Pavol Beláň

* 1951

  • “I once experienced on Sunday after lunch that a family came towards the demarcation line which was formed by a little stream. A forest was behind them, and a meadow was on our side in front of us. There were a lot of forest strawberries in the meadow. They started looking over there and fidgeting. And I looked at him and thought if he wanted to jump the stream. And he suddenly jumped the stream and went towards the wires. I couldn´t believe my eyes that he was serious. I did not understand what the person wanted to do in the meadow - he was three hundred metres away from me. And then I realized that it was because of strawberries. He was picking strawberries there and his wife holding the child was waiting on the other side of the stream. I was on duty alone; we rarely were there alone and at that moment I did not know whether I should call my company or climb to the tower gallery. It was too far to shout at him, it was difficult to point the gun at him, and it is really difficult to hit someone at three hundred metres. The thing happening was really difficult. I ran out and was looking at what he was doing. The woman saw me when I came out of the booth into the gallery. And I saw her pointing to him: ’Get back, get back.’ He looked up, saw me, ran with the strawberries towards the stream, and jumped it. Of course, I could shoot, I was supposed to shoot according to the rules. But I knew that he was there to pick strawberries. It was luck that he went there to pick strawberries and that he brought the strawberries to his child. He jumped back with those strawberries, and they vanished into the forest. And I was standing there near the railing with a machine gun in my hand, and of course with live ammunition in it. What was I supposed to do at that moment? Was I supposed to call the company and tell them that he was there and that I did not shoot at him? Or was I supposed to call the company and say that he crossed the border and came back without punishment? If that had been reported to the company, it would have meant a border alert, it would have been such a bustle. It would have meant full combat alert, action, and neighbouring companies. You would be amazed how many people would have to be put into action. And that is why I was sitting there alone, and seconds and minutes passed, I was holding a phone in hand, wondering what I was going to do. I looked up through the binoculars at the second tower - another company was there - the tower was empty, and nobody was there. (I looked) the other way – I was there completely alone. It was a beautiful summer Sunday. I asked myself whether I was supposed to call the company and tell them I had let him go. At least I said to myself that nobody could have seen it. That is why I risked not saying anything. I came to the company and the first thing the supervising officer asked was: ’What about the duty?’ - ’Everything was all right.’ The commander came from the office in a moment: ’So Beláň, did anything happen?’ And I told him that nothing. It ended like this. I did not say it to anyone in the company since some people from the company reported that kind of stuff!”

  • "A state border is a line on the surface of the earth that separates the territory of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic from the territory of foreign states, as well as the airspace and the depths of the earth. It was forbidden to walk over the line, it was forbidden to shoot or send a dog over the line. The line was untouched world. If he [the intruder] had killed the dog on the other side, nothing could have been done. You could not even go behind it or shoot. That was just the end of it. Such things were then dealt with diplomatically. And it had long-lasting and grave consequences. So, we respected the border as well.”

  • "A lot of people got drunk and froze to death. They went on duty, took a bottle with them, and drank a litre of vodka, one sleeps well after it, it was twenty degrees below zero outside and the man was dead in the morning. And there were many accidents like this one… Some guys from our company went for a walk, they went swimming in Lipno during the day and one drowned because he was drunk. And there are so many killed, dead borderline guards in statistics that there are just a few of them killed by an American agent. However, those who died like this… They died.”

  • “We had a second cynologist. Unfortunately, he was a drunk. No comment, he drunk during the whole military service. At last, he was arrested because of smuggling – the borderline guard! He smuggled jeans, tape recorders, and double cassette tape decks across the borderline. He eventually ended up in prison. He returned from prison; he was a habitual drinker there. He also drank acetone there when he could. However, he died not a year after his return from prison. He was not even thirty years old.”

  • “From what I heard; some suicides were horrible. A man even prepared for suicide for two or three weeks. However, the machine guns were locked in the armoury and there was a bar and a lock over the triggers. You could not take out the machine gun and kill yourself. There was a recoilless weapon, and you inserted a so-called sub gauge insert into it. This was a device that was used so that instead of a live bullet, you put a luminous bullet in there, pulled it, and a luminous bullet was fired. Because the recoilless weapon bullet costs several thousand crowns and a bullet costs, what I know, half a euro. So, he got hold of one bullet, carried it in his pocket and waited when he would be put on duty at the armoury. He came there, tried to take out the machine gun, and could not do it. So, he got an idea, put it into the recoilless weapon, and under his chin, he fired and shot himself."

  • Full recordings
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    Partizánske, 11.08.2020

    duration: 02:18:29
    media recorded in project Příběhy regionu - STM REG ED
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Seconds were crucial at the borderline. And a machine gun

Pavol Beláň at the border guards (1971)
Pavol Beláň at the border guards (1971)
photo: witness´s archive

Pavol Beláň was born on 30 March 1951 in Veľké Ripňany in the Nitra region in Slovakia. His father, also named Pavol, fought in the Second World War on the Eastern Front near Lviv. After the war, he became an official and later a chairman of the local united agricultural cooperative (UAC) and that is why Pavol Beláň grew up in a pro-regime environment. He graduated from Forestry Vocational School in the 1960s and he subsequently worked as a lumberjack. In 1970, he joined the Second Border Company in Pasečná in the area of the Bohemian Forrest and started his basic military service. He served as a dog handler in the borderline area. During his service at the state border, he witnessed and experienced several tense situations involving “fighting intruders,” suicides, as well as stories with happier endings. When he returned from military service in 1974, he, following his father´s example, joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party. He disassociated himself from the Party in the 1980s. In 2015, he published a commemorative book Poviedky z hranice - Pasečná 1970-72 (Stories from the borderline - Pasečná 1970-1972). Nowadays (2020), he lives in the town of Partizánske, less than forty kilometres from his native Veľké Ripňany.