“There are two different sentiments. The first one is the joy that we could have such a childhood. Those were the times of my father’s creative work which also affected us, so that we, the children, were quite happy. We were attending a one class school which was run in a very peculiar way, as was common at the time, but we all passed it. The depressing sentiment came partly from the fact that there was lack of freedom, which we all felt, but also in the fact that the community was largely catholic, there was an important catholic church where they held their missions which were rather drastic and were carried out by the Jesuits and by members of other orders. We felt the clerical pressure. Also, children in the institution thought that the keeper is the oppressor because he is the head of the whole organization and they felt the need to take revenge on me and my brother. They often beat us to blood and shouted: ‘You are the son of the keeper!’ So the sentiment was a combination of something sweet and joyful despite the situation and something heavy, which was incurred by the hard times.
“I experienced horrible things after 1945 concerning the displacement of the Germans. It also affected my parents. For example in Uherské Hradiště, two twenty year old youngsters killed two German women by drowning them in the fountain at the square. They held their heads under the water until they died. These women belonged to Germans who lived there for generations and had nothing to do with Hitler. It was the same in the Hodonín area where the Germans quite prospered; they had vineyards and beautiful houses and lived exemplary lives. Those people had to get on trucks and take only one bag with their belongings and there was one truck leaving after another. That was a really a sad thing to see.”
“I also later developed these self defense mechanisms: in the metro, on the platform, I never stood too close to the tracks because there were cases when people were pushed under the train and died. So even until today, I stand two meters away from the tracks even though it is absolutely useless. It is the same with passing cars. Many times I was arrested by officers in a passing car, they said: “Get in Mr. Balabán, it won’t be long.’ – And I disappeared. So now when a car stops near me I try to escape the possible consequences.”
“I remember religious education quite well, because we were raised with the Bible since we were two, so at six we already knew the whole bible bur not by heart. Every evening, my father did kind of family seminars for us. He sat by the bed and he told us the stories from the Bible. We asked him questions and he answered and there were as many seminars as the number of the days in a year. The reason was to show what Jesus and other great figures of the New and the Old testament wanted, what they referred to and how should we follow them. So I can’t complain about lack of religious education even in those dark ages [during the Nazi occupation].”
“Another question was if it wasn’t absurd to demand observance of rules from a totalitarian regime. That is a question of decision and analysis of a philosophical or theological kind, I would say. I was convinced that even a totalitarian government must be warned even though it may not adopt any measures. It would not be strategic and it would not be true to exclude the possibility that we would find someone, a man or a woman, some point where we could have an influence, where we could be heard. I think that totalitarian regimes, with the exception of the Soviet Union where it was really impossible, are not fully homogenous, there are always some gaps and holes. Not everybody is so enthusiastic there, there are also officials who do it because of their families. There are also examples from the Bible, where some witnesses talked to the Egyptian pharaoh or to the Babylonian king and they thought that it wasn’t any use but it proved positive in the end. Even if the effect is minimal, it is a great success. And also the knowledge that a certain group of people addressed the regime was beneficial. There was a certain pressure, because the overall mood was gloomy, that there was nobody to join with – darkness in a tunnel.”
Nová orientace (New Orientation) was the most important such kind of organization before Charta 77
Milan Balabán was born on 3rd September 1929 as the eldest among four children of deacon - (missionary preacher)/Diaconal Minister of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren - and of his wife Anna, maiden name Trojanová. The Family lived till 1938 in Český Boratín, at that time in Poland, nowadays in Ukraine, where his father worked as missionary among Volhynian Czechs. Milan Balabán took up interest in arts and literature during his high school study, he started to write poems, when he was only 12. Finally he decided to study theology and he graduated at Comenius Protestant Theological Faculty (nowadays Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University). After graduation he was conscripted for two years into military service in PTP (auxiliary technical battalion - in fact working camps for political unreliable conscripts). He became a member of informal evangelic movement Nová orientace (New Orientation) in the late 1950s. At the beginning of the 1960s, he participated in ecumenical seminars in Jircháře. He organised clandestine seminars in apartments during 1970s - on Jewish thinking, Old Testament, Hebrew lessons, and the like. He kept in touch with western theologians and philosophers. After cancelation of governmental permit to work as a priest in 1974 he worked as a manual labourer, for a longest period in Prague Sewerage. He became one of the first signatory of the Charta 77 (Charter 77). After 1989, he became a professor at ETF and till nowadays is a head of Department of Study of Religions.