​and is not allowed to study at first. “A person like me – with bourgeois roots – first has to prove himself. Then I said, I would get to know the working class and then I worked in a factory for three years and became a trained turner,” Cerny once said, looking back on his own life.

As a journalist through the Prague Spring

Eventually Cerny was admitted to the Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University in Prague and studied German. He experienced the Prague Spring, the political thaw in communist Czechoslovakia, as a journalist for the Czech International Broadcasting Corporation. Among other things, he reports on the legendary Kafka conference at Liblice Castle in 1963.

“Those were wonderful times. A time of departure where every day as a journalist you achieved a small success by being able to fit something into the broadcast that wasn't possible a week ago,” Cerny recalled in an interview.

Close contacts with dissidents

But those days ended when Warsaw Pact troops brutally ended the dream of socialism with a human face and occupied the country in 1968. Cerny lost his job as a journalist. “Then, as a particularly dangerous counter-revolutionary, I had to leave the radio. And then I was a German teacher for almost 20 years.”

Cerny resisted the constraints of the harsh normalization regime and never joined the communist party. Instead, he maintained close contact with the dissidents around Vaclav Havel and Jiri Dienstbier. The Velvet Revolution of 1989 meant a further turning point for Cerny's life:

I wanted to go back into broadcasting, but my wife said that was absolute nonsense. Now you've been left out for 20 years. They are all professional. But I said I feel like a broadcast person. And then Dienstbier and Havel told me: No, we need people. They had to persuade me directly.

Approach as a life theme

Cerny became the doyen of Czech diplomacy and one of the most famous ambassadors: first in Bonn, later in Berlin. Always friendly and persistent, he did a lot to break down enemy images on both sides. An ambassador should “use his resources to give the best possible impression of his country,” said Cerny.

Then my main goal was to make progress somehow between these two neighboring countries, which have had such close and long-standing relations with each other. And that was my concern.

A major task given the crimes of the Nazi regime in today's Czech Republic and the subsequent expulsion of the Germans.

Cerny remained true to his life's theme even after he left the diplomatic service: 20 years ago, together with the writer Lenka Reinerova, he founded the Prague Literature House of German-speaking authors. Even in his old age, Cerny was still an active participant in the German-Czech dialogue and a valued advisor.

Marianne Allweiss, ARD Prague, tagesschau, February 3rd, 2024 2:04 p.m

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