How Czech Journalists Fabricate Reports – The case of Karel Vrána and ÚSTR

1. 2. 2023 / Muriel Blaive

čas čtení 11 minut

Journalist Karel Vrána contacted me by email to tell me that he was shooting a report for Reportéři ČT on “What is happening around ÚSTR”, and to ask me for an interview. Upon my request, he sent me five questions in writing on 29 November 2022:

  1. Do you consider your forced departure from ÚSTR as a political matter? If yes, why?

  2. Will you take the Institute to court?

  3. How do you feel about the petition in your support?

  4. The management of the Institute claims that due to the shortcomings of your work it had to return about 2 million crowns to the Grant Agency. How would you respond to this claim?

  5. Do you see ÚSTR as an ideologized institution?


I reproduce underneath not only his questions, but my answers, which I sent him back in writing also on 29 November. As the reader will see, these questions and answers have absolutely nothing in common with the final report as it was broadcast.

We then recorded an interview by Zoom on 1 December 2022. Vrána apparently decided not to use my interview in his lurid report, The Horror House of Žižkov, which was broadcast by Česká televize on 23 January 2023. Fair enough. Instead, however, the report is an attempt to present the reconstruction of the former seat of the institute in Siwiecova as a dramatic coverup of incompetence and waste of taxpayers’ money, while the fact that the police stopped all investigations after two years because it failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing remains somehow unexplained. The report also never wonders who demanded an investigation to the police in the first place and whether it was not, by any chance, a political attempt to discredit the leadership of the institute. The staging of the report is also utterly ridiculous. Its tone can be summarized by the appearance of Monika MacDonagh-Pajerová at the beginning of the film, who says she never goes around that part of town, because “whenever she does, she has to cry.”

But the methods of Karel Vrána are best illustrated by the fact that he eventually also asked me during our Zoom interview about the reconstruction of the building, yet failed to use my answer when it did not bring him what he wanted to hear. So, it is not unhelpful to remind here what I told him (I recorded the interview on my side, too), when he asked me “Where did the mistake happen in the reconstruction of the institute”:

I think it's a complete coincidence. I was still part of the management when it started, and I think they asked different companies how much it would cost, and they took the cheapest. Then the company started tearing the building down and found out it was much worse than they had imagined, so suddenly it cost a lot more. I don't know the details anymore, but I just remember this is how it was. Suddenly it cost an awful lot of money, and the institute started looking for more money, and I think it couldn’t put together the whole amount, so the reconstruction had to stop. Something like that. ... So, there was nothing here. It was yet another “affair”, like all the other “affairs” which are completely out of it. They just create scandals for nothing at all, and it's all over the news, all over the media, and people feel like, oh my god, all these terrible things happen there, and then two years later, or just later, it turns out that it was nothing at all, but it's not all over the news or all over the media anymore, right? People are left with the impression that it was terrible, but it's not addressed anymore.

Had Vräna wanted to present a balanced account of this issue, to present my point of view would have been an excellent opportunity. Instead, he chose to make a report that is only an indictment of the former management of the institute, with absolutely no space left for the defense. In my experience, this is unfortunately how a lot of the Czech media work on the issue of dealing with the communist past. The irony of my then explaining to Vrána in our interview that Czech media are for a large part incompetent and misuse information to fabricate fake allegations was apparently lost on him, because this is exactly what he did with me.

Below are the answers I sent him to his questions on 29 November 2022. I am left to speculate that these questions, which turned out to be senseless in view of the theme of the report, were a trap to get me to speak of the building. I suppose Mr Vrána was hoping I would slander the former management of the institute. Needless to say, this is anything but quality journalism.

  1. Do you consider your forced departure from ÚSTR as a political matter? If yes, why?

I do. From an academic point of view, it was in ÚSTR’s best interest to keep me – I would have cost very little to the institute, but I would have brought to its credit all my publications, notwithstanding that it would have been an ideal opportunity to establish a partnership with the university of Graz. Graz already has a strong research center on the former Yugoslavia and is a magnet in Austria for research on Central and Eastern Europe thanks to Professor Libora Oates-Indruchová (who used to sit on the Scientific Advisory Board of ÚSTR.)

I am also, as I showed in an article, the researcher with the highest, or one of the highest, international ranking in the institute as seen from the point of view of the golden standard, the H-Index on Web of Science. Director Kudrna is not even mentioned there, notwithstanding that he was designated by the former Scientific Advisory Board as a plagiarizer.

On the other hand, after he was elected director but before he even stepped into office, director Kudrna gave an interesting interview to journalist Barbora Tachecí on ČRo plus. In a rather confused narrative, he claimed that:

“so-called ‘academic revisionists’ like ‘Michal Pullmann and Muriel Blaive’ are supporters of Vladimír Putin in the current war against Ukraine and are ‘helping Putin convince a lot of people that he is doing the right thing.’”

It is of course completely false. I believe that Putin is a war criminal who belongs in jail, and I am very much hoping that an international tribunal for the crimes committed in Ukraine will be established in the Hague.

But Kudrna doesn’t stop there. Additionally I am supposed to have claimed that under communism:

"basically it wasn't that bad, most people identified with the regime, etc. ... These are notorious statements about the social contract, about the meaninglessness of dissent, about how people didn't actually want to travel, freedom didn't interest them, etc. etc."

The fact that I try to deconstruct the social basis of support for the communist regime only means that I am trying to understand how it managed to work for so long, not that I support communist crimes. I absolutely never claimed that dissent was meaningless, quite on the contrary, or that freedom didn’t interest people under communism – of course it did, what an idiocy. But this led Kudrna to conclude that my alleged “revisionism” "has become a regular part of the hybrid war", by which he meant Putin’s hybrid war:

"And when you wage a hybrid war, it takes many forms. ... We see the result when that kind of downplaying of recent history ... leads to what we're seeing today. Nothing happens by accident. Everything is linked to everything."

I would say the only things that are really “linked” here are Kudrna’s twisted understanding of what a critical assessment of history is supposed to be and his decision to fire me.

  1. Will you take the Institute to court?

Indeed I am planning on suing the institute with my lawyer Pavel Uhl.

NB from 31 January 2023: In the meantime we did file the lawsuit.

  1. How do you feel about the petition in your support?

I was amused to see the consternation of the anticommunists concerning the fact that the great American historian Timothy Snyder (who can be suspected neither of supporting Putin, nor of supporting communism) signed the petition put together by the wonderful artist and activist Pavel Karous. It was also interesting to see the difference between the foreign historians who signed the petition on principle, understanding that it is unacceptable in a democracy that a historian should be fired for her alleged political views (that are not even true), and many Czech colleagues, who were very finicky about this or that formulation, or who claimed they couldn’t take sides in a labor dispute. I joked on Facebook that I wonder how many people refused to sign Charter 77 just because they thought one sentence or another was badly written. For the rest, I am incredibly moved by the ordinary Czech citizens who signed, clearly on behalf on democracy because they do not know me personally or the details of the case. But what courage! I am impressed and deeply grateful. I am also very grateful to my colleagues at ÚSTR who signed. My former boss Ondřej Vojtěchovský was dismissed as editor-in-chief of the institute's journal Securitas Imperii just a few days after he signed, which is a disturbing coincidence to say the least.

4. The management of the Institute claims that due to the shortcomings of your work it had to return about 2 million crowns to the Grant Agency. How would you respond to this claim?

As far as I know, it’s a blatant lie. My grant was forcefully interrupted by GAČR in the course of the third year, but the institute did not have to give back a single crown. The institute just did not get the chance to spend the remaining money. In fact, I am considering suing director Kudrna for this statement as well. To claim that I cost the institute two million when in fact I brought money to the institute is quite an insult.

NB from 31 January 2023: After this interview, I sent to ÚSTR a request under Law 106/1999 to get confirmation that these alleged two million crowns were a lie. Deputy Director Kamil Nedvědický replied to me the following: “According to the Final Report sent to the Grant Agency on May 3, 2018, the underspent amount was CZK 599,000.” In other words, the Institute did not reimburse GAČR a single crown, it was only prevented from drawing money for the rest of the year 2018. Not only did the institute *not* return two million crowns because of me but on the contrary, thanks to me it received a substantial amount of money: half of my salary from GAČR and the overhead costs for the first two years. In other words, Director Kudrna publicly lied and slandered me. To this day, the institute continues lying to the public, since it still displays the following on its website: “The grant which Dr Muriel Blaive received within the Institute, to which she herself refers in the media, had to be returned to the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic, and the Institute had to pay what was used from it from its own budget. The grant exceeded CZK 2 million."

To waste Czech taxpayers’ money to display slanderous allegations on its website is in my opinion quite outrageous.

5. Do you see ÚSTR as an ideologized institution?

Sadly, very much so. It was created in this way because it is linked to political representation. It was fundamentally bad in its conception. When the team around director Hazdra took over, we tried to depoliticize it and to turn it into a respectable academic institution, which succeeded to a large extent. However, since the Board is dependent on the result of political elections, it is impossible to keep a long-turn, stable, dedicated team in place. I think it is sad because this country badly needs a functioning institute of national memory. It is high time to turn the page and promote some form of reconciliation about the past so as to build a more serene future. Unfortunately, the men who are at the helm right now dream only about creating more division in the hope to gain some political credit. It is pathetic. I can’t resign myself to call for the institute’s dissolution, as many people do – why spend the taxpayer’s money on what is essentially a political tool for ODS? But again, this country needs such an institute – only it needs a working institution, not this joke of an institute.



Obsah vydání | 6. 2. 2023