Michal Slivka (1923)
„Many told me that I should have adapted so that I had this and that. Well, if I had to live once more, I’d do the same as I did. Not even a bit do I regret that I stood up to communism.“
Michal Slivka was born in 1923 in Letanovce, Slovakia, into a farmers´ family of ten members. His father Ján Slivka left for America in 1905 where he worked as a miner. After his return to Slovakia, he bought for the money earned land in Letanovce, which he farmed on with his wife Katarína. Michal’s anticommunist approach started to shape up already in the times when he attended a public school. From the talks of a priest there, he got to know about the horrors of the Bolshevik regime in Soviet Russia. In 1942 he finished two-year studies of an agricultural school in Spišská Nová Ves. With fear and anxiety he perceived the gaining of power by the Communist Party in February 1948. The imprisonment of his brother Ján, who served five years in prison in Leopoldov and Ilava for – according to the prosecution – being a “faithful servant of Vatican,” increased his aversion to the regime.
In 1957, a kolkhoz (a collective farm) was founded in Letanovce. Michal Slivka didn’t join it, though, although they tried to persuade him about the advantages of collective farming in a violent way. Within the frame of economically-technical adjustment of land, they exchanged his lots for other of a worse quality; they confiscated his cattle for several times. In the 60’s and 80’s he was investigated six times and they prosecuted him for artificial criminal acts before the courts in Spišská Nová Ves and Košice.
In the 70’s, his son Michal Slivka jr. was expelled from the fourth grade of studies of Philosophy in Bratislava. In an explanatory report created by the Secret Police in Bratislava, it is stated, that in a letter to his father, Michal Slivka “insults the Party’s representatives in a rude way and offends the socialist regime in ČSSR. Specifically, he insults the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party for his positive speech at a farmers’ congress in Nitra. SLIVKA considers negative that the farmers would applause to such a speech, in which the first secretary reminds of February 1948. As if the farmers didn’t know that thanks to February 1948, their toughly-earned land was stolen from them.” His daughter had the same fate as his son, as they expelled her from the fourth grade of an economic school. In an advanced age, with his health down-and-out, he was forced to find himself a job as a stock keeper in Tatrasvit in Svit by Poprad. After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, he begun to farm privately on a field of two hectares, he quit a few years later, though, because of his late age.
The Founding of Collective Farming in Letanovce
“The year 1948 came up. We were already anxious – those of us who were able to foresee a bit. We had fear of the front already that the bad is coming for us too. 1948 came up and that was it... end to freedom, end to law, so that is how it begun. In 1957 they founded a kolhoz at our place.”
Redactor: So how was the agitation then – by fair means?
“By unfair ones. They came for me, grabbed my legs and my hands and brought me to a municipal office and there they held me for three days and three nights. It was a terrible mental stress – three days and three nights. They didn’t even let the children visit me and they still tried to persuade me, but they couldn’t break me.”
Redactor: So what did they tell you, how did they threaten you?
“At first, they thought it would work it out voluntarily. That it is good... Than when it didn’t work out by good means, they started to exchange my land – they did it six times. Before, I could harvest a hundred meters high of corn, and also some potatoes. And when they made the exchange, I could harvest only thirty meters. So I got lousy money. So I lived poorly along with the family and children.”
Redactor: How were the quotas for amounts you had to turn in?
“Well, year after year they were higher and higher, one could not fulfill them. Than they though of various worse penalties and the sad thing is that natives did that. They were serving in National committees. They are saying that they had to do that – but that is not true, they didn’t. How many times I told them – you must die! It is sad, that the natives did that to me.”
When Slivka Signs, the Whole Village Will
Redactor: In the times before the nationalization – what kind of farm did you have?
“I had horses, cows, bulls, heifers, sows...
Then they did those buy-outs, so they confiscated my farms. Not only to me they did that but to many others. They wanted to destroy a man that way. And then there were the obligatory provisions. They wanted more and more. Intentionally they gave the land to me; they had orders to give me the worst land. So as I said, I could harvest only a little. I didn’t even have enough for feeding. According to the law, they should have given me an adequate land. But they had no respect to law. I wrote to them and nothing. That they should give me such land they confiscated from me... nothing. They had no respect – it was simply a dictatorship, totalitarianism...”
Redactor: Why did they attempt so hard to get you to become part of the collective farm? Did you have a lot of property or what was the reason?
“No, they saw that I had agricultural schools... I had always been working as a sick man. And I didn’t present myself. But they knew all about me. They said that when Slivka signs, the whole village would do so. That is what they wanted, to break me. When they saw that I didn’t give up, also the others held firm, those better, productive farmers. Those others farmers who signed were fooled and were angry that they promised them that they would be all well.”
Redactor: When they attempted to get you into that collective, how did the others in the village behave to you?
“Well at first they behaved well. They did the buy-out to about fifteen of them, took away their animals. But then when they broke a man, when he signed, it was their man already. So they broke him internally and then that man, that farmer, started to speak well of them. That is how it was and how it is. Even now you can hear that it was good times. That those were good times, during communism.”
Forms of Persecution in the Times of Collectivization
“In 1970 my son was expelled from the university, from the fourth grade. It was initiated by boh Berník, who was a head of the district here and the Party’s first secretary. He gave orders to universities here and there, I don’t even remember, and they fired him from the fourth year. And so they did with my daughter – they expelled her from the fourth year of economics.
Several times, they did the buy-outs with me, confiscated my animals. Violently, they took them. They left me only horses. Then I earned something and bought other animals, so I was still trying...
Well, then they saw, that it was no use with me. I didn’t even come to vote.
They liquidated me, took my fields off me, because I was allegedly ill. But it was not so. I had to find a job and go work – imagine, I was 50 years old and had to start working once again.
Redactor: So where were you working?
Here in Tatrasvit, I found myself a somewhat easier job, as I was in bad shape – had a crooked spine and also mentally I was really down. I didn’t believe I would make it to year 2000.”
Prosecution and Trials of Michal Slivka
Redactor: How was it then when you refused to join the collective which was founded, so they still tried to get you in?
“At first they did, and when they saw I won’t go they made up crimes on me. They accused me of alleged criminal offenses six times.
An electricity column got displaced. Secret policemen came and said that it was my sabotage. They locked me up for 24 hours in Nová Ves, I was in shock. I don’t know why it happened.”
Redactor: How did they treat you during confinement?
“My head hurt, I couldn’t even eat. I was really in the end of my mental strengths. So they took me to a doctor. I remember the nurse shouting at the policemen, she was with me, as she saw such a done-up man. Now I am seeing those people around here in Spišská Nová Ves or Letanovce. If only they said one word – Slivka, forgive us. Nothing... So I don’t know. God, they probably didn’t know what they were doing.
This was the worst, year 1980 came up and they destroyed my barn, the very natives! They brought in gypsies and they were stealing. My wife was crying at the stairs. Two policemen sprayed a dazing gas into her mouth. I was in a room before a cross thinking things over. Then, in the very year, they accused me of crime once more. I defended myself so they accused me. And the very same judges rehabilitated me in 1990 in Spišská Nová Ves.
Then they accused me before the court – as always – for the sixth time of a criminal offense. I saw the civil prosecutor write into the accusation that I have a bad reputation in the village. So I stood up in the court and said: “I request a criminal prosecution of the prosecutor so that he dared to doubt my character, my honor! I have never been stealing or drinking in a pub with him.” He objected what dare I. So I stood up and said that once more. Well, they didn’t make out anything of that.
In the end I would like to say – for all that I remained poor in material, but I am very rich spiritually. I remained poor materially. Many told me that I should have adapted so that I had this and that. Well if I had to live once more, I’d do the same as I did. Not even a bit do I regret that I stood up to communism.”