Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Miro Vakula

That is when
I understood the meaning
of freedom

Košice, Slovak Republic, 2009
Slovak English

Miro Vakula, Photojournalist

I started working in journalism a few years after the revolution when the profession was not so different from how it had been during Socialism. Now it is a business.  I photograph more celebrities and less ordinary people. Also, tragedy. Publishers want more and more tragedy.  

People used to feel that it was an honor to be photographed. Now the people, both the celebrities and the regular people, see me as an enemy. With democracy people think that they have the right to complain in public and they are used to dictating things. If they are doing some favor they think that they should receive money for it. Regular people have seen on television how the stars are acting when the photographers enter, pushing them out from their space, so they think that they can do the same thing.    

I was a commercial photographer and on Saturday, 18 November I had to take pictures of six or seven weddings. I had two hours between weddings and I went home and turned on the radio. They were reporting about the revolution and I was surprised. The information was not broadcast in Košice until the day after the revolution started because of censorship. I turned off the radio and I went to work again. My problem was to take pictures of weddings.   

I knew that there was a Berlin Wall. It was a fact that I knew, but it was not until after the revolution that I really understood its meaning. In 1968, when the Soviets invaded my father was a Russian teacher. He translated the posters, from Slovak to Russian, that were made to protest the occupation. The posters were for the Russian soldiers to read. So that they would understand that what they were doing was not correct and go home. Because my father did this I could not go the school of my choice. I accepted it as a fact and did something different.

It was not until after the revolution that I could choose what kind of photographer that I wanted to be. That is when I understood the meaning of freedom. If the revolution had been up to me it would not have happened. But I am happy that it did. 

This conversation was in English and Slovak with the aid of a translator
Photo by Janeil Engelstad

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Ideology Suppression Revolution Freedom Hope Values Identity