Dilemma ’89: My father was a communist

The Slovak author and journalist Martin M. Simecka and Hungarian architect and former samizdat publisher László Rajk are not only former dissidents of the younger generation, but also the sons of well-known persecuted communists. László Rajk sr. was the most prominent victim of the Rákosi show trials of 1949; the writer Milan Simecka sr. began his career in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and became a dissident after 1968. In the first debate in the Eurozine series “Europe talks to Europe”, held in Budapest, they discussed the still unanswered questions surrounding the involvement of their father’s generation in post-war communism, and the failings of today’s debate about the past in the former communist countries. Moderated by Eva Karadi, editor of Magyar Lettre Internationale.

Eva Karadi: There is an interesting common feature in both your biographies that has provided us with the title of our conversation: “Dilemma ’89: My father was a communist”. Martin Simecka, how well do you know the circumstances in which your father became a communist?

Martin Simecka: I know them very well because I spoke to him about it all. After my father was expelled from the party in ’68 he became a dissident, and so he had time to reflect on his past. He became a member of the party as early as ’48, as an eighteen-year-old. His personal motivation was very typical for the younger generation in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s. The Czechoslovak First Republic was extremely leftwing: there was a strong social-democratic party, a communist party and powerful leftwing intellectual movements. Many members of the intellectual elite – the writers and artists – were either communist or very leftist; it wasn’t unusual to be intellectual and leftist, or even communist. In this respect, Czechoslovakia was different to Hungary or Poland. In the ’48 elections the communist party won about 60 per cent in the Czech Republic and about 30 per cent in Slovakia, which was still a lot.

There were two profound reasons behind being a communist. One was the very common feeling that the Red Army had liberated Czechoslovakia at the end of the Second World War, and that it was the Russians who had brought liberty. The second was that Edvard Benes, who was president from late ’38 and then in exile in London, himself supported the idea that the Soviet Union is our friend, after Great Britain and others had betrayed Czechoslovakia with the Munich Agreement in ’38.

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1989

The Shōwa period ends with the death of Emperor Hirohito (aka Emperor Shōwa) after 62 years and 14 days of his reign in Japan. Akihito becomes Emperor of Japan, beginning the Heisei period the following day.George H. W. Bush succeeds Ronald Reagan as the 41st President of the USA. Berners-Lee started at CERN, Geneva and writes his “www proposal”. It should be the origin of the world wide web. In Alaska’s Prince William Sound the “Exxon Valdez” spills 240,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil after running aground. Slobodan Milo?evi? becomes president of Serbia. The Tiananmen Square massacre takes place in Beijing. Solidarity’s victory in Polish elections is the first of many anti-communist revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. Elections in the European Union. First entry of the German rightist extremist’s party “Die Republikaner” in the parliament. The Hungarian government opens the country’s western borders to refugees from the German Democratic Republic. The Hungarian Republic is officially declared by president Mátyás Sz?rös (replacing the Hungarian People’s Republic). East Germany opens checkpoints in the Berlin Wall, allowing its citizens to travel freely to West Germany for the first time in decades. Bulgarian Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov is replaced by Foreign Minister Petar Mladenov. The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announces they will give up their monopoly on political power. Chile holds its first free election in 16 years. Operation “Just Cause” is launched in an attempt to overthrow Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. After a week of bloody demonstrations, Ion Iliescu takes over as president of Romania, ending Nicolae Ceau?escu’s communist dictatorship. Constitutional amendment in Poland.Soviet war in Afghanistan: The last Soviet Union armored column leaves Kabul, ending 9 years of military occupation.After 44 years, Estonian flag is raised to the Pikk Hermann Castle tower.The Berne Convention, an international treaty on copyrights, is ratified by the United States.The Ayatollah Khomeini dies in Iran. France celebrates the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Nintendo releases the GameBoy portable video game system. The South African general election, 1989 (the last under apartheid). Brazil holds its first free presidential election since 1960. This marks the first time that all Ibero-American nations, excepting Cuba, have elected constitutional governments simultaneously.Velvet Revolution. Richard C. Duncan introduces the Olduvai theory, about the collapse of the Industrial Civilization.

1989: Nixon, Ford, Carter absent from inaugural

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President George H. W. Bush delivered his inaugural address on January 20, 1989.

Tiannanmen Square massacre

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A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989