Ladislav Snopko (1949)

Photo: Ladislav Snopko

Biography:

“Coping with the communist regime is extremely difficult and I am afraid that before coping with it, we will die out. I mean mainly people who know what we should cope with will die before it actually happens. Unfortunately.”

Ladislav Snopko was born on December 9, 1949 in Košice. After finishing the secondary school, he studied medicine in his hometown for a while, but as he inclined to the archaeological profession, he decided to enrol at the one-year practice in archaeological research of Devin Castle. Afterwards he decided to focus on this field of science. In 1970 he was accepted for the study at the Department of General History and Archaeology at the Faculty of Arts, Comenius University in Bratislava. He was successful and graduated in 1976. While studying at the university he met many eminent personalities of Slovak culture, science and politics. They used to organise various cultural events such as Koncert mladosti (Concert of Youth), Blues na Dunaji (Blues on Danube River), Folkfórum (Folk Forum), Gitariáda (Guitar Music Contest), which usually didn’t correspond to the cultural policy of the regime, therefore they were under strict control of the State Security. Ladislav Snopko also contributed articles to various magazines, lead an archaeological research and historical reconstruction of the ancient site of Gerulata in Rusovce near Bratislava, and in years 1988 – 1989 he was the head of the secretariat in organisation called Kruh priateľov českej kultúry na Slovensku (Circle of Friends of the Czech Culture in Slovakia). During the revolutionary days in 1989, he was one of the founding members of the Public against Violence movement (VPN), which was officially established as the most important opposing force of the Velvet Revolution in Slovakia on November 19, 1989. On December 10, 1989, he and Martin Bútora organised a march under the slogan “Hello Europe”, during which thousands of Bratislava citizens passed through the open Iron Curtain to Austria. From 1989 until 1991 when the Public against Violence ceased to exist, he worked as a member of the movement’s crucial body, the Coordination Centre. In the years 1990 – 1992 he was a Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, the member of the Slovak National Council and the chief coordinator of culture, education, sports and tourism of the Central European Initiative countries. He was also a founder of the cultural fund called Pro Slovakia, magazine Profil súčasného výtvarného umenia (Shape of Contemporary Visual Art) and worked as a member of the council of Bratislava self-governing region.

“Follies we did were our follies”

“Follies we did were our follies” (data format Flash Video)

“Actually, on November 17, we didn’t want any political changes like the change of the regime; we only wanted to stop all the violence and everything going on then. Then it was only about being a sort of sniffer dog that caught the scent, which lead us to the change of regime. Regardless of everything arising form that. I mean the obligation to learn how to manage the public affairs or how the political parties work, because the Public against Violence was a nongovernmental organisation and we hadn’t intended to take governing positions. Only two members of the Coordination Centre had a seat in Čičo’s government, Vlado Ondruš and I. All the others were close-minded professionals as Laco Košča, Mišo Kováč and the like. There were also members of the communist party and we wanted to make a constitutional change, constitutional revolution, which the Public against Violence couldn’t have done, particularly not in the spirit of its name, it simply couldn’t do any violent changes in society. Nowadays, a lot of people criticise us, but I insist that back then we did it the best possible way and since November 17, 1989, Slovakia has been developing by itself for the first time in a long period of time, I mean without any external influence. The fabrications that the communists, the State Security members or the like came up with the November events were only the fables. I was there, I was one of them and I don’t claim there were no attempts to join and disorient, but none of the members of the Coordination Centre of the Public against Violence was under the influence of the State Security or KGB. The mistakes or follies we did were solely our follies. There weren’t any external manipulations.”

Platform for the Change of Regime

Platform for the Change of Regime (data format Flash Video)

“It was no coincidence that the Public against Violence was established in Umelecká beseda (Art Discussion Group), actually in the exhibition hall of the Municipal Committee of the Slovak Visual Artists. It wasn’t any coincidence; it was a consequence of the fact that visual artists were legitimately the main collective stream of freedom in Slovakia. It was no coincidence that our supportive offices were in the Slovak Union of the Nature and Landscape Conservation, it really wasn’t. And it also wasn’t coincidence that on the basis of the Public against Violence, many dramatists and theatre artists joined us in the finale. It is obvious that actors have a sense of theatricality of the situation and can define the finale, so they joined us in due time. Sometimes it seems that they were responsible for the revolution; however, the dutiful work behind it was on the shoulders of the environmentalists and visual artists and solitaries who were on the edge of society for the whole 1970s and 1980s. And situation of students was similar. Of course, young people are usually means of changes because they are young, eager for change, but actually they weren’t the core of the change back then. The core was represented by people, dissidents from the background, people who lived in a certain way for the whole twenty years.”

Importance of the Slovak Television in the Days of Revolution

Importance of the Slovak Television in the Days of Revolution (data format Flash Video)

“I think we have to acknowledge the director of the Slovak Television Hlinický who understood that the change, which suddenly came, was a crucial change and opened the television for the Public against Violence. It was a sort of methodical centre, the Studio Dialogue and live broadcasts from the meetings held in the SNP Square were certain methodical centres, where the citizens of Slovakia could sit and see the way of thinking of the Public against Violence and their way of solving problems in the SNP Square. Then people did the same in the squares of their cities, therefore everything went so quickly and properly.”

Activities of the Public against Violence Movement

Activities of the Public against Violence Movement (data format Flash Video)

“De facto, we formulated the program of the Public against Violence on the basis of the principles of the democratic society. We wrote twelve main points there, out of which almost all have already been accomplished, except for the separation of the Church and the state. And those media appearances, either in the SNP square or in the Studio Dialogue, inspired the whole Slovakia. Of course, we used to travel around Slovakia, for example we went by train to Košice and the like. The identity of Slovakia took the form of the Public against Violence and we expected, I had to admit, that we were a bit naive, that the society, which had already been sick of that policy, would transform and start working in accord with the civil order. Therefore, we didn’t intend to change the small Public against Violence movements, which were being established not only in other cities, but also in factories, into some political cells. Therefore, we were not interested to take high political positions, as I have already said, only two members of the Coordination Committee of the Public against Violence had a seat in the Slovak government led by Milan Čič because we understood that the system had to be administered by somebody who knew how to do it, so we just controlled it and paradoxically we lead the least important ministries. Ondruš was the Deputy Prime Minister for the Environment and I was the Minister of Culture.”

Curiosities of the Velvet Revolution

Curiosities of the Velvet Revolution (data format Flash Video)

“I remember one unbelievable event when a man came to me and said that he was going to buy some furniture with his wife but they lost twelve thousand crowns, so he asked me what to do. Milan and Jano passed the hat and they managed to collect about one hundred and eighty thousand crowns, which were usually delivered to us in plastic bags. Finally, we had a plastic bag full of money and we didn’t know what to do with it, so we called the post office and asked them to send a sack to us so as to put the money there. They did it, we put the money in and the sack travelled around, people passed it around until it got to the post. A week later, we were sitting in the Public against Violence, handling other issues, when a clerk from the post office phoned us, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me what we should do with that sack with one hundred and eighty thousand crowns? Obviously, you have forgotten about it.’ And we replied, ‘Oh, we really have done so.’ So we decided to buy an ambulance or something. You know, it took such a hectic ad hoc form. I remember the general strike, which we proclaimed. We informed the citizens of Slovakia about the oncoming general strike and we also sent this message to the government and to the party. It took place, although we didn’t suspect people would come to the square because we didn’t call the meeting. Then, they phoned us that there were fifty thousand people in the square and we had to do something. So I went there along with Fedor Gál. Moreover, I ‘requisitioned’ a butcher knife. You know, butchers, who wore the typical checked clothes, sat there in a big Avia car. I said, ‘Come on, let’s go to the square!’ So we went to the square, we walked pass the former Soviet Book, at present it is the Trinity, when I suddenly realized that I needed to do something, that people were expecting something. I jumped on the deck of that butchers’ car, grabbed the Czechoslovak flag from somebody’s hands and started to wave it. I went down and as I was still waving it, I brushed against something. I looked up and I saw the trolley wires. And there were two types of flags back then. One had a wooden handle and another had an aluminium handle. I was fortunate that coincidentally I had a flag with wooden handle, because if I had had an aluminium one, I would have been the only victim of the Velvet Revolution.”

Abolition of the Leading Role of the Communist Party

Abolition of the Leading Role of the Communist Party (data format Flash Video)

“The abolition of the leading role of the party. I remember that in Prague there were some speculations that it would come sometime in March 1990 after the negotiations with Adamec and his government and the like. We sat on the Public against Violence and my friends called me from the High Tatras, Gabo Ondrovič was a mayor there for two terms, and they asked us if we were crazy because the Mountain Rescue Service was prepared to trounce the communists. They said they would go on foot to Bratislava and though only ten would set out, a million would come to Bratislava to throw everything out. So we called to Prague and told them that Slovakia was prepared to annul the leading role of the party. Then, we announced our intention to annul the leading position of the party at the meeting. Vlado Ondruš, I think Ľubo Feldek, and Peter Kresánek went to Prague for negotiations, and you know, at that time I was at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts with Fedor Gál and when we were leaving it at about five in the morning, I unthinkingly grabbed Pravda and Smena newspapers. We went to Milan Kňažko’s home, where we were preparing the evening meeting and we were seeing them out as they were about to leave for Prague, when I suddenly noticed Jano Budaj reading newspapers. He said, ‘Guys, they have accepted it.’ The headlines of both newspapers informed that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia didn’t object to deletion of the leading role of the party. So they went to Prague with information that this problem had already been solved in Slovakia. I say, in this case the dynamism was much greater in Slovakia. When Václav Havel was in Bratislava at the National Theatre for the first time, then the Federal Assembly announced after their session that they decided to abolish the leading role of the party. It was a consequence of the pressure from the Public against Violence movement, the pressure which went from below. I think that the first period of the revolutionary enthusiasm in Slovakia ended on December 10, 1989. It was the stage of a real revolution and then, the stage of building structures came.”

Evaluation of November 1989

Evaluation of November 1989 (data format Flash Video)

“The fall of the communist regime. You know, I am still thinking about one thing when I evaluate the events of November 1989, I mean the Velvet Revolution. I still speculate whether the November events were the culmination of the previous period or the beginning of the new one. As the culmination of totalitarianism, it was a demonstration of a peaceful energy of wise, cultured people used against totalitarianism. It displayed the good as good and evil as evil and everybody understood it. From this perspective I think that November was paradoxically the culmination, the happy ending of that era, of that fairytale on normalisation. November was organised by people whose youth was in 1960s. Either we in Bratislava, the whole Coordination Centre of the Public against Violence, or Václav Havel and Pithart and all those who were responsible for November in the Czech Republic, all of them were people who more or less belong to the generation of the 1960s. I mean to the generation of people who believed in certain ideals, who only needed to change ideology into ideals. The revolution lasted and it probably definitely ended with elections in 1992 when the normal, everyday, pragmatic life began just like in other democratic countries where the populists became known as contemplative and quiet people and despite the fact that the situation sometimes seemed a bit charged, it always was a progress which we had in our hands, because after all also Mečiar’s hands were ours, weren’t they?”

Need for Cultural Forwardness of the Nation

Need for Cultural Forwardness of the Nation (data format Flash Video)

“I think we still consider culture to be a sort of luxury, not to be a part of what us, Homo sapiens, sets apart from the animal species because there is no other difference between us. We have the same hunger, we breathe in the same way, we have to drink equally, we love or rather reproduce on the same principles, and the only thing differentiating us is the culture. However, we can’t understand it, but the Czechs, Polish, and Hungarians can. In these countries attending theatrical performances, concerts, exhibitions, and reading books belong to proprieties. It hasn’t been common in our country yet, and until it won’t be spontaneous, we won’t be equal. Actually, we can do ‘compulsory exercises’, we can even have the biggest production of cars in the world or jet aircrafts or some rockets, but since we won’t have the mentioned, we won’t be happy, nationally happy. It is a waste of words when some nationalists talk about our peculiarity and the like, it really is. We are not and I consider it to be one of the things, which haven’t been solved yet. I firmly believe that the Slovak population will reach this point; I believe that people will start to trust in themselves, in their own culture and their history because it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Our society is set against doing penitence”

“Our society is set against doing penitence” (data format Flash Video)

“My best friend Ján Langoš didn’t found the Nation’s Memory Institute as an institute of punishment. He founded it as an institute of memory, truth and grasp of that truth and as a good Christian he did it in accordance with the basic Christian principles, that if people commit some evil, they have to become aware of it and do penitence. It is a good step towards forgiveness. And we didn’t do it. Our society refuses to do penitence.”

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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