Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Eva Salnerová

I lived in a world of double standards

Bratislava, Slovak Republic,2009
Slovak English

Eva Salnerová, Analyst and translator

Before 1989, I lived in a world of double standards because I had to say different things at work than I would say at home. I was living in a kind of paranoia. After the revolution, I suddenly realized that I could openly speak to people, but first I had to change my mental set-up. I could not immediately enjoy this new freedom because I did not have the skill to talk openly. 

In 1990, I was able to participate in an exchange program between the British Academy of Sciences and the Slovak Academy of Sciences. My family stayed here and I spent one month in London doing research and freely meeting my brother (who had emigrated to Great Britain in 1969). It was for me like a miracle, unbelievable . . .. For the first time in my life, at 39 years old, it was up to me to decide what to do with my time, what I wanted to research, how to organize my life. It was a kind of reward for the past. I felt really free and liberated from all of those communist burdens. So the revolution not only brought me political freedom but also personal freedom.  

In England, I realized how closed I was. Once, when I was on the train, I met a man who asked me about my native country, what my job is, etc. I told him I was from Czechoslovakia and he said, “I thought so because you are very cautious about what you say and how you choose your words.”

He was right. There I was in England and I was still being careful about what I was saying. The fear didn’t just disappear. Being closed was something that was a part of me. 

After the revolution, I could also really freely express being Jewish. I did not tell most of my non-Jewish friends, who knew me before the revolution, that I was Jewish because it was not a topic to be spoken about. After 1989, I had to learn to be confident and to be able to say to people that I am Jewish. It took over 10 years for me to feel comfortable with it.  

For me, it is really important to be able to say freely what I feel about things. If someone on the street asks me about something I will express my opinion, which I would not have done before the revolution. I can also write openly to people without fear that my letters will be checked.  

This is what it means to live in a democratic country. Freedom of expression, for me, is not just some formal term but it is a value that is very personal and very important.  

This interview was in English
Photo by Magda Stanová

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