Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

In Landmark Czechoslovak Elections, Jews Overwhelmingly Back Civic Forum

June 11, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

President Vaclav Havel’s Civic Forum, which won a substantial victory this weekend in Czechoslovakia’s first free parliamentary election in 50 years, appears to have had overwhelming support in the small Jewish community.

But until the ballots cast Friday and Saturday are carefully analyzed, it will be hard to say whether 90 percent of Czechoslovak Jews did, in fact, vote for Havel’s party, as predicted by Desider Galsky, head of the Czech Jewish community.

Czechoslovak voters had to elect 300 members of the two chambers of the country’s Parliament, the House of the People and the House of the Nations. In addition, they selected 200 members of the Czech National Council, in Bohemia and Moravia, and the Slovak National Council, in Slovakia.

Questioned at a polling station about the significance of the elections for Czechoslovak Jews, Galsky said the return of freedom and democracy to Czechoslovakia brought new life to the country’s small Jewish community.

“We hope that this election will support the trend that began last November. After many years of living in a totalitarian system, we are for the first time free people, not controlled and manipulated by anybody,” Galsky said.

Galsky was returned to the leadership of the Jewish community of Czechoslovakia in early December, after the downfall of the country’s Communist regime. Until the “velvet revolution” overturned the government in late November, hard-line Communists were appointed by the government as leaders of the Jewish community, which was unable to freely express itself.


Galsky, who was a leader of the Council of Jewish Religious Communities from 1980 to 1985, frequently defied government strictures and was ousted and for years publicly shunned.

“I am convinced that at least 90 of each 100 Jews in this country will vote for the Civic Forum,” Galsky said, confirming that he himself had “of course” voted for the party’s candidates.

Galsky, a professor of history, said he has known the playwright president since his days as a dissident during the Communist regime.

Galsky was one of the Czech Jewish leaders invited to accompany Havel on his three-day visit to Israel in late April and was a member of the official delegation. It was the first trip to Israel by a Czechoslovak chief of state.

He said Havel and his advisers appreciate the problems and needs of the Jewish community, as does the Czech prime minister, Petr Pithart. Galsky said Pithart has promised him government assistance to maintain abandoned Jewish cemeteries in the country.

Galsky takes seriously the manifest anti-Semitism in the ranks of the clergy and nationalistic forces, which have a large following in Slovakia, the eastern constituent of the Czechoslovak federation.

Some groups make use of the newly gained freedom to speak out openly against Czechs, Gypsies or Jews, he explained.

But Galsky said he is “convinced that they are not the mainstream in Slovakia and that democratic forces will have the upper hand there.”

Recommended from JTA