František Kľuska (1928)

Photo: František Kľuska


“Only really hard work made me keep afloat.”

František Kľuska was born on March 3, 1928 into a poor peasant’s family. His strongly positive attitude to the nature of mountainous Orava, difficult living conditions and particularly his family circumstances has shaped his character since his early childhood. Despite the financial problems, he pursued his studies at the grammar school, where he managed to get not only social, but also merit scholarship as he was an excellent student. However, the most difficult time for František and his family came after the year 1948, when the collectivization started, which he considers to be a crime committed on peasants. František, who was at that time a theology student in Spiš diocese, perceived suppression of a religious freedom by the communist regime very sensitively. In 1950 he had to join the Auxiliary Technical Battalion in Komárno, where he experienced a really strict regime. He used to work for more than nine hours a day, but at the anniversaries of the Victorious February, the October Revolution, and May 1, they had to work even longer. They hardly ever had a day off; however, even on those days they had to be present at various trainings and competitions. After being released from the Auxiliary Technical Battalion, František tried to enrol at the university to study psychology, but he wasn’t accepted. After several attempts, he finally managed to fulfil his dream about a university education, even though in his quest of a diploma he had to overcome many difficulties. Shortly before the finals, he was dismissed from the faculty of mathematics and physics. At that time a chairman of the Strana Slobody (Freedom Party) helped him, so finally he was allowed to do the final state examination before Christmas. Despite the excellent results, finding a job was a serious problem for František, but a stroke of luck helped him again and he met an old acquaintance, who was a head of the school committee in Bratislava. Then, František started working as a substitute teacher. Several years later he finally got favourable personal evaluation, which enabled him to gain a post of a researcher at the first computing centre of the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava. Based on his professional results he became a secretary of a school rationalization commission for all faculties and also was an important player within the ROH (Revolutionary Trade Union Movement), where he served as a head of the department of labour initiative. All the obstacles placed in his way by the communist regime made him even stronger. František welcomed the Velvet Revolution in 1989 with high expectations; however, they never came true. He thinks that freedom, which we have these days, was compensated with a great effort, great sacrifices, and with a lot of imprisoned people.

“Who sniffed at it, didn’t eat.”

“Who sniffed at it, didn’t eat.” (data format Flash Video)

“We had a lot of fun as we were six in two rooms; actually the first was the front one, which we used only during holidays such as Christmas, Easter, possibly christening, and, I don’t know, funeral. We used to sit there with friends. In that room, there we cooked, did the washing, slept. Then, we slept in a bed, which was a sort of wooden sofa. When we opened door on it, there were clothes. Then, people knew how to use every possible room. Moreover, under the bed there were some boards with small wheels like on a scooter. We used to put straw and bedclothes on it and my mum put us to this bed like some herrings. We slept this way and during the day it was moved under the bed, so that we had enough space. And as I say, it was a real fun, then, we couldn’t ask, ‘What have you prepared for lunch?’ or ‘I don’t like it.’ and the like. They put potatoes on a table and some cabbage and something similar; there was one bowl of potatoes and one or two small bowls of cabbage. Who was eating, was full, but who sniffed at it, was hungry. ‘Well, you should have eaten when it was on the table in a bowl! Now you have to wait!’ We even couldn’t take anything. For instance, bread was something special, so we couldn’t come, ‘Oh, it is a long time till dinner, so I will cut a slice of bread.’ ‘And won’t you wait? Bread is food to be taken to the field; we can’t take something cooked there. We need bread and some bacon.’ and the like. So we had to eat what had been prepared for us. This way we fared. We were cheerful and friendly with no finicky manners.”

Let’s Collectivize

Let’s Collectivize (data format Flash Video)

“The times of war were difficult, but also relatively, I repeat again, only in regard to other states, relatively good. In comparison to other states, to the neighbouring ones, it was much better in Slovakia. It was worse after the war; those were much worse and really difficult times. People were being encouraged to join the agricultural cooperatives, the so-called JRDs. Of course, the forced collectivization of land was processed. It is known in the East how drastically they proceeded here. They started agitation at night, after midnight they banged on the door. ‘Ondro, open!’ ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Well, we only need something in short with you.’ And he opened. Well, it is necessary to collectivize the private property; it’s a national need for the sake of industrialisation. Then they said some more sentences to it and added, ‘You are the last, everyone else has already signed registration to the cooperative.’ Agricultural cooperatives were being founded at that time. Well, as Ondro was quite sleepy, of course, he could do nothing else but to sign it as he thought all the others had signed. ‘Well, I will sign it.’ Thus they began after midnight in Ondro’s house with the lie that everybody had already signed. They were walking about the whole village until the morning and with the same story tried to persuade people to join the cooperative.”

Reading Pastoral Letter in Lieskové Village

Reading Pastoral Letter in Lieskové Village (data format Flash Video)

“They arrived somewhere, but somewhere priests themselves gave it to the pulpit, actually under such trimming. There was a sort of fabric on the frame, so they put it below that cloth or probably somewhere else. And some priests read it immediately, some later. There were also more courageous, uncompromising, and stronger priests, and so on. And in Lieskové there was such uncompromising priest, so he read it, even though people tried to dissuade him. Then, the police, gendarmes, and many other people came in two buses and tried to prevent him from reading the letter. When the priest was already reading it, some man came through the vestry and pulled his cassock and whispered, ‘Stop reading!’ and the like. And people noticed that the priest suddenly looked down and there was some rustle. People immediately gathered and asked what was going on. Then, they came out, leaned against the two buses and overturned them. ‘Do you think you can elicit unrests here? Is he doing something wrong?’ And so on. People overturned two buses. Many people were arrested there, especially those more enterprising. But then, given that some people had already worked in the factory, the factory representatives applied strong pressure as they really needed the workers. You know, the factory couldn’t stop production. So then people from Lieskové village were released a week or a few days later, I do not know. Lieskové is such a small village, maybe you have heard about it on the radio in the weather forecast. It is a mountainous village located near the border.”

Concentration of Enemies

Concentration of Enemies (data format Flash Video)

“All members of religious orders had been gathered previously, during the so-called Night of the barbarians, which Cardinal Korec described in some of his books. So they had already been concentrated, or rather interned in various monasteries and other places. Friars and nuns had been moved away. Then, they were interned in Podolínec near Košice. And then people who were vital without health problems, though there were only few of them, ended up in prison such as Monsignor Trstenský and others. Cardinal Korec and many others were imprisoned and when they had served their sentence, they were sent to the Auxiliary Technical Battalions known in Slovakia as PTP. There were common soldiers doing their compulsory military service, but also people who for example refused to join the agricultural cooperative (JRD). Or self-employed people who were regarded as the state enemies or people who were peached by somebody. Well, all these people were conscripted into the PTP.”

Life of the PTP Member

Life of the PTP Member (data format Flash Video)

“The point was to separate those people from the society, to prevent them from taking action. There their mail was monitored as well as visitors and so on. Actually, there were people separated from the society. They could hardly ever go for walks and only in case of satisfying results at work. There we were under a special military unit. There was a reveille, morning exercises, short time for making the bed and then we had to go for instance to peel potatoes or something similar. It was in the morning even before going for shift, because we also worked in shifts. People working in forests didn’t work at night, but people working somewhere else could work at night, so we worked in three shifts. For example, we worked for military or other companies. Industria, it was a military enterprise, which employed mainly the political convicts, thus PTP members and the like. We worked for about nine hours then we were loaded into the cars and driven there, we get washed at least a bit, prepared some dinner and then, in the evening we had virtually no free time. In the evening we also had various trainings, we had lessons of Russian language and other. Well, there were various activities. And we also had competitions, for example Tyrš fitness badge, I still have papers somewhere. I thought to myself, well, there was the Tyrš fitness badge, so why shouldn’t I join? I would run and I would relax a little. However, it was organised with the only purpose to deprive us of any spare time, so that we couldn’t talk to each other and they knew that at work we had no time for discussions. Among us there also were various guards who always reported on anybody acting suspiciously or the like. In fact we were busy every minute of a day. And then, there always was the reason for increasing our working time. I do not know, we organised a competition at the anniversary of the February events. At that time we were said that people with high placing would get more time for walks. Then there was a competition, I do not know, to celebrate the anniversary of the October Revolution. So we got more shifts and we had to strive for good results again. And always something. May Day, to celebrate May Day there was another competition and I still had some. It went that way permanently. They simply wanted to destroy people and the weaker of us lost their health and fell ill. They mainly suffered lung diseases or something similar. I remember a number of cases, when people were released and died after coming home as they should die there. I know a man, his name was Števo. I don’t remember his surname. He died at home, but before he even hadn’t been allowed to attend his mother’s funeral, I think.”

“I wanted to study psychology”

“I wanted to study psychology” (data format Flash Video)

“Okay, I enrolled. I attended interviews and then I was told that I managed to get the second place in the tests. I was glad I would have an opportunity to study as I got more than ten, I think. So we were happy that I would be accepted. Surely. There were some examining committees and also an admission committee. It was the first sieve, but the second sieve, much more important one, was the admission committee. They studied various materials and personal evaluations. Some students even weren’t invited for entrance tests. I had good evaluations. You know, I had worked for so many years with excellent results, so I got over two hundred percent. It was confirmed in writing. And also the party members stood up for me and one of them, Konôpka, told me. I hope it will not harm him. Perhaps he already died; he was a lot older than me. He partook in the uprising and was considered to be merited and trustworthy man. I think he was a deputy commander and also a master and we got along well. Interesting fact is that his wife was a believer. He confessed to me and said, ‘You know what Fero, you are a proletarian and nobody should care whether you pray in the evening or read Bible at home or what!’ It was his attitude. And he also said, ‘Fero, you can say my name, I will stand up for you.’ And when such communists, reliable and trustworthy, stood up for me, it gave it weight. I know he really did it. And I was there when he said, ‘Okay, well, I will turn a blind eye to it.’ So I could do the entrance exams, but then there was that admission committee. The head of it was Lev Hanzel as well as an academic Filkorn, he was a great logician. He also ranked among the uniformed. But not in a military sense, he was a member of the Jesuit order. But later he adapted somehow. I think that not inwardly, probably it wasn’t possible, but he was one of the best logicians in the republic. Later he also became an academician, academician Filkorn. He was philosopher and wrote books. And then Lev Hanzel told him, ‘I have here such case, but if we let him study psychology he could escape our surveillance, so we only can let him study philosophy. From there he will not escape.’ Thus I was invited for a personal interview. There were Hanzel, Lev Hanzel and Filkorn and me and they told me, ‘We have never done this before, we have never invited someone for a personal interview. You’re such and such, you have such personal history and you were raised in such family. We know everything about you. We know you are a religious man.’ Of course, it was a common phrase. ‘But we want to help you as to a social case. Actually, in a social sense, everything is all right; we just want to help you as you want to have a higher education. And therefore we are willing to accept you, but not for psychology, but for philosophy. There we will be able to help you far more.’ I dint want to go so far, so I said, I do not know whether immediately or later that, ‘Thank you very much, I only wanted to study psychology.’”

Almost Wasted Investment

Almost Wasted Investment (data format Flash Video)

“This way I went throughout my study. I was getting a maximal merit as well as social scholarship. Well, later, it was before the finals, I had to be judged by the party and district representatives. And they were furious, when they learnt that I was just finishing my studies. They asked how it could happen as they hadn’t recommended me for studies. Fulmination. So what? I was called for a sort of interrogation. I think there were more people, not only me, and we all were verbally attacked there. They said we were such and such, that we consorted with such people and so on. Well, they said various mendacious things and asked us to return the record book and everything else and we were dismissed. I do not know how the others ended up, I just know that one girl, she has already been retired, worked later as a headmistress of a church school. She strived to settle upon it and really managed to finish her studies, she only had to spend a year working in a factory. Yeah, I think it was acceptable. I also know about other students in a similar situation, but they were from higher classes. However, I was dismissed, so once again I went to talk to that Freedom Party chairman and another man, who is still alive. I don’t want to mention him, so I only say his name was Peter. He was a really humane person, somebody talked about him in television broadcasting that he had stood up for him when he had needed it. Well, this is not important. He was a high profile person. Then, the Freedom Party chairman along with Lenárt, Lenárt was working at the Central Committee, drove me there by car and said, ‘Jožko, be so nice, please, and do a short interview. He will tell you what the matter is.’ So he called the secretary and told her to do the interview. I said what was going on and they officially summoned a commission. There was a man from the Central Committee, one from the former ministry and two from the school. One represented the Socialist Union of Youth and there also was a former subdean, who is still alive. He has already apologized to me several times. Well, so then they firstly went to my native village. I knew it, I had found out that the commission, comrades would go there, so I went there and said, ‘Comrades from Bratislava will come, so don’t be scared. Tell them how we are getting along. I haven’t hurt anybody of you, have I?’ ‘Well, Fero, we have nothing against you, so we can say everything without hesitation. It is just good that you told us about it, so at least we will be prepared and won’t be in shock or something.’ Then, everything was all right; I only didn’t dare to go the district to persuade them. Well, when the commission came from my native village, they said everything was ok. They just didn’t like my radical attitudes, which one man from the district talked about. I still have the record, which he wrote on me. However, he is not alive, he had a car crash. Finally they agreed that I would be allowed to finish my studies. They said that I got money from the state budget, so they had to take advantage of it and thus I would work. But not as a teacher, I was supposed to be a researcher. This way I finished my studies with excellent results and the so-called red diploma.”

“It’s sad that this nation has forgotten so quickly...”

“It’s sad that this nation has forgotten so quickly...” (data format Flash Video)

“Well, the year 1989 and my attitude to the so-called Velvet Revolution. I can definitely say that my expectations weren’t met at all, or rather only partially in terms of freedom, it must be recognized. However, a high price was paid in the shape of great effort, great sacrifice, and many years of imprisonment. Here I want to mention names such as Cardinal Korec, Monsignor Trstenský, Bishop Hnilica who was in Rome, Monsignor Nahálka who contributed to the establishment of the Institute of St. Cyril and Methodius. He also was my friend. And I don’t mention the amount of literature, which was printed or delivered here. Anton Hlinka was another man who endeavoured it through his broadcasts. Jožko Šrámek, already deceased, who worked in the Radio Free Europe as a representative. He told a lot to me. I mean all these people. Also Silvester Krčméry and Vlado Jukl in Slovakia. And of course the Candle Manifestation and such things, which occurred even before the year 1989 and which seem to be forgotten these days.”

The story and videoclips of this witness were put together and published thanks to the financial support of EU within the programme Europe for Citizens – Active European Remembrance.

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