Elena Flasková , Translator, French teacher
I have lived my whole life in Bratislava therefore my experiences with the old regime are connected to this city. I can say that I had a happy childhood. I was a good student and I was a Pioneer. I created in my head illusions about Russians. But this illusion fell down, when I was 17, with the arrival of Russian army in 1968. I remember very well that day. My friend and I went to play tennis in the morning. Our parents called us later in the day, telling us to not go home alone because they heard on the radio that the Russian army arrived. We couldn’t believe it until later when we saw the tanks on the main square. We were there when they started to shoot, and we hid in a passage. We were also pulling down street signs, gluing anti-Russian posters and changing the orientation arrows to confuse the army. Old Russian language teachers were trying to talk with the soldiers, advising them to go home. They were young boys disorientated like we were.
Despite this, in 1969 I went to France. The family that I lived with tried to convince me to stay there. I decided to return and finish my school. Between that visit and 1989 I could not travel to France even though it was important for my profession as a translator and French teacher.
After 1968 many people lost their interest for politics and there was some disillusion in the air. Anyway, I did not experience too many restrictions. I was even receiving the French magazine ELLE. Sometimes, when a personality who criticised communism appeared in the journal, I did not receive the edition, but just a card saying that it was censored. We managed to see many Western films, including those that did not appear in the official cinema, via journalist’s projections.
As a translator, I liked the quality of work during the old regime. The translator needed to have special exams and the work was generally taken more seriously. The books were hard cover with illustrations and additional text from the writer, critic, or translator. Today the criterion used for editing a book is how well will it sell and what will it look like in the market.
All the books in old regime had to pass through an ideological censor. Therefore, a lovely book for children that I translated was not published until after 1989. The book talks about a boy who has the magical ability to transform everything he touches into plants. By touch he destroys his father’s weapon factory. At the end of the book he transforms into an angel. That was unacceptable to the censors. Of course, I couldn’t ask the French author to change the angel to a pioneer!
In 1989, when I started to teach French language at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, the times were getting freer. We felt Perestroika in the air. But it was only after the Berlin wall fell that we started to believe that the same thing is possible here. Everything was happening right in the school. The revolutionary organ VPN had a stage next door. It was euphoria. Suddenly we believed that things are possible and that a big change is coming. And it came. I just feel that it was much too radical. I can say that a kind of third way, similar to the ideas and direction that Dubcek took before 1968 was the one that I believed in. Not this consumer society. We were searching for a more human way. I fear the surface approach to things that is made today. This wasn’t here before. I don’t agree with worshipping money and property as values.
This interview by Oto Hudec in Slovak
Photo: Peter Żákovič, FOTO SME