Prague: Stoking Boilers and the Life of the Mind

Prague: Stoking Boilers and the Life of the Mind

In the spring of 1980, the Senior Tutor and the Master of Balliol College, Oxford, both philosophers, and an English schoolboy were
expelled from Czechoslovakia, after interrogation, for attending the unofficial philosophy courses of Dr. Julius Tomin. The Oxford dons were the latest in a stream of academic visitors Tomin had received. Had the seminars been permitted to continue by the police who roughly invaded the apartment where they take place, they would have treated the subjects of rationality in science and of Aristotle’s Ethics, respectively. As it was, they could only leave their philosophical thoughts with the Prague police who, given the amount of energy
they devote to interrogating and confiscating papers from intellectuals, must be the best educated cops in the world.

The treatment these Oxford visitors received is mild when compared with that regularly meted out to Dr. Tomin himself and to the participants in his seminars. The authorities of what he calls “The Security State” have frequently interrogated him, denied his elder son an academic education, beaten up his wife (a remarkably sensitive and intelligent person and a leading spokeswoman for Charter 77), threatened him with a psychiatric diagnosis (which, to their great credit, the Czech psychiatrists refused to perform), set policemen to chase him across fields and woods, positioned two of them outside the door of his apartment for five months, and repeatedly tried to get him to leave the country. On one recent occasion, Dr. Tomin was dragged by police down three flights of stairs from his apartment at the time his Wednesday seminar was
due to begin, then was forced into a car and taken to the police station—where he refused to answer all questions and even to stand up. After several hours he was bundled out and, because the police did not want a body lying outside their station (he still would not get up) left him some distance away on a pile of coal. He dusted himself off, walked
home, and then discussed Aristotle with his waiting students for four hours. The police, however, had made clear their intention to disrupt future meetings of his course, and they have been carrying it out.


Lima