Ján Budaj

* 1952

  • “Nobody really expected that such system as the Soviet system of power, which prevailed in the major part of the globe and which disposed of a nuclear potential deterrent enough to enforce certain Soviet concerns even in the international field, could ever collapse. Of course, today it is obvious that it also wasn’t an intention of the Soviet Union’s leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who carried out those momentous reforms. Although nobody thought that the regime could collapse, we definitely had a will or probably some hidden hope that positive changes could occur. In the name of this inner hope people all over the world were able to live out even in the most desperate regimes. And in case you asked them later whether they had supposed that it would collapse, nobody could remember, just because they never said it aloud. However, inwardly we always lived in hope that the life could be better.”

  • “Surely, I could speak about it a lot, because I am an example that sometimes also dissidents found themselves on the lists of the State Security, whereas the names of communists and State Security members were classified by authorities such as the Nation’s Memory Institute and former Federal Ministry of Interior, what actually caused such a strange inversion. In this case, dissidents or priests who were registered by the State Security seemed to be the culprits of totalitarianism and on the contrary, politicians, I mean politicians supporting the regime and even officers who were in the lead of the State Security were regarded as blameless owing to the above absurdity and politicised game with the past. And I believe the present young staff at the Nation’s Memory Institute will put the record straight, because this situation is really absurd. And also I hope that once there will be such politicians in the National Council who won’t pass any false laws about the past. Who knows, if there are some political groups now, twenty years after November, which are willing to make some changes. However, nobody can change the fact that the past twenty years didn’t break off the continuity, I mean political connection with the past. The past times or rather politicians of the past and former political machinations such as corruption, abuse of power, abuse of secret services, it all attended us during the whole past twenty years. On the second hand, some of the protagonists who represented the elite or the totalitarian regime have accompanied us for the last twenty years. It is disgrace. And on the third hand, the society, instead of being clear about what should and what shouldn’t be included into the memory of nation, is confused by various chaotic laws and concepts such as the Bolshevik notion of coping with the past. Privately, how would you translate this concept? Well, I reworded it and expressed its idea in a very complicated and long monologue, in which I actually state that on one side we have to accept our past, but on the other side we have to break off the political tradition of the past.”

  • “That time, I had such likening I have to mention here. When Czech or Slovak people living in a communist Czechoslovakia wanted to keep their personal integrity and freedom and not just to live somewhere in seclusion, when they wanted to be at least relatively free people, not to speak equivocally, profess their faith and beliefs, they resembled some pedestrians or cyclists who strayed from the regime’s path and on the junction where there was a railway line crossing the road, they chose the rails. It was rather uncomfortable, but it still seemed to you that I was moving. And it could take, in the regime, it could take days, or for someone it could take months or years until the collision came. However, the train always appeared and it was always clear how the collision would work out. Actually, it was such a mild or very sophisticated version of Husák’s normalisation. There were no combat troops walking along the streets like in Orwell’s film and not all residents were eavesdropped. But the system counted on the time. We could speak freely with our friends; we had a coffee and talked absolutely freely, in reality we created a kind of island of freedom. The problem is that if you did it for a long time, the regime found it out. In this respect our world was very similar to the one in Orwell’s vision in the book 1984.”

  • “The message of November is an active citizen, a civil activism. In reality, it was the civil activism what led to the momentous events of November. Its success and its surprising power, which caught the totalitarian representatives unawares, lay in it. You know they thought that citizens are just a terrified herd, crowd; however, they transformed into the public. It was one of the biggest wonders for the Slovak society of the 20th century. We were fortunate to have an opportunity to partake in it. It was an important event in the life of each of us, whether we were standing on the squares on podiums, under the podiums or supporting the changes from our workplaces. Moreover, Slovak society can anytime remind the politicians of the fact that, ‘You are just in a service, because it all started when we, the people, took the power, we jingled with keys, we enforced our right to vote and other civil rights, our civil dignity, we faced that cruel regime. So if you, present democrats or present political representatives, want to forget about it, just keep in mind that we were able to come to the squares and fight against the totalitarian power, and thus we are able to defend our rights again.’ I think that democratic politicians or democratic political stage, if they are worthy of using that word, should remember they are only in service and they are not the holders of power at all.”

  • “The Gentle Revolution, which was supposed to bring civil liberties and give a right to vote back to people, completely met our expectations and I think that if people are not forgetful and remember what the revolution should bring, they have to admit that it really brought it. Even the objectors have to admit that hardly any political stage fulfilled their platform as much as the politicians who had built podiums on the SNP Square back then. So the platform was carried out and the political life going on after the November of 1989 has never left the line of the liberal democracy platform, which we introduced in Slovakia, so radically that it was necessary to say that other kind of dictatorship was established in Slovakia or that we entirely lost our civil rights.”

  • Redactor: “What are your memories of the totalitarian regime and what got stuck in your memory? Did the regime affect your personal life somehow?” Ján Budaj “I will start from the end. Yes, it influenced my life when I was a relatively young man, you know, shortly after the school leaving examination I already saw that in this communist world there was no place for people like me. I tried to leave, I even asked for a clause, which was a kind of novelty, because suddenly we weren’t allowed to travel anywhere in the world only with the passport. However, young people weren’t given the clauses by the state, because they were suspected of fleeing abroad. Then, I attempted to escape across the Iron Curtain along with one of my classmates; however, we weren’t successful and, actually, whether I was fully conscious of it or not, since I got into the prison, naturally, I became the second-class citizen. After all, this was quite an ordinary story as many people tried to leave the republic at that time. The more experienced people properly estimated that the Soviet regime would deform the atmosphere in Czechoslovakia. And we, who were not so experienced, we intuitively perceived that the freedom, which was so important for the development of young men or women, would be missing here.”

  • “It was absolutely self-evident for my generation that everywhere we looked there was a state, there was a regime, and there was a political police or political surveillance. Actually, since we were children we have been politically educated; there already were some political organizations. Five-year old children were taken to Sparks, when they were seven they became members of a pioneering organization, and when being fifteen they got involved into a youth organization. This conditioning was typical for each generation which I belong to. You know, only older people could remember the world without political policy and without ideology. The younger ones didn’t experience as much of it as we did, let’s say those who were students in November, but my generation, I was born in 1952, we were born into that world, and in 1989 we knew only the world like that. So the question whether it influenced my life and in what way seems rather absurd from this viewpoint. The regime affected our life in every single detail. We weren‘t allowed to study what we wanted, we didn’t have friends as they had emigrated to the West, we knew fears, which were completely unknown for people living anywhere else in the world, certain caution was an absolute commonplace for us as well as an equivocal language. You know, even little children knew that they couldn’t speak freely about certain matters, they couldn’t say at school that they attended holy masses or what their daddy said at home and the like.”

  • “Right after the revolution, the archives of the State Security, which are now at your disposal at the Nation’s Memory Institute, were being used or misused for the purposes of political war between the new democrats. Of course, the old communists were glad to help and foist materials either on one group of the new politicians or on another in their mutual fight. Secondly, laws, as I have already mentioned, were opportunistic and double-dealing, hypocritical. They didn’t even designate the real situation properly, they didn’t hold anybody responsible, and de facto they didn’t break the continuity of certain elements of the former regime. It was also my mission in the Public against Violence movement after the November 1989. After we had achieved the abolition of leading function of the party, I did my best to apply this act into the real life. Actually, it was rather useless to abolish a constitutional article, if all the newspapers were published by the communists. You know, at that time paper belonged to rationed goods, it was bought for foreign currencies, or rather, certain phases of paper production were related to foreign exchange market and thus the paper was a rationed commodity. The new democrats weren’t able to publish newspapers, because printing offices owned by the Communist Party officials used to plead the shortage of paper. I could mention many other details including that the Public against Violence tried to disrupt the personnel continuity in Czechoslovakia or in Slovakia.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    v Bratislave, 21.04.2009

    duration: 01:57:32
    media recorded in project Witnesses of the Oppression Period
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In 1989 the civic engagement proved to be a bomb capable of blowing up the totalitarian system

Ján Budaj was born on February 10, 1952, in Bratislava. After graduating from secondary school, he tried to break through the Iron Curtain along with his classmate. However, their escape across the borders of Czechoslovakia was not successful and he became an enemy of the regime with tainted personal evaluation. He was imprisoned many times and often interrogated, and even after being released, he was watched and strictly forbidden to leave the republic. Although he managed to start studying maths and physics at the Pedagogical Faculty in Trnava, he was dismissed in the fourth year of his studies. From 1976 he worked as a stoker and as an auxiliary worker in various enterprises and at the same time he was engaged in organizing a non-party culture and free art. In 1980 he founded the first citizen-oriented samizdat in Slovakia, the periodical called Kontakt (Contact). He cooperated with the secret church and various civic initiatives such as Committee for the Defence of the Unfairly Prosecuted. In the 1980s he got involved in a wide range of anti-regime activities either as an activist, or as their organiser. These activities came to a head when the book Bratislava/nahlas (Bratislava/Aloud) was published in September 1987. Ján Budaj (and other authors) openly criticised the quality of life in the capital city as well as the inability and fustiness of the regime. Ján Budaj was due to his activities under the constant surveillance of the State Security, which tried really hard to discredit him. On November 19, 1989, the movement Public against Violence (VPN) was founded in attendance of many intellectuals from the association called Umelecká beseda (Art Discussion Group). At first Ján Budaj was VPN’s coordinator and later, from January 1990, he also was its chairman. Ján Budaj became famous mainly due to the mass demonstrations in Bratislava in November and December 1989, when he was an anchorman of meetings held in the SNP Square and the first man of the Velvet Revolution in Slovakia. In the period from November 1989 to the first free elections in June 1990, Ján Budaj led the VPN movement, worked as a Member of Parliament and the first Vice President of the Slovak National Council (SNR), where he also initiated the establishment of the Committee of the Slovak National Council for the Environment. Later, he worked as a Member of the Slovak National Council for the Slovak Democratic Coalition; he was elected the Member of Bratislava City Council and as a leader of the political party called Change from Below - Democratic Union he also stood for a seat in the Parliament in elections in March 2012.