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Being offered a chance to defect after the invasion of Prague


Deciding to return to Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring
Jan Klein Scientist
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The so-called Prague Spring was happening at that time. So things looked well... better. I mean you could... suddenly there was much more freedom than before. The change was that the Communists themselves decided that they want to change things. They wanted to give Communism a humane face. Now, that in itself was an admission that the face that it had before was anything but humane. But to me it was a contradiction in terms because if you say Communism is a dictatorship of a proletariat, how do you put this together with... Communism human face? So anyway... so I didn't... but it was fun. It was nice. It was... you could read suddenly things that you never could before, and you could travel and some of the freedoms that everywhere in the west were a matter of course, here you take them all for granted. But for us in this system... under this system they were something terribly refreshing. Terribly new, exciting and so on. So, although I had thoughts about not returning already then, because of these things happening I decided to go back.

Born in 1936, Jan Klein is a Czech-American immunologist who co-founded the modern science of immunogenetics – key to understanding illness and disease. He is the author or co-author of over 560 scientific publications and of seven books including 'Where Do We Come From?' which examines the molecular evolution of humans. He graduated from the Charles University at Prague in 1955, and received his MS in Botany from the same school in 1958. From 1977 to his retirement in 2004, he was the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology at Tübingen, Germany.

Listeners: Colm O'hUigin

Colm O'hUigin is a senior staff scientist at the US National Cancer Institute. He received his BA, MSc and PhD at the Genetics Department of Trinity College, Dublin where he later returned as a lecturer. He has held appointments at the Center for Population and Demographic Genetics, UT Houston, and at the University of Cambridge. As an EMBO fellow, he moved in 1990 to the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany to work with Jan Klein and lead a research group studying the evolutionary origins of immune molecules, of teeth, trypanosomes and of species.

Tags: Czechoslovakia, Prague Spring, Communist, Communism

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: August 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008