Karel Franc

Karel Franc, former General Consul of Czechoslovakia in Australia, disappeared just before his planned return to Czechoslovakia.

At the end of his four-year term in Australia, the former Consul-General of Czechoslovakia in Australia, Karel Franc’s return to Czechoslovakia was just around the corner. It was the year 1969. After the invasion of Warsaw Pact forces definitively ended the period of liberalisation known as the Prague Spring, and Dubček was replaced by Gustáv Husák, Franc started wondering whether he would return to Czechoslovakia at all.

Karel Franc with Billie Snedden, former Immigration Minister of Australia. Source: SMH.

Beautiful beaches and a different-thinking society tempted the diplomat to stay in Australia. Karel Franc was known amongst the diplomatic community for openly expressing his views on Soviet politics and also openly supported Dubček, an iconic politician during the Prague Spring.

Despite the fact that communication with head office went cold and his old friends at the Ministry stopped replying to him, the order for his return came. Looking out over Sydney Harbour, he decided to stay in Australia and by doing so give up his diplomatic status, reliable source of income and even more difficult, abandon his family members still in Prague. He would have to start his career all over again as a middle-aged man.

He already had tickets to fly out of Australia on 8th October, but instead of returning, Karel Franc and his family disappeared. Even during his last farewell with his colleagues at the Consulate, Franc could not reveal his plans. He packed his things and left his residence, but did not head to the airport. It was not until later that it was revealed that he and his family were allowed to stay in Australia as migrants. The Australian intelligence agency, ASIO, helped him to do this. In exchange, Franc gave information, among other things, about a network of Soviet „illegals“ in Australia, that would be activated by the Soviet Union in the case of war.

Former Prime Minister, Mr Gorton stated „I extend sympathy to Mr Franc at his not being able to return to his homeland because of the Russian oppression and the suppression of those liberal tendencies Czechoslovakia was beginning to evince.“ and added that he hoped Franc would be happy in Australia.

Title photo: Karel and his wife, Jeroslava Franc, v roce 1969. Source: The Australian Women’s Weekly.

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