“Stalin. For all of us he was the light of the world, of course. They go to fight for Stalin, Stalin speaks and everything is done, Stalin helps us live. And I don’t reckon I ever heard about Stalin at home, no, but they kept on about him at school. Of course, no one ever griped about anyone at home. One time we drove for water with my mum. One street, the second, the third, the fourth. And then they told us the pump had frozen up. But over there far off in the distance there’s a little spring. You can get water there. I remember to this day, and it’s sixty-five years since, how I lay on the smooth edge, with other people lying in front of me. And I was scooping up the water, reaching far, far out and passing it to Mum, and Mum would empty it into the big bucket. Mum said: ‘Galinka, that’s enough, we have three quarters of a bucket, we’ll come again tomorrow.’ Mum pulled the sledge, I went from behind, we were sliding along nicely, there was even a bit of a downward slope there. And we came to the railway. And when we were crossing the railway line, right by our house, the bucket tipped over and the water started pouring out. I grabbed at the bucket and held it, the water pouring out on me, pouring out on Mum, we saved a little bit... I still remember the sound it made when the bucket fell back on to the sledge. Mum sat down on the rails and said: ‘Spasibo tovarishchu Stalinu za schastilivoye dyetsvo!’ [Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for a happy childhood!] And that was the only protest in my life, in my ‘Soviet’ life, which I heard from my family.”
“During the war. At first there was a lack of bread, a lack of meat. Then there wasn’t any meat, bread on occasions, we gathered nettles, we gathered orache. We used the nettles to make... you can make a lot of good meals from nettles. But orache, no one knows that here in Czechoslovakia! Orache can also be used to make a kind of mash, which is eaten without butter and is utterly revolting. But if you’re hungry, you eat it. And I remember lying on the bed, the bed happened to be opposite the door, which someone knocked on, Mum opened it, and there was a man standing there holding an enormous pike in his hands, and he said: ‘Doctor, this is for you, you saved my wife yesterday.’ And Mum said no, and she didn’t take the pike. She told me, when he left and I - after all those nettles and potato peels, which Grandma would wash and make some kind of mash from - I looked at Mum and said: ‘Mamochka!’ And she said: ‘Galinka, he has three children at home, and the day after tomorrow his wife will come home with a fourth.”
“The renewal process began. Two Thousand Words [a famous Czechoslovak text advocating reform before 1968 - transl.]. When we read the Two Thousand Words, Mirek told me: ‘Galka, we’re coming into beautiful times, when we we’ll be able to raise our children without lying.’ And so, when our cousin phoned us in the night and said we were occupied, I told her she’s crazy, that she doesn’t like the Soviet Union and she’s making up some nonsense. As a Russian, I wasn’t able to even say the word ‘occupation’ for several years. I would say ‘vvod voysk’ [deployment of troops]. I lived through that whole time with this unpleasant feeling that the tanks were here, but that it was some mistake and that tomorrow everyone would understand, and the tanks would leave. Of course, I was missing a certain education, which would have helped me understand that Socialism, Communism is built on different prerogatives than those they told me about at school. That somehow, it’s completely different. And because I had lived there, then of course I believed everything.”
Love means a lot, but you can’t make do in life without knowledge
Galina Vaněčková was born on 16 June 1930 in Yekaterinburg formerly Sverdlovsk) in Russia. She spent her first years in a small town near Chita, where her father was building a hospital. He worked with prisoners from the local camp, who tried to kill the young engineer several times after losing to him in cards. After some time the family returned to Yekaterinburg, where the witness spent her childhood; after graduating she started attending the Theatre Institute. She had to discontinue her studies because of a family tragedy - her mother fell gravely ill. Therefore, she did not become an actress, instead starting work as a teacher. In 1953 she met her future husband Mirek Vaněček, who had come to the Soviet Union from Czechoslovakia to study geology. They wanted to marry, but proved to be impossible, the Soviet Union had banned marriages with foreigners. Luckily, this law was abolished the following year, and so the witness set off to Czechoslovakia, where she happily married in 1955. It was not easy for her to start anew in a foreign country, but she soon found a job at the University of Russian Language, and later at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. She learnt Czech and grew used to the different mentality. At the university she also devoted herself to research, she published a book. She gave birth to two sons. Everything was just as it was supposed to be, until 1968. The Soviet invasion was an enormous shock for the witness because she did not understand what was going on. She loved both nations, and she could not believe that the Russians were really perpetrating such injustice on the Czechs. She also began to feel the hatred of ordinary Czechs because she came from Russia and she spoke Czech with a Russian accent. It was then that she understood the importance of education, because it is knowledge that can help a person understand and survive a situation like that. In protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion she wanted to join the Czechoslovak Communist Party, which would have been a terrible transgression for a Soviet citizen. She brought her students the manifest of the Russian scientist Andrei Sakharov, Essays on Progress, Peaceful Cohabitation, and Intellectual Freedom, and she translated the book into Czech with her class. No one told on her, but she was not allowed to complete her “aspirancy” (a higher degree of qualification for scientists). Apart from her teaching, Galina Vaněčková also devoted herself to literary studies at the university, her lifelong subject and love was the Russian modernist poet Marina Tsvetaeva, who lived in emigration in and around Prague from 1922 to 1925. Galina Vaněčková is responsible for the first Czech translations of this poet by Jana Štroblová and Hana Vrbová, and in 2001 she helped found the Society of Marina Tsvetaeva, which has organised the publication of many books, organised numerous exhibitions and conferences, installed memorial plaques, and so on. Galina Vaněčková was until recently the chairlady of this society. Even now she is a tireless organiser of cultural events. She still hopes that a Marina Tsvetaeva Centre might be established in Prague, a centre of Russian culture that would not be connected to the current Russian regime.