From her auspicious birth in the U.S. to her recently published book, Europe Undivided: Democracy, Leverage, & Integration After Communism, Milada Vachudova has led a life of contrasts. In 1967 Czechoslovakia, there had been a softening politically. Vachudova’s parents had convinced the authorities to let them travel outside the country for a year. “They convinced a ship captain to take them and my brother with their little car to Canada and that’s how they came over,” she said. “Their plan was to camp for a year and see the United States, leave the car, and fly home. They had absolutely no intention of staying here, but halfway through the trip, while they were camping in Big Bend National Park in Texas, they heard the news about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.”
The period became known as “Prague Spring.” Alexander Dubcek, first secretary of the Communist Party, had started reforms that included freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Those freedoms came to an end when the Soviet army invaded Czechoslovakia, arrested Dubcek, and effectively marooned Vachudova’s parents in the U.S.
“Both sides of my family were very politically active before the communist rule. After the communist coup in 1948, many family members lost their jobs. They had been lawyers, judges, and professors, but the intellectuals, people who had advanced degrees, were fired from their jobs and assigned jobs in the factories to do manual labor,” she explained. “So you have these wonderful stories of people, like that of the former Czech ambassador to the UK, Pavel Seifter, who worked twenty years as a window washer in the 1970s and 80s.