Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Gabriel Kládek

There is the history that is rewritten

Košice, Slovak Republic, 2009
Slovak English

Gabriel Kládek, Historian

When in 1968 the Russian Army was passing through Košice, the people were so angry that they started to attack the tanks. The Russians started shooting into the crowd. There were a lot of dead and injured people. A friend of mine, a photographer, got angry, picked up a brick, and threw it at a tank. A journalist who was recording the scene denounced him to the Secret Police. The life of my friend was completely destroyed. His children couldn’t go to high school, his professional career was stopped, and so on. 

After the change of the regime, he wasn't rehabilitated (many people were compensated for the personal and professional losses that they suffered before 1989). In his name, I wrote a letter to the Ministry of Justice. In the reply letter they almost went as far to write, ‘it's a pity that he wasn't dead. If he had died, then at least his family would get something’. 

It was difficult to do research before the revolution, but even now, as a historian, the situation is hard because I cannot get information about what was happening. When the city was offered the communist archives they had no interest to take it. So the archives disappeared.

There is the history that is rewritten and there are the things that are added or erased from history. For example, in some of the photographs of Lenin giving a speech there was also, originally, Trotsky. After Trotsky had emigrated (from Russia), they erased him from the photographs. Photos of partisans have been also retouched. When they executed somebody, they erased him from photographs. Here, this practice went so far that there is nothing left that can be erased. 

It makes no sense to generalize and blame all of the communists. What I am searching for are the concrete people who made the mistakes. Of course, it was like a gangster organization, but it is more interesting to find people who made the decisions and who did concrete things.

If I want to research something, I need to have money for it. I need to travel to the archives in Prague. And then for each document I pay three euros. If I need thousands of documents it is a lot of money. This is an elaborate way of keeping people from getting information. In this way, getting somewhere with my research is harder than before because I have to pass through a lot of barriers.  

Many things are so prohibited, that not even certain members of Parliament can get information about what is really going on. There are still people from the old regime in power. They prefer to keep certain things secret because otherwise things could turn against them.  

This interview was in Slovak with the aid of a translator
Photo by Janeil Engelstad

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