Ján Motulko (1920 - 2013)

Photo: Ján Motulko


“I never belonged to any generation or other group and I wasn’t tied by any conventions, just because I wanted to be free.”

Ján Motulko was born on January 2, 1920, in the village of Malá Lodina in eastern Slovakia. He studied at the grammar school in Košice and later in Prešov, where he also passed the leaving examination. He gained his first editorial experiences in the Plameň magazine. He continued studying at the Faculty of Arts of the Slovak university in Bratislava. However, due to the call-up papers, under which he was involved into the Labour Service and later even sent to the front, he wasn’t able to finish his studies. After the war, in the years 1946 – 1959, he worked in a book editorial team of the Spolok sv. Vojtecha in Trnava. He reacted to the war atrocities immediately after coming home from the front and wrote the collection of poems called Blížence. Prior to the communist takeover, he managed to publish the collection of poems V mimózach vietor (1947) and the prose Z ohňa a krvi (1948). Situation after the coup made him worry about the possible development of events and this more and more intense tension led him to write the poem entitled Čas Herodes, in which he condemned the incoming red regime and its injustice. He was also inspired by the dramatic events of the Russian revolution. The poem waited for more than forty years to be officially published. Several creative experiments followed, but the lack of interest in their publication made Ján Motulko be literary inactive for the next period of time, which eventually lasted for more than 25 years. In this time he engaged in photography, which became his biggest hobby in addition to literature. Due to his activities and belief, which was completely different from the proclaimed complexion, he found himself in the centre of the State Security’s interest. He was called a spy and accused of the subversion of Czechoslovakia. However, he was never convicted. During the several interrogations and investigations he was being drugged and under the influence of drugs he signed the statement of the cooperation with the State Security. However, he recalled this fact only many years later. In the period 1959 – 1987, actually until his retirement, he worked as an editor in the Katolícke noviny newspaper. After the fall of the totalitarian regime, he fully engaged in the literary activities. He wrote the collections of poems called Fialové žalmy (1992) and Havrania zima (1996), and his book Strmé schody was published in 2000. He also wrote for children and youth, his collection of natural lyric poetry was entitled Nezábudka (1996) and V Ježiškovej škole (2000). Ján Motulko died on September 7, 2013 in the age of 93 years. However, in the eyes of many people he still remains the symbol of human and artistic morality.

Under Surveillance

Under Surveillance (data format Flash Video)

“They didn’t beat me; however, it was worse than beating. I mean banging on the table and blaming me, ‘Confess, confess, confess.’ Definitely, they registered everything, even my stamps between the two pieces of paper. My correspondence was monitored, I have the evidence that the letters I got from abroad were checked; I know the corner had been sealed with some other glue as it was still falling off. I also corresponded with a Dutch woman, an elderly lady, who went with pensioners for a trip across the four or five West European countries. I wrote to her that she also could visit Czechoslovakia; that Czechoslovakia was nice and she would find here a lot of natural beauty and the like. It was an indication for them that I invited spies into the republic. And nobody could persuade them about the opposite. It was such a mental pressure that I couldn’t imagine how to stand it.”

Interrogation under the Influence of Drugs

Interrogation under the Influence of Drugs (data format Flash Video)

“This was my experience with drugs. The first one. They asked me, as it was a hot summer day, if I drank something and offered me with some water. I was given a glass of soda water, I drank it and suddenly I felt something I hadn’t felt before. I was always silent; I didn’t speak if I didn’t have to. And suddenly I felt certain compulsion and wanted to say everything I knew. I felt compulsion to say that I had been sending stamps, ordering magazine from Belgium, sending stamps hidden among the lids to France, talking to this and that person. Simply, I felt to be urged, urged, and urged. Then I recalled that Husák had said nothing in the political trials. All the others had confessed to something, but he hadn’t. And I said myself, ‘Am I worse than Husák?’”

Circumstances of Signing the Statement of Cooperation

Circumstances of Signing the Statement of Cooperation (data format Flash Video)

“The second liquid, they asked us if we were thirsty, if we wanted something to drink. And we asked them for some water. He brought and put four coloured glasses on the table, each glass of different colour. I had already had some experiences from my student times. My classmates wanted me to get drunk, but then I grabbed another glass. They poured some rum into my wine when I was not present there. I pushed it to my friend and later we had to drag him home. And then, he also placed the glass in front of me, so I didn’t catch that one, I wanted to take another one. However, he immediately said I couldn’t because that one was a bit broken. I had to drink from the glass standing right in front of me. And then again, strange things started to happen to me. I couldn’t understand who they were, why they asked me various things, I simply saw them as a blurred picture. We talked about various things. Then I got a piece of paper. ‘Write the statement.’ So I wrote the statement. Actually, I didn’t know what I was writing about; I only knew I was writing differently from how I usually wrote. I often say myself that I would like to know, if the record was preserved somewhere, what the graphologist would say. It would be interesting to learn from my handwriting what happened or what was going on there. Only later I realised that I wrote there I would support the people’s democratic regime and similar things. I wrote that if I came to know that somebody acted against the regime, I would report it and it was all. I don’t know how I managed to go out. Simply, I hadn’t remembered anything from that evening; I dawned on only about ten years later.”


Censorship (data format Flash Video)

“The censorship was everywhere. It was a sort of sieve. Now I even can’t describe it in details, because nobody would believe me. Today, when the article is written, the editor is responsible for it and it goes right to the print. Back then, the materials to be published in Katolícke noviny newspaper were collected in my office and sent to Cirkevné nakladateľstvo publishing house, where they were read, selected and crossed out. Even though the editor in chief had already read and crossed the materials out. And the process repeated in Cirkevné nakladateľstvo publishing house, I mean selecting and crossing out. After returning from the second selection, after the second deletions, my chief read it again and only then the materials could be sent to the printing office. So they went through various sieves and additionally, in the printing office there was press supervision. It was called Slovenský tlačový dozor, STD. When one page was printed, I had to take it to a special office, where the supervisor read it once again and if he didn’t like something, he deleted it. For instance I had a piece of news which I borrowed from the Rudé právo newspaper. I think it was about some waterworks. It was published in Rudé právo and I simply borrowed it, but it wasn’t accepted. So I said, ‘Why? It was published in Rudé právo.’ ‘Rudé právo can carry it, but you can’t.’ And this was it, nothing more.”

“Nobody is prejudiced against you…”

“Nobody is prejudiced against you…” (data format Flash Video)

“Well, about the time after the war and my verse. I tried to re-establish my contacts with the literary magazines back then. I was sending some verses. Some magazines really published them, mainly the allied ones, but if I sent my verse somewhere else, I got a very interesting response. I had a friendly relationship with many people in a blaze and one of them told me, ‘You know, nobody is prejudiced against you, Mráz either, but...’ Suspension points, unfinished sentence. He is already dead. Simply said, I could write, but the literary magazines didn’t accept my works.”

Literary Works Accepted by the Regime

Literary Works Accepted by the Regime (data format Flash Video)

“Yet in the year 1948 I said myself, what if? So I wrote a short poem concerning May 1. It was really published and even recited on May 1. Then I decided not to write for literary magazines, but rather for children’s ones. I remember I wrote a short poem, just as an experiment of how I could write at that time, about a sparrow - kulak. It was published in a children’s magazine, what was fine, but I immediately got two-page long material with topics to write on. Then I got really scared. I stopped writing for the literary magazines as well as for the children’s ones.”

Čas Herodes Poem - Part I.

Čas Herodes Poem - Part I. (data format Flash Video)

“Then, I don’t know, maybe we were tiding up the pantry or something similar, simply, the handwriting appeared in one of the boxes. We tried to offer it to the publishers. In one publishing house they refused it, or actually they wanted it, but at last they refused it, because the review said it was similar to the works of some Soviet author. The second publisher said no, the next one said yes for several times; however, finally two ladies coincidentally managed to find a sponsor who financed its publication in Bratislava and at the same time in Prague in Czech translation. So it was published and as it was published it also fell into disuse, because new times didn’t want the memories of old times anymore. One of my colleagues from the Slovak Writers’ Society told me it wasn’t necessary to recall the old things, it wasn’t necessary to recall the old times. Thus we didn’t do so and Čas Herodes remained unnoticed. And now I live the same life as in the past, just like Robinson living on the island far away from the world. I have to say I didn’t have any ban on writing, either oral or written one. I could send my works to publishers, but I wasn’t welcome anywhere.”

Čas Herodes Poem - Part II.

Čas Herodes Poem - Part II. (data format Flash Video)

“I only want to add that nobody saw and nobody read the handwriting for many decades. I wrote it with a real fear, and even though I wanted somebody to know about it, I also wanted to prevent it from being lost or from being put into wrong hands. Thus I asked Žarnov, born Šubík, to read it. He really did so and when I told him that I considered it to be a bit crabbed, written in hurry, and that I wanted to adapt or change it somehow, he responded with words God forbid it. He asked me not to change anything, because it gave a true picture of that era. Then I did no changes in it, though I really wanted to improve it somehow. It remained untouched and it also was published in the same form as I had written it.”

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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