A STORY OF PERESTROIKA IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA (now the CZECH REPUBLIC)
‘My old friend,’ he greeted Phillips with an enthusiastic hug as he had always done. Phillips returned the gesture before resuming his seat. Přemysl took the seat opposite him.
They sat facing out from the small coffee shack, looking at the pond and the green park around them. It was an early spring morning, the promise of fresh beginnings in the air, the green shoots of new life pushing through the ground while the sun tried to warm the chill in the air. It was still cool enough that when they spoke, their breathe formed clouds of mist that drifted away.
‘It is so good to see you,’ Přemysl continued. ‘You are in Prague for a social visit or work?’
‘Tying up a few loose ends,’ Phillips smiled. He sipped on the coffee. He had bought them both a warm drink.
‘Pah,’ Přemysl waved his hand. ‘There are always loose ends. Better to leave them hanging I say. The war is over. Now we are all friends.’ He picked up his coffee and took a long drink of the warm liquid, nodding thanks to Phillips for getting it just the way he liked it.
‘So they say.’
‘You don’t believe in perestroika?’ Přemysl laughed as he spoke in mock surprise. ‘You and I, we have seen too much of the world. We both know it is just the next phase. Soon enough new battle lines will be drawn up.’
‘Which side will you be on this time?’
Přemysl shrugged, ‘That depends on many things. The Soviet Union is dead, Communism is dying, Czechoslovakia will split itself in two. Fortunately, we Czechs are sensible enough to do it without bloodshed. Perhaps things will be quiet for a time, but the Motherland is wounded and on her knees. She will rise again, and when she does, she will want revenge for the humiliation.’
‘Russia, of course,’ Přemysl looked puzzled.
Phillips turned to look at him for the first time since they had sat down. ‘And is Russia your Motherland too?’
Realisation dawned on Přemysl’s face. ‘So I am one of the loose ends. This was not a catch up between old friends after all.’ He took another gulp of his coffee. The air between them had cooled further.
‘How much of the information you gave me was false?’
Přemysl looked out at the joggers going round the pond, the children playing, the couples walking hand-in-hand. ‘Maybe twenty percent. The rest was good intelligence that they were happy to let you have. They even threw in a couple of genuine revelations to keep you hooked.’
‘Did it bother you that people died thanks to you?’
‘They would have died anyway. It was still a war, cold or otherwise.’
‘Did your bosses at the StB know you were working for the KGB?’
‘I am a businessman, Phillips, I worked for whoever was paying. All this,’ he waved his hands at the scene around them,’it’s just a game we play. To ordinary people it matters not at all. We play our silly games, we think it’s important, we forget that most people just want to live their life in peace, to be happy, have a little money and good health, a job they enjoy that pays enough to feed themselves and their family. Politics is meaningless to them. Communism, Democracy, Glasnost, Perestroika, they’re just words.’ He trailed off.
‘Loyalty. Is that just a word to you, old friend?’
‘You Brits. stuck on your little island, pretending you still rule the world. Perestroika will make you even more insignificant. And what do you have to complain about? Two world wars, a cold war, each time you ended up winning. No one invaded you. And yet you’re still the most depressed people in Europe. You should lighten up, enjoy life while you can.’
‘I really did like you, Přemysl.’
‘We can still be friends, Phillips. I hold no grudges.’
Phillips wearily shook his head and stood up, leaving a few koruna on the table for the coffees. ‘Not this time, Přemysl. This time it’s goodbye for good.’
‘Until the next time our paths cross, perhaps.’
‘They won’t cross again. Like I said, I’m here to tie up loose ends.’ Phillips looked pointedly at the empty coffee cup in Přemysl’s hand, turned and walked away.
Přemysl looked confused, then felt a wave of dizziness pass over him, then realised what was happening as his breathing became laboured and his skin began to burn.
The Prague sunshine shone down on the park as the people of the city enjoyed the first day of spring. It was a marvellous city in the springtime, thought Phillips.
Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.
Each day in April we will visit a different town or city in the European Union, whose name will begin with the letter of the day – today its the end of the Cold War in Prague, Czechoslovakia – for a story based on a theme also corresponding to the same letter.
Over the course of the month and 26 stories, we will visit all 28 member countries to complete a farewell tour before Britain leaves the political union next year, touching on the history, politics, culture and people at the heart of Europe.
For a full list of stories and places visited, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.
The British Spy Phillips features in a series of flash fiction and short stories that can be found here: THE PHILLIPS SPY STORIES.