Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Residents of Šuňava

We don't know yet how to live in Democracy

Šunava, Slovak Republic, 2009
Slovak English

Residents of Šuňava, A gathering at the community center

Pavol Cap, Media Manager for Šuňava
Žofia Šebestová, representative in the local government
Alžbeta Havrančíková, professional skier, former Olympian
Mária Kubíková, retired
Zuzana Šefferová, former accountant in Šuňava's Agricultural Cooperative
Milan Šeffer, former construction foreman

Pavol Cap:  If the village could speak – and I don't mean the people from the village, but the village itself – Šuňava would say that it is good that the communist regime has collapsed. Maybe no other village was affected by the regime in such a bad way as ours. It was like this, because our village rose up against the regime. It was in 1950, when the communist anti-religious politics were fully developed and they were imprisoning priests. On June 9, during the night from Saturday to Sunday, people from the village were woken up by gunshots and blasts. There were dark figures with weapons moving throughout the village.  We found out later that they were the "ľudové milície" (folk militia). The villagers gathered around the rectory to protect their priest. There broke out a fight. Guns, axes, and sticks caused a lot of injuries on both sides. The militia drew back, but, few days later, they came back with soldiers and police, approximately 750 men, and started taking people into custody. Randomly, they took the Šuňava people from their homes to Svit (a nearby town), where they were beaten and tortured. Three days later, they transported a group of them to Košice, and another group returned home in bad condition. For many years, these events impacted the entire life and development of the village.

They, (the villagers), had a devout faith in God and that was it. There wasn't anything else behind it.  They had such a strong faith that, in the 1950s, the communists wanted to suppress them down. The communists wanted to make an example for the whole nation. I don’t know of any other village that suffered so much in all of Slovakia. Faith survived. The more they tried to suppress it the stronger it was.

Zuzana Šefferová: The first five grades of primary school were in Šuňava. For grades 6 – 9 we had to go to Svit where there were children from several villages that were attending the school. The children from Svit were not better students than we were. They were not more intelligent and they didn't have more knowledge, but the teachers preferred them. When some of the teachers got angry, they were saying that the Šuňava guys are dirty and that they have lice. But none of us had lice and none of us were dirty in a way that we wouldn't be worthy to sit in class. Children from Svit could go have lunch for 50 cents. We didn’t have this possibility. And, even if somebody of us had good grades, he or she didn’t have the possibility to get to high school and if he or she did, it was only with great difficulty.  

Pavol Cap: But despite all of these difficulties, many skilled people came from our village.

Alžbeta Havrančíková: The system for making sports was good at that time.  Training and equipment were for free. I was a member of the Czechoslovakia national team, so I traveled to the West for competitions and the Olympic games. They required the top athletes to take steroids. They called it "Special Health Care" and you were required to sign an agreement. I didn't agree with this. Once, we were going to Austria to compete. Before crossing the borders, they told me to sign this agreement. I refused. They put me off the bus and I had to pay my own way home.  

They asked me if I would like to be a party member. I could never do this. But how to refuse it? I couldn't tell them that my mother would kick me out from the house. So I told them that I am not good enough to become a party member.

After the wall came down, we were expecting that the relationships between athletes would no longer be divided with the Socialist bloc countries on one side and the Western countries on the other side, and that there would be less tension between us. But it is not happening so fast.

Now, our sport systems are western ones. Children of parents who have money participate in sports. Before, anyone who had talent could do sports. Money was given to the children from both villages and larger towns. Now, in the Western countries, they are starting to support young athletes. So it looks like the systems have switched. 

Milan Šeffer: Not everything was so bad that we would have to condemn all of socialism. I would say that three quarters of the people didn't have as good life as the quarter on the top.  But I'm not affirming in any way that only the people on the top had a good life. By the way, we still don't know how to live according to democracy.

Žofia Šebestová: Because of the events in 1950, the development of the village stopped. There were no investments in education and infrastructure. Permission to build a family house was given only to the members of the agricultural cooperative. Now, anyone who is interested can build their own house. With the Velvet Revolution, the village started a new phase in its development. The result is a fully organized primary and secondary school with a kindergarten and a gym. A sewer system with a waste-water treatment station. We reconstructed the access road and the local roads, built places for sports, and a funeral service house. And, we agreed on a new plan for the village and did other projects, supported by funds from the European Union, to improve the life of our inhabitants.

This interview was in Slovak with the aid of two translators

Photos: 1.  A. Jiroušek from the book, Šuňava,  
             2.  Milan Šeffer.  Seated left to right, Žofia Šebestová, Alžbeta
                 Havrančíková, Mária Kubíková, Zuzana Šefferová, Janeil Engelstad and
                 Ján Šebest. Standing left to right, Peter Stano, Zuzana Sedláková and Pavol Cap

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