Svatopluk Karásek (*1942) served as a minister of the ECCB, first in a village called Hvozdnice, later in a town named Nové Město pod Smrkem. He remained a true pastor and a distinctive witness to Christ even after his state permission was withdrawn and he was working as manager at the Houska castle; neither did his attitude and personality change when he was imprisoned. In 1980, he emigrated to Switzerland, where he served at the reformed churches in Bonstetten and Zurich. After the 1989 Revolution in Czechoslovakia, he returned and resumed his work as minister, first at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, later again in Nové Město pod Smrkem and then again in Prague, at the St Salvator church. Svatopluk died on the fourth Sunday of Advent, on the 20th of December 2020.
When we were bidding him farewell at the Salvator church on the 23rd of January 2021, at a funeral with a limited number of guests due to COVID-19, the idea came up that a Sváťa – fest should be organised to honour Svatopluk and to be able to say a proper good-bye, as well as to commemorate his wide range of work as minister and songwriter, for any of his friends and listeners, no matter how close or distant. The programme started on the 31st of July with a service at the Prague Salvator church and continued with a music festival in a village near prague, Lahovičky. Since it was the middle of the summer holidays, not all those whose lives were influenced by Sváťa’s friendship, sermons, his openness and his songs, were able to attend. In spite of this, both of the venues were full.
In church, Zdeněk Bárta, a fellow dissident from Northern Bohemia, shared his memories of Sváťa. He pointed out Sváťa’s detached view of things, his inner freedom, his unusual kindness towards others and his struggle to always seek truthfulness in civic issues. Minister Josef D. Beneš, Sváťa’s Swiss colleague, remembered the adventurous beginnings of Sváťa’s stay in Switzerland, his first sermons in German, and how these resonated among the slightly reserved local churchgoers, and mainly how he managed to connect with the people because preaching the Gospel always had a deep, existential meaning to him.
The following guests continued with this theme, remembering the deep authenticity of Sváťa’s expression, pointing out how his civic non-conformity during the period of communist normalisation should not be taken for granted, and also the fact that the cool, easy-going Sváťa was a deeply humble man before God.
The festival in Lahovičky started at 4 p.m. Sváťa’s songs were sung by Karel Vepřek, Bobeš Rössler, followed by the bands Oboroh and, naturally, Svatopluk. The underground community, joined by several members of the church congregation, was dancing happily, drinking beer and bringing back to life songs like Ženský ty jsou fajn /Broads are great/, Say no to the devil, and some of the less familiar ones.
During the normalisation era, Sváťa’s songs and sermons showed the path of truthful Christianity, they worked like an anti-toxin against the narrow-mindedness sometimes encountered in churches, as well as against nationalism, xenophobia or consumerism, which certain Christians as well as church leaders are often lured by nowadays.
Sváťa fest was a real opportunity to give thanks for Sváťa’s life. With joy, we also remembered Svatopluk as Christ’s witness who had the ability to actually live the gifts of freedom, generosity and truthfulness, as shown by Christ himself, in spite of the fearfulness and hopelessness of the era that Sváťa lived in.
Tomáš Trusina, photo portrait: Karel Cudlín