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A NEW MEMORIAL PLAQUE DEDICATED TO THE PLACE WHERE A SIGNIFICANT PERSONALITY PREPARED HIS POLITICAL COMEBACK

Dubček's hideout revealed

ALEXANDER Dubček, a politician whose liberal policies far anticipated Gorbachev's perestroika, used to meet with his friends in Bratislava's Horský Park area. The wooded hill above Slovakia's capital was a good place for them to plot their conspiracies during the communist regime.
"In the 1970s and 1980s, when Mr Dubček was closely followed by [as we used to say at that time] 'his personal bodyguards' from the state police, we were looking for a place where we could freely discuss our plans.
We chose Horský Park, and using a 'postcard system' [sending each other a message encoded in greetings], we would meet there two or three times a week," said Ivan Laluha, one of the Dubček's friends.


THE EXHIBITION Dubček and Europe will run at Lesná škola (below).
photo: Courtesy of Bratislava City Museum (above) and TASR

ALEXANDER Dubček, a politician whose liberal policies far anticipated Gorbachev's perestroika, used to meet with his friends in Bratislava's Horský Park area. The wooded hill above Slovakia's capital was a good place for them to plot their conspiracies during the communist regime.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, when Mr Dubček was closely followed by [as we used to say at that time] 'his personal bodyguards' from the state police, we were looking for a place where we could freely discuss our plans.

We chose Horský Park, and using a 'postcard system' [sending each other a message encoded in greetings], we would meet there two or three times a week," said Ivan Laluha, one of the Dubček's friends.

At that place, they also prepared Dubček's famous speech, which he delivered on the occasion of being honoured a doctorate in political science by Bologna University in Italy, the oldest university in Europe, on November 13, 1988.

"I remember Dubček often contemplating the future development [of the country]. At that time, his political position developed from the general reformative tune of 1968 into a democratic ideal [as practiced] today in the western European sense," Laluha said. In the address, Dubček drew attention to the violation of human rights and claimed Czechoslovakia's fellowship with Europe.

It has been 15 years since Dubček was bestowed with the doctorate. None of the friends ever returned to the park after the revolution in 1989. As the last to be alive, Laluha felt it to be his moral duty to recall the times spent at the park.

In cooperation with the Horský Park Foundation, they revealed a memorial plaque at the Horáreň (Forestry lodge) and the bench on which the closely watched personalities used to sit. Pro-rector of Bologna University and initiator of the proposal for awarding Dubček the honorary doctorate, Guido Gambetta, also attended the ceremony on November 6.

Part of the event was the opening of the exhibition Alexander Dubček and Europe at the park's school, Lesná škola. The exhibition had its premiere in 2001 at the European Parliament. Then it toured several European cities.

"The exhibition offers a probe into Dubček's life, into his personality," said Kamil Procházka, the foundation's director. Photographs and texts from speeches and books, exhibited in Slovak and English, illustrate Dubček's life from his birth in the western Slovak town of Uhrovec, through his ups and downs in politics, until his death in a car accident.

Born in 1921, Dubček entered the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ) in 1939. In January 1968, when he became the first secretary of the central committee, he started initiating reforms that advocated "socialism with a human face". This era of liberation, called the Prague Spring, ended on August 21, 1968, by an invasion of the country by Warsaw Pact army troops.

In April 1969, Gustáv Husák replaced Dubček and reinstalled the regime, starting the era of normalization. Dubček lost all his political functions and was put in complete isolation until delivering the speech at Bologna University, which harbingered Dubček's return to the political scene.

"The Bologna speech meant a rehabilitation for Dubček after almost 20 years. Almost exactly as the saying has it, 'in a year and one day' [later], the known events at Prague's Strahov [the November revolution in 1989] started," said Laluha.

According to him, the speech delivered at the 1988 ceremonial awarding, which was attended by around 450 journalists and 800 honorary guests, predicted the surrender of the regime to a new era.

Despite other invitations, the regime did not let Dubček travel. But after the regime was overthrown, Dubček was bestowed with five more university doctorates and many awards, including the European Parliament's Andrei Sakharov Award.

"So, the [planning at] the Horský Park bench went to the hall of the oldest university in Europe, and a year later, to the federal assembly," Laluha says, reffering to Dubček becoming a chairman of the Federal Assembly in 1989.

The exhibition is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 15:00 to 20:00, and on Sunday from 11:00 to 20:00. It runs until November 16 at Lesná škola, Lesná 1, Bratislava.

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