Ivan Polanský (1936)

Photo: Ivan Polanský


“Unfortunately, the situation today is the same; communists’ sons and daughters hold high offices again. And why? Because they were allowed to graduate at any university. My children couldn’t have studied anywhere…”

Ivan Polanský was born on March 22, 1936 in Žilina. He spent the entire childhood in his hometown. Thanks to the membership in the scout organization he could be present at many interesting gatherings and trips. He continued scouting even after the year 1948 when it was formally banned. In 1951 he started studying at the Secondary Technical School for Chemical and Food Industry in Banská Štiavnica where he passed the school-leaving examination with distinction. Apart from literature, chemistry became his hobby, which helped him later when he pursued his printing activities. In 1957 he got married and three years later, he moved to Nová Dubnica along with his wife and children. In this “first socialist townlet” he met Doctor Ladislav Kvasnička and together they founded the first informal religious group. Their contacts as well as their groups gradually proliferated into many Slovak towns. The activities of Ivan Polanský were influenced by many well-know representatives of the catholic dissent such as Vladimír Jukl, Silvester Krčméry or father and son Dubovan. In 1970 he started to make written records and distribute the broadcasting of Vatican Radio, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. From 1982 he was publishing the magazine Serafínsky svet (Seraphic World) and later, in 1986, he launched into printing the periodical called Historický zápisník (Historical Notebook). He also used to publish the catholic magazine Una sancta catholica and many other periodicals. To reproduce this material he used printing machines, which were secretly delivered to him from abroad. As it was secret and really dangerous activity, only a few reliable members of their religious group could help him. However, in 1987 he was arrested for his activities and in June 1988 he was sentenced for the offence of subversion of the republic to four years of imprisonment. He was paroled on December 15, 1988. During the crucial events of 1989 and 1990 he used to contribute to the broadcasting of the Radio Free Europe really zealously. He commented on the situation in Czechoslovakia. In 1990 he was elected a Member of the Federal Assembly of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. Moreover, even nowadays he still keeps in touch with political prisoners.

Old Communists’ Disappointment

Ivan Polanský - Old Communists’ Disappointment (data format Flash Video)

“My mother used to go to church regularly, but my father attended holy masses just on important Christian feasts. Later, my father shook his head, he said that socialism and formation of communism weren’t developing the way the old communists had imagined before. He understood that they were actually fooled and events deviated from their initial course… They were convinced that they all would live better, including the working class… Then, my father, even though he was still a member of militia and a chief of plant’s guard, started to shake his head in disagreement. ‘This is not it, this is not it. We imagined it differently.’ And thus the old communists became very disappointed.”

The Beginnings of Religious Groups

Ivan Polanský - The Beginnings of Religious Groups (formát Flash Video)

“Doktor Kvasnička was a paediatrician. He died a few years ago, but he was an outstanding person. During our duty, we probed each other. This way we found out many details. He was a believer, so we usually met in church or in chapel in Kolačín, where we used to go for masses. Later, we got in touch and together we founded the first group. It was the first informal religious group of ours. We used to meet there to ponder over the Holy Writ. Of course, hardly anybody knew what meditation was, indeed. Then, we taught other people. We showed them how we pondered over one of the passages, which we had already read, and everyone had to say their opinion or some resolution they made about studying the Bible, because in the period when the faith was being suppressed, we encouraged them to study the Holy Writ at home and meditate. The problem was that people didn’t know what meditation was. They didn’t know how to do that. So we learnt it step by step, then we taught other people and our groups started to grow.”

The Year 1968 and Growing of Religious Groups

Ivan Polanský - The Year 1968 and Growing of Religious Groups (data format Flash Video)

“The year 1968 meant a lot for the Catholics because at least for a while people didn’t have to be afraid and could go to churches. We used to notice these people; above all I mean the steadfast who attended holy masses regularly. Later, we spoke to other people who started to go to church and received communion. You know, we could see who received communion and who didn’t. And then, we used to debate with them. At first we lead just small talks. A bit later, we invited them to our groups. Then, we transformed our religious group into an community. If there were too many people in one group, we divided it and this way many new groups arose. Every group was later transformed into community, but only steadfast people could become its members, people, who used to help each other also in ordinary situations. From time to time it was necessary to go somewhere, and as I had a car then, I used to go, for example when mother needed to go to the hospital in Trenčín with her child, or to Dubnica, I drove them there. Sometimes they called me even in the evening or late at night. ‘Help us, please, we need this or that.’ And you know, this strengthened the solidarity among people, I mean not only religious one, but also such moral, human solidarity, I would say.”

The Way Samizdat Was Being Created

Ivan Polanský - The Way Samizdat Was Being Created (data format Flash Video)

“Well, I had just a few correspondents. You know, Jukl and Krčméry printed their own stuff. Tóno Selecký had his own material, too. Thus I recorded the broadcasting of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Vatican Radio. Only these three radio stations. And then I would choose the best material. At first I recorded it on the tape, but, you know, they usually interrupted it, so I had to write suspension points there. Even though I played it ten times, I couldn’t understand it. Later, Jukl advised me, because he was also my spiritual leader, he said, ‘Well, don’t write suspension points there, it doesn’t look good. What will the readers think about it? Nobody will think it could be an interruption. Just finish the sentence somehow; it only has to be complete and make sense. Add some words or delete what you think can be deleted to maintain the original meaning.’ Everything was just up to me. I sat at my desk and wrote; at first I copied the entire material and put it together by myself.”

Reproducing the Samizdat

Ivan Polanský - Reproducing the Samizdat (data format Flash Video)

“In our three-room flat there we had a living room, children’s bedroom and our bedroom in the rear. I used to make copies in our children’s bedroom. At first an older lady, who we considered to be serious, lived in the block of flats. Later a young girl came to live there, and even though she was polite to us, I became suspicious of her. I closed the door of our bedroom and children’s room was in the middle right behind the living room. Our living room led to the hall, then to the kitchen and out. Above us there lived husband and wife, who had two sons and a daughter. Their children were almost adult. At least their oldest son was. And both father and son were militia members. It was very dangerous for me. I thought about what to do in a situation like this. So I usually turned the radio on in children’s bedroom, some music or news, or whatever. Sometimes it was broadcasted in foreign language, but I didn’t mind it, I only wanted to cover my activities. I didn’t know whether it helped or not, but I usually did it in this way. Later, when we had so many activities that people who used to help me couldn’t keep up, you know, they had families, children and their own duties, and they didn’t cope with putting the material together. Thus I moved my copy room to one of the houses. There was one floor with I don’t know how many rooms and a garret. My work room was in the garret. The problem was that people knew me well from the militia’s lectures and a lot of women knew me as well, so they started to ask, ‘Why does Polanský visit you so often?’ It was a real trouble again. And they had to made excuses: ‘He goes to our house to watch our children.’ You know, they had four children, if I am not mistaken. ‘He looks after our children.’ However, we couldn’t do that endlessly.”


Ivan Polanský - Arrest (data format Flash Video)

“They introduced themselves, but I can’t remember how. They only told in short that they came. They didn’t even mention any house search. However, when I saw how many of them were entering my house, I knew it had already come out into the open. At first they sat down and then searched my house. The search lasted, I don’t know, from lunchtime. It was about, I think, November or so, November 4 and they finished the search at three o’clock in the morning. We left our house at three and they drove me to Banská Bystrica. I think they didn’t even slapped handcuffs on me, because I was ill. ‘I hope you won’t escape.’ And I responded, ‘No, I don’t want to do that and also I can’t.’ Moreover, they were armed. Behind us there were some cars with men authorized to shoot. I said, ‘I can evaluate my situation. Actually, I expected that you would come one day.’ Hyža sat at the front seat, I sat in the rear between the two men, and he suddenly turned his head, ‘Did you really expect it?’ I said, ‘Of course, I did.’ And I remember some more details. I know he was so surprised that his eyes popped. ‘Did you expect us?’ ‘Sure, you couldn’t conceal it, especially as it was such a big operation.’”

In Prison

Ivan Polanský - In Prison (formát Flash Video)

“I spent a long time in a cell, I estimate two or three weeks, and only then I was allowed to go for a walk. But we could walk only in some room, I would say. It wasn’t a room. Actually, it was a cage placed in the yard, so we were like some beasts in the cage. We walked around there; it was a space approximately six metres by six. There was also a guard watching us; however, we were glad to be in the open air. I gradually started to spread God’s word. [My cellmates] saw me praying. ‘Why are you praying? How are you doing it?’ I said, ‘Look, boys, you did what you did, I don’t ask you anything. I am a political prisoner, that’s different, I knew what I was doing I could expect that once it would come out into the open. And I have never been afraid.’ Then, when I spoke openly with them, they started to unload their troubles to me, too.”

Political Prisoners’ Life Stories

Ivan Polanský - Political Prisoners’ Life Stories (data format Flash Video)

“I experienced such situation; even now I am on the verge of tears, it was when the old political prisoners met and embraced each other. You know, they hadn’t met for years. They had feared to meet, but when the regime changed, they finally found each other somehow. Either at a meeting or…I personally experienced it more times. They were [imprisoned] for example in Jáchymov. Fortunately, I didn’t experience it, it was in the early years of building communism and it was very cruel. Colloquially speaking, I had a real comfort in the prison. That time the State Security had already known that the situation was on the bad way, so they didn’t do such tight reprisals. But these old political prisoners were given ten or fifteen years for doing nothing, for example for not delivering quotas from their crops and the like. Or just for saying something. It sufficed to say, ‘I listened to,’ for example, ‘Western radio broadcasting.’ And they were given five or ten years; just because they said that they had listened to some radio before somebody who didn’t hesitate to peach on them for gain. And the forced labour not only in Jáchymov, but everywhere, in coal mines, the hard labour camps, also at dams, where they built their foundations; it was the hardest work ever. Many prisoners managed to survive, but, unfortunately, many of them died.”

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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