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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