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Proud Czech and top class bloke

On the phone Johnny Krcmar sounded like the quintessential Englishman, with a rather patrician accent from his early years in Britain. In reality no one could have been a prouder Czech. 


When I first met Johnny in the 1980s, he was stateless, stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship by the communists who loomed over much of his life. On late shifts in the Vienna bureau, he would tell of life under Stalinism, pushing trollies in a steel mill and working at a MiG fighter factory. Then came his career at the Czech news agency CTK, the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968 and a posting to Ghana while communist orthodoxy was being reimposed back home.


No one with Johnny's background could keep their job for long under "normalisation" and so CTK's loss was Reuters gain, first in Prague and then in exile in Vienna. 


Losing his citizenship must have been a heavy blow, but after a long battle Johnny became an Austrian national. That allowed Johnny and Petra to buy a home in Vienna, and I remember the rather dilapidated house being transformed by fellow Czech exiles. Among the workmen were former roadies for the Plastic People of the Universe, an underground rock band synonymous with the Prague Spring. 


Many years later, after Johnny had covered the Velvet Revolution of 1989, I wondered whether he would return to live in Prague now that elected politicians had replaced the communists. No, he said, because they're all the same. While Vaclav Havel remained president, most former Czech dissidents had left government by this time, often succeeded by people who had held posts under communism.


And yet Johnny was no jaded character. He was not only a hugely knowledgeable and amusing mentor when I was a junior reporter, but also a wonderfully kind man who, along with Petra and the rest of his family, would welcome me into their warm home. 


I will always remember Johnny as a top class journalist and a top class bloke. ■