After a brief but serious illness, Josef Jařab has died, aged 85. Professor of English and American Literature, literary theoretician and translator, he was the first post-Velvet Revolution rector of Palacký University Olomouc (1990–1997).
Josef Jařab was an important figure in the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Olomouc; he immediately sided with the students when they decided to strike, and supported their demands. In January 1990, he became the first post-Velvet Revolution rector. “The students nominated me for rector. I went with them to the new senate, which unanimously voted me in as rector. It wasn’t until that moment that I realised that was the first election in Czechoslovakia. I had a lump in my throat, and so did the chair of the senate committee. We were then aware that this was something very important,” said Jařab, in a recording of his reminiscences of those times for the Memory of Nations project.
“The news of his passing hit me hard. I first saw him at the first meeting of students in the UP Sports Hall at the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, and he immediately made an impression on me as an incredibly charismatic man. We have lost the most important personage in the post-1989 history of our university, one who did so much good for the school. He worked hard to bring it to its fruition, both home and abroad. Many famous Czech and international figures came to Olomouc on his invitation, he was ever the scholar and gentleman, he had an immense grasp of things, and took an active part in the daily life of the university up until the very end. He is missed, and not only for his warmth, kindness, and worldly outlook,” said Palacký University Rector Martin Procházka.
As UP rector, Jařab served during revolutionary changes to the school and its atmosphere. He pushed the university to grow, and was able to negotiate for the acquisition and subsequent remodelling of a number of building complexes in which the school now resides.
He also brought a number of internationally famous personalities to Olomouc, such as poet Allen Ginsberg, theatre director and actor Peter Ustinov, and emigré journalist and publicist Pavel Tigrid. On Prof Jařab’s recommendation, Palacký University was the first university in Czechoslovakia to grant an honorary doctorate to President Václav Havel, in May 1990.
After his term as rector in Olomouc was up, he also served as rector of Central European University. He was a guest professor at many universities abroad, including Harvard. He was awarded an honorary doctorate at one British and two American universities. He was twice voted to the Czech Senate as an independent. He was the recipient of a number of awards, including the City of Olomouc Award, the František Palacký Award from his alma mater, and the Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97 Award.
Josef Jařab was the author of a number of books and translations, and his memories of the time when he served as UP rector were collected in print and audiobook form in 2018 as Rektorská rozpomínání (A Rector’s Reminiscences). In 2019, director Martin Müller’s documentary Homo academicus on Prof Jařab was released, a co-production with Czech Television.
The funeral mass for Josef Jařab will take place on 9 May at 1 pm in the Church of St Maurice in Olomouc.