Il Ponte – a student periodical based at bratislava international school of liberal arts (bisla)

The story of Milan

The story of Milan

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July 2019


“I’m from the generation of 68.’ I was 25 years old when the Russian army invaded Czechoslovakia. I suffered a lot when that happened. I have to admit that these 20 years were very traumatic for me. Although, unfortunately, I had to be in the communist party for a few weeks or months, but they kicked me out eventually. As a result of that I paid for it dearly during those 20 years. I taught philosophy at the Slovak University of Technology here in Bratislava. At that time there were very few teachers, so I began teaching already in my 5th grade. Although teaching is probably not the right word, since I was struggling at the position. But at that time the whole education system looked very differently than today. On one hand, there were always full auditoriums and it seems to me that the students were more curious in general. They were demanding, but I don’t regret anything because sometimes I meet with my ex-students even today and we talk a lot, so sometimes I flatter myself that I wasn’t so bad after all. I am a philosopher or excuse me, a teacher of philosophy. A philosopher is on higher level than me. But I wouldn’t let a person younger than 40 teach philosophy. They need some life experience, in my opinion. I was very happy when the change came in 89’ and that people like Husák, or my ex-colleagues who excluded me from the party, lived to see it. It was a big atonement for me. After 1989 I was thinking a lot about going back to teaching, because as you know the proverb – “ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.” Eventually, I found a teaching position at Comenius University in the Sport Faculty, where they didn’t scorn me for my short involvement in the communist party.

However, teaching philosophy is difficult, you can’t just teach students only to memorize, it’s more complicated than that. The students, of course, have had a big advantage compared to pre-89’ era and my generation as a whole. Their eyes were more open, they were able to travel, etc. Of course, I don’t want to be in a position of a mentor or a preacher here, but since there are now 36 universities in Slovakia and a lot of students, the quality can’t be the same. In my times there were only five universities. Especially not when schools are paid according to the number of their students. Except perhaps certain subjects like medicine, pharmacy or technology. But for most of the other universities, the quality went down, simply because one-third of the whole population today has a university diploma, while in my time it was around 3%. I remember when I was a faculty member in the Sport Faculty at Comenius University, there were over 1700 applications and we accepted 220 students. Today schools accept almost every student that applies and also almost everybody finishes their degree. So, it changed a lot.

During the communist era, you could not make a career. It’s hard to explain it today. I was glad to survive. I remember a situation when I had only 10 Czechoslovakian crowns in my pocket. I had no place to live, and I met a friend on SNP square. He said, "You don’t look very happy." I said, I don't because so and so… He said, "Here is my student card. I have a place in Mladá Garda, but I married so I moved out."So, this is how he saved me back then. You wouldn’t believe the circumstances back then, but that’s how hard it was for me. It seems banal to me to speak about this now. With all the bad luck I had during those 20 years I still survived somehow, and life paid me off in a different, positive way later on. I was 45 years old when 1989 happened and I was very happy for that change. Even during socialism, there were opportunities opening up for me that others weren't aware of. At some point I had a lot of time, so I enrolled for studying German studies in a language school. Later on, there was a chance to travel to East Germany for a month-long class. I was lucky enough to attend it five times. I met a great amount of new friends from abroad there. They all kept inviting me to Sweden, the United States, and even Japan, to come and visit them. I looked at them and said "I can't." They asked "you don’t have the money to travel?" I said, "money is not the issue." They couldn’t understand that it was impossible for me back then during socialism. You had to have an approval from the highest levels of the communist party. I still regret that a bit, on the other hand, if I went there the party would have let me sign the paper for the collaboration with STB (communist secret service), to bring some intel back to Czechoslovakia from there.

Anyway, I wanted to say that life paid me off after 1989. In 1995, I visited my friends in New Zealand. They paid for all the expenses – the ticket there and back. I was there for 6 weeks. Even my friends from Japan said you can’t just come for a few days, we invite you for the whole summer. "Our kids are grown up, we are retired, we will show you the country and you will stay with us", they said. It was unbelievable for me. So, I’ve had many friends like this from that era and with some I still keep in touch. They still invite me to visit, but it’s harder now. I have sick wife, and she requires my care and attention, so I can’t travel anymore. However, I’m still grateful that life repaid me well. I am glad I didn’t follow the easier road back then, by going back to the communist party. Later on I learned what my ex-colleagues had to go through in the party. They had regular meetings always talking about the same topics, the same quarells. It had to be very boring. As for me, I couldn’t even get a free flat, because back then they gave away those flats to teachers. They said, "you, who were excluded from the party? You really want a free flat?" I cried when they said that. Silently, of course. I’m glad those people lived to see 1989 and the dissolution of the communist rule. But even today, many people don’t understand that in that era, when the communist took someone’s papers, you couldn’t live freely ever after. Now, nobody cares about your political past.

However, I still think to myself that I can look straight into anybody's eyes. I never reported anybody; I never signed any collaboration with the party even though they offered it to me. It would have been very easy to do it. But it was against my conscience so I rejected. I suffered, but I am glad now that I came around the other way with a clean sheet. I can’t complain. I had a hard but happy life. Really.

The story of Marek

The story of Marek