Iva Drapalova, former AP Prague correspondent, dies at 91
PRAGUE (AP) — Iva Drapalova, a former Associated Press correspondent in Prague who covered Czechoslovakia with courage for two decades following the 1968 Soviet-led invasion, has died. She was 91.
Drapalova’s family said Tuesday that she died “quietly and suddenly” on Saturday.
After her years with the AP, she worked for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post and other major U.S. newspapers.
Born April 4, 1925, in Svepravice near Prague, Drapalova spent World War II in Britain. After she returned to Czechoslovakia, she and her family were persecuted by the country’s Communist regime during the 1950s.
The AP hired her as a translator in 1968, the year that Moscow crushed the Prague Spring — the brief period of liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia under leader Alexander Dubcek.
Drapalova later became the news agency’s Prague correspondent, covering events after Warsaw Pact forces reasserted Soviet authority.
At one point, authorities banned her from writing stories and ordered her to provide only translations to the AP. Drapalova initially obeyed, but she later resumed reporting under relentless surveillance.
“My approach to the whole thing was that anybody I meet with can be reporting on me,” Drapalova said in a 2012 interview for The Associated Press Oral History Program. “And anything I do, anything I say, can be reported. And if you accept it, then you are not that worried about it.”
Her telephone was tapped, she was followed, and even her assistant turned out to be an informant. After the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution in 1989, Drapalova discovered the details in a file of more than 1,000 pages kept on her by the secret police.
Her career as an AP reporter began almost by accident. After Prague correspondent Gene Kramer left Czechoslovakia, Drapalova was the wire service’s only representative in the country.
“Nobody told me anything,” she recalled. “They gave me the right to sign the checks. I thought I was just there until somebody else comes. So I started writing.”
One of the first major stories she covered was in 1972, when a Yugoslav Airlines Douglas DC-9 airliner exploded over a mountain range in Czechoslovakia. Twenty people died, but a flight attendant survived.
“I did again what I saw Gene doing. That is, I called the hospital and I talked with a doctor (who) had good story. I talked with everybody there who was willing to talk. So I sent the story. Next morning, I saw the story ... on the wire and it was bylined, but not my name. When it came to New York, nobody knew anything about me, but they wanted a byline. So, they put the name of the Belgrade correspondent on my first story,” she laughed.
Drapalova’s devotion and writing skills were highly valued, and her bosses at the control bureau in Frankfurt repeatedly rejected her requests to retire.
After she left the AP, Drapalova helped other reporters cover the Velvet Revolution and cooperated mainly with the Los Angeles Times until her 2003 retirement.
Alison Smale, a former AP correspondent and now the Berlin bureau chief for The New York Times, said Drapalova was “key to the understanding of Czechoslovakia for a crucial two decades.”
“I will always be grateful to her for the insights she offered in subtle reading of shifting Communist Party politics, for her vivid memories of her own repression, and for always reminding me, gently or with force, that it was important to look at what was happening in the society for what it was, and not as the product of some often mistaken Western desire,” Smale said.
Drapalova is survived by her two sons, Dan and Ales. Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday.