Monday, October 19, 2015

4 Lasting repercussions of what happened thirty five years ago

Radovan Richta wrote to Professor Diemer: ‘In some parts of the Western press the matter is presented as though Tomin were a distinguished philosopher persecuted and silenced for his views etc. But in fact he is worth nothing in philosophy, he has never published any scientific book, and his output comprises one – insignificant and unoriginal – article published in No 5 of the Philosophic Journal (1968); one technical note about atheism in the Slovak journal Questions of Marxist Philosophy (1962); and one manuscript, a tiny study in the middle of the 1970s, which was not published because it was condemned by highly competent referees for its absolutely negligible scientific level. Otherwise he published, but only occasionally, petty journalistic articles in the press which were outside the realm of philosophy and science. It is therefore abundantly clear why it was that in the competitions for scientific positions in which he took part other candidates were always preferred – and not at all because of his political views which, incidentally, he did not display very much until recently. But, because in our country the right to work is assured, he was offered a respectable job as a translator which corresponds to his qualifications. But, unfortunately, he is an excessively ambitious and mentally unstable person with a proclivity towards exhibitionism.’

In this entry I shall respond to Richta’s point, which I have highlighted; it finds an echo in ‘The Pub Philosopher’, which Nick Cohen opens with the words: ‘The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal. “I don’t wish to sound East European,” said one, “but perhaps he does need psychiatric help … One professor added … But you can disguise paranoia in the East. There are so many real conspiracies. There aren’t the same excuses when you come to the West”.’ (The Independent Magazine November 18, 1989)

It was echoed again nine years later in Prague at a Press Conference of the Czech Social Democratic Party, which took place on August 14, 1998. I was about to leave Oxford – Jan Hus Educational Foundation offered me a grant for a year with a promise of a permanent job at the Institute of Philosophy – when I learnt that Jan Kavan was appointed a Foreign Minister. In protest against his appointment I began a hunger-strike, for he committed a perjury in Britain on August 19, 1982, in the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, at the Divisional Court. At the Press Conference a freelance journalist Jan Sedlák addressed Libor Rouček, the spokesperson of the Social Democratic Party, as follows: ‘The Czech TV on all its channels presents Tomin. You too lived in England and therefore know that he had received psychiatric treatment. He allegedly suffered from the fixed idea that he was Jan Hus … An unhappy man, who should have no place on a TV screen. And this is public-owned TV, paid for by the tax-payer.’ The Press Spokesman replied: ‘Yes, I believe that Mr Tomin is an unhappy man, and as far as I am acquainted with public-owned TV in other countries, not a single one would produce such a program. But it is a matter for Czech TV and its Council.’

Indeed, Czech TV dealt with the matter; in the spring 1998 a Czech TV crew came to Oxford to make a film about my stay there. Most of the filming took place on a punt on the river Cherwell; surrounded by the beauty of Oxford Colleges and University Parks; I spoke of my challenging Oxford dons at the meetings of the Oxford Philosophy Society and of the Oxford Aristotelian Reading Circle, and of the great privilege of having the Bodleian Library at my disposal with all its treasures. The film was to be produced in the autumn after my arriving to Prague; but it has never been screened.

In Czech we have a saying ‘na každém šprochu je pravdy trochu’: ‘there is no rumour without some truth in it’. What truth is there in the allegation that I had received psychiatric treatment? I was interned in a psychiatric hospital for three days. In October 1979 I was invited to talk to a group of young people in north Bohemia. On a Saturday afternoon a member of the “underground” arrived to take me there. Out of Prague, we were ambushed by the Secret Police. The Police took me to the Psychiatric Hospital in Horní Beřkovice. The nurse in charge ordered me to take off my clothes and dress myself in the hospital outfit. I refused to do so and was given an injection of chlorprotixen. I remember a dry throat; in the night I went to the toilet on all fours, like an animal. On Sunday I received no injection for there was no doctor to prescribe one. On Monday morning I was taken to the Consultant; she looked out of the window and ordered the nurse to give me an injection. I asked the Consultant: ‘How can you prescribe an injection without talking to me or even just looking at me?’ The Consultant told the nurse: Leave it for now, we shall do it after the round.’ After lunch the patients were assembled in the dining hall; the Consultant with her assistants went from patient to patient. When the procession came to me, I looked the Consultant in the eyes and asked her: ‘Can you tell me the reason for why you are keeping me here?’ The Consultant said: ‘We shall discuss it after the round.’ She said these words and fainted. She fell into the arms of the junior doctor who stood behind her and was carried away. On Tuesday morning I was taken to the Consultant’s office. I asked her to give me any medical reasons for having me in the hospital. She admitted that she had no such reasons and discharged me from the hospital. All in all I was in the psychiatric hospital for approximately sixty hours, less than three full days.

In those days my philosophy seminar was held in the flat of Ivan Dejmal, one of my disciples, for in front of our flat were two policemen sitting day and night. My seminars took place each Wednesday. I had invited Ladislav Hejdánek, a Philosopher and Theologian, to give a talk in my seminar that coming Wednesday, and so I thought I would stay home, for I was exhausted after my adventure. But at seven p.m., when the seminar must have started, I began to regret my missing the lecture. And so I went to the seminar; it was a walk of five minutes. The room was packed with people, most of whom I had never seen. I learnt only later that there were people from as far away as Brno in Moravia; ambitious plans had been prepared for running the seminar in cooperation with Oxford University – without me. My entry caused a great consternation among all those in the room. Hejdánek asked: ‘What happened?’ I briefly narrated my psychiatric hospital adventure, to which he said: ‘Do you think they discharged you because of what happened in the hospital? That’s nonsense. They must have changed their directives in Moscow.’ I did not ask what he meant by ‘they’ and what Moscow had to do with my seminar or with my internment in the psychiatric hospital. I was unwanted in that gathering and left the room. I thought it was the end of my seminar; next Wednesday Hejdánek was to have one more lecture, and I did not feel like going there. But again, as the time of the seminar came, I could not help going there. When I entered the room in which the seminar was to be held, there was no Hejdánek, just a few of my most faithful students. They were deeply worried and asked me, whether I had noticed that there were Secret Policemen sitting in their cars on both corners of the street. I did not notice anything, but I agreed to look out of the window. The cars they pointed to me were just leaving. My seminar resumed as normal.

In 1980 Kathy Wilkes told my wife: ‘Oxford will never forgive Julius his getting out of the hospital. We were about to launch a great campaign, together with our French, German, American and Canadian colleagues, to get him out of there. But he got out before the campaign was even launched.’

In The Guardian of January 6, 1987 Polly Toinbee wrote in ‘Out of the East’: ‘Both Oxford and Cambridge had written to Julius in Czechoslovakia when he was in a mental hospital praising his work and offering jobs any time he wanted.’ The Guardian published my correction: ‘I have never been offered any jobs by Oxford or Cambridge and to my knowledge no letter was written to me by Oxford or Cambridge during the time when I was in mental hospital. The whole affair lasted 60 hours, 24 of those falling on Sunday. There simply was no time for Oxford or Cambridge to write any letters.’

In 2011 a Wikipedia entry concerning me was brought to my attention. In it I read: ‘He had refused military draft and had been sent to a psychiatric hospital for two years.’ Was it just an oversight?  In the early 1960s I worked for two years in a psychiatric hospital as a nurse. (See ‘A Wikipedia entry’ on my website. My wife contacted the Wikipedia, and the entry was corrected.)

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