Dionýz Hochel

* 1967

  • "The third thing in which we, or actually a wider group of people, were involved was the lay apostolate – the secret church. It was due to the fact that at every university and at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University as well, there were so-called ‘meetings’, where young people would gather. It would be in a flat that someone lent us or in a flat of one of those students, for example at Daniel Butora’s parents’ flat on Novinarska Street, where we would discuss religious topics, theology, and prayers, and we would also discuss the regime and upcoming events. That’s how I then went on a few religious pilgrimages. In the late 1980s there was a pilgrimage to the Calvary in Nitra and the well-known Šaštín pilgrimage. The Šaštín pilgrimage was divided into two parts: the official one and the unofficial one. The unofficial one was amazing; there were thousands of young people from all over Slovakia doing their own thing. They were talking about the release of political prisoners and about religious and civil freedom. Secret priests would meet young people from the ‘meetings’ there. We did not actually know who the leader of some other ‘meeting’ was, and who was above him or above all of them. We only knew about our ‘meeting’ and our leader; we did not know the whole structure. On those pilgrimages, in the evening or at night, there was such an ethos: a community where religious and civil freedom was discussed vividly. So, those are the three elements of the 1980s that I would like to emphasize: the community within the Faculty of Arts, the very lively work in the anti-Communist movement for the protection of monuments, ecology, and historical structures of the country, and, in fact, the opposition to the regime’s establishment, and ultimately participation in the lay apostolate. These three forms shaped our group and our generation very vividly and helped us start the strike at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University on 16 November.”

  • “Yes, it was already during my university studies. And I remember also the last years of the grammar school, when Brezhnev died, and Andropov came to power. He died as well, and then Chernenko came to power. He died as well. Then Gorbachev came to power, and I found myself in a unique cluster of friends who had the opportunity to get dissident literature, so we had already read and distributed it among ourselves. I can mention Daniel Bútora, who gained access to forbidden dissident literature through his father, Martin Bútora, and so we got, for instance, the Dictionary of Forbidden Czechoslovak Writers, Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Orwell’s 1984. We received journals and other publications, for example, Pavel Tigrid’s Testimony from Paris, and publications of the Index publishing house in Cologne, and we had the opportunity to read works and materials by dissidents from Czechoslovakia, and even Bratislava, for instance, the magazine Fragment, Dominik Tatarka’s works (short stories and essays), and essays by Milan Šimečka and Martin Šimečka (his son). So it was an absolutely unique group. We found ourselves in the position of having all the information at first hand. Thanks to these materials, thanks to Havel’s essays, we had the opportunity to have first-class contact with the contemporary world of Czechoslovak dissidents. That helped us a lot to be ready in 1989, so we could be in the first line of the student protest movement that arose immediately after 16 and 17 November.”

  • “Well, on 17th November, of course, the events are known, the march at Národní třída in Prague was supressed, and the rumour about the death of the student Šmíd and the Prague university students entering the strike started to spread. We received that information already on Friday through the Voice of America, the BBC, and Radio Free Europe. We called each other during the weekend and discussed what we were going to do. I remember that Milan Novotný called me on Saturday and suggested a meeting at the Crimea café on Monday morning at seven, where we would write down requests and make them public on the same day at Comenius University. And so it happened. Six or seven of us met at seven in the morning on 20 November 1989 in the Crimea café. In the meantime, the students at the dormitory wrote down the requests, so we actually just added some comments and came to the space in front of the hall at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University around eight or nine in the morning. We stood on the windowsills, and each of us read one sentence of those requests so that the responsibility would be spread evenly among us. If they were to expel us, there would be more of us, at least. Students were coming in; they were responding and discussing actively, they agreed with what we said and stayed with us. The dean of the Faculty was passing by and asked us what we were doing and told us to go straight into the hall. He opened the hall, and there on that day the first university students’ strike committee in Slovakia was established. The Academy of Performing Arts joined us later, but separately, with their own strike. But in fact, it was in the hall on Monday 20 November that the strike of the Comenius University students was announced. At the same time, the Public Against Violence movement was established in the Slovak Art Forum building, and all those movements gradually merged. Student activists were among the activists of Public Against Violence. And also, the other way round, the requests of Public Against Violence were formulated in the lecture rooms of the Faculty of Arts. All of that, and I want to emphasize this fact, did not happen out of the blue. Everything has its history connected to that activism, to the possibility of acquiring dissident literature, being members of the anti-communist movement, and even the possibility of taking part in the secret church and lay apostolate activities. Another important point is that we had collectively gained the courage and overcame fear to stand up, start the strike, and protest against the regime.”

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    Bratislava, 26.04.2019

    duration: 01:14:41
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th century
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The inability to fulfil our dreams was a constant of our adolescence

Dionýz Hochel was born on November 10, 1967 in Bratislava. After growing up during normalization, he started his studies at Faculty of Arts of Comenius University. He belonged to a group of students who used to share dissident literature among themselves. He was involved in the activities of an anti-communist movement, and in the activities of the lay apostolate within the secret church, where the informal opposition to the Communist regime was formed and strengthened. Dionýz was in the top positions of the students’ protest movement, which organized two breakthrough strikes: firstly, on 16th November 1989 on the occasion of International Students’ Day, and then on 20th November when they declared a strike at all the universities. Those two events were followed by mass protests on SNP Square. Dionýz worked as an activist at the VPN’s (Public Against Violence) press office. After 1990 he studies political science in the United States and Great Britain. He has worked at the Representation of the European Commission in Slovakia, and currently he is the head of the European Parliament’s office in Bratislava.