Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Štefan Zvarík

It was the lack of knowledge that was dangerous

Žilina, Slovak Republic, 2009
Slovak English

Štefan Zvarík, Former teacher and retired small business owner

Communism wasn’t so dangerous. It was the lack of knowledge during (communism) that was dangerous. It could really hurt people.  

Many party members were not educated and they did not know the impact of their actions. They did not know how people really felt and what people were really doing. No one was looking for the truth, but everyone was watching who was doing what, looking at other people's actions, and above all, looking for something suspicious. The biggest danger was that someone, who was watching the activities of someone else, would make wrong assumptions about the person that they were watching. They would then report this to the party organization and these wrong assumptions would be confirmed. A class enemy, according to the ideology, was everywhere and could be inside of anybody. The punishment was in proportion to the rank of the accused person in the party. So, on the inside of "the party of the people" they were condemning people to severe and long-term punishments and also to death. There were many people who were striving to denounce somebody and who were creating fake accusations.

I was a member of the communist party even though my brother had been a political prisoner in the uranium mines. The manager at the company where I was working, wrote a positive report about me, so I could go to school (as a student). I became a party member when I was a teacher with seniority. 

When the (Soviet) army came, in 1968, to suppress the contra revolution that didn't exist, I included some thoughts, in my school's resolution against the invasion. At the time I was a teacher at a secondary school in Bratislava. The resolution was spread around different schools. The party, in a review, accused me of co-authorship of the resolution and of its distribution to the other schools. I said that what I had written was in defense of our country and that it was not meant in a bad way. I said, "I am from a worker’s family. My father was a worker. My mother was a worker. I had also been a worker". The clerk of the district's bureau, who was also the head of the review commission said, “Don’t talk rude about the working class." Since this time, I knew what was against me. It was the lack of knowledge that was against me.

The biggest change after the revolution was that I had to take care of myself. Before, the state took care of everything. Now, everyone is responsible for oneself. Many people still think that they know everything and they judge people. There is still a lack of knowledge. It is just not as dangerous as it was before.

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

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