THE 1989 VELVET REVOLUTION

A. Pižurný on the 1989 Revolution: I did not want the world to be split

Anton Pižurný did not believe the communist regime could fall. Yet, he copied an illegal document that would help to bring about the revolution in his town.

“I began to understand the world was divided and that what was happening in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR) was not exactly what I wanted,” Pižurný says. (Source: Courtesy of Pižurný)

His father came from Sereď, a small town near Trnava. For the sake of his job as a vet, he moved to Banská Štiavnica where he met a young teacher - Anton's mother.

Due to his father's work, the young couple later left Banská Štiavnica, a town in central Slovakia, and settled in the south of Slovakia, in Želiezovce. There they raised two daughters and their youngest son, Anton Pižurný. He was born on 17 March 1961.

“A war may flare up, my little boy.”

In August 1968, when Anton was seven years old, the Pižurný family went on holiday to Lake Balaton in Hungary. They were coming back on the night of August 20/21.

However, they did not know that the Warsaw Pact troops had just entered Czechoslovak territory. The Warsaw Pact, known as the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, was signed in 1955 between the Soviet Union and seven communist countries of the Eastern Bloc, including Czechoslovakia. The Pact served as a counterweight to NATO.

Do not trust the media, form your own opinions, and I wish you the good fortune that your opinion is the right one.

Anton Pižurný's message to young people

“You’re going back home? You don’t know what’s going on?” customs officers at the border stared at the Pižurnýs, surprised holidaymakers.

Anton was a little boy at that time, but he remembers the ‘long queues’ of people in front of the shops. They were stocking up on food, preparing for the worst. He also remembers the fear he was feeling at the time.

“A war may flare up, my little boy,” his mother told him when she came into his room.

I began to cry then, Pižurný added, smiling.

“Occupants, home!”

The Warsaw Pact soldiers settled after the invasion, even in Želiezovce, but the citizens were not at conflict with them, Pižurný claims.

There was only one case when someone painted, a big white sign: “Occupants, home!”, in the popular Želiezovce park. They managed to find and punish an ‘offender’. Nonetheless, it was harder to rub out the sincere plea. Despite having been painted over, its contours were again readable after a while.

For Anton’s father, the occupation of Czechoslovakia was something hard to bear. Prior to the military action, he had been a convinced communist.

“After 1948 [the year when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, KSČ, took over], he became enthusiastic about building a new system and joined the KSČ,” Pižurný said.

Read alsoJ. Plulíková: We binned communism and went back to our own lives Read more 

His father, however, saw the arrival of the allied troops as a betrayal, and his worsened mental state led to his first heart attack. In 1972 he died from the third.

Rolling Stones on vinyl

Anton went to primary school in his native Želiezovce and went on to attend grammar school there as well. The Pižurný family moved to Žilina in northern Slovakia after Anton’s first two years, though, and he completed the third year there. Then, because of his grandmother’s illness, the family moved back to Banská Štiavnica. There, Anton completed his secondary education in 1980.

I began to understand the world was divided.

Anton Pižurný on the regime in Czechoslovakia

I used to be a rebel, Pižurný said about his teenage years. He had long hair and listened to rock music. A family friend, who had emigrated to America, sent him vinyl records from there.

“The Rolling Stones were the first vinyl he sent to me. That was fantastic!” Pižurný recalls.

In contrast to the communist uniformity, the western world seemed more diverse. Anton realised that culture was not the only area where freedom was lacking.

“I began to understand the world was divided and that what was happening in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR) was not exactly what I wanted,” Pižurný claims.

No commitment poems

After graduating from grammar school, Anton left for Bratislava to obtain a diploma of professional higher education in librarianship. He worked in Bratislava bookshops and devoted himself to his own literary writing.

His first poems were published in the Nové slovo mladých (New Word of the Young) supplement, when he was 19. It was a monthly literary supplement to the left-wing weekly, Nové slovo, led by writer and devoted communist Vojtech Mihálik.

“There was a precept that meant that a writer who wanted to publish there, had first to write a so-called commitment poem,” Pižurný said. Commitment poetry under communism meant authors were inclined to support one ideology.

“I never wrote this type of poetry, but Mihálik still published my poems,” he went on to describe the situation at the newspaper.

Thanks to his literary activities, he also made contacts with the Czech cultural scene. Friends in Prague regularly supplied him with Czech samizdat magazines like Vokno and Revolver. He also listened to the Plastic People of the Universe (PPU). They were the Prague underground band between 1968 and 1988, who opposed the regime.

Anton did not avoid the two-year-long compulsory military service. After his return, he worked in the field of geodesy for some time but when his partner became pregnant, they returned together to Banská Štiavnica and were married in the nearby village of Svätý Anton.

Revolutionaries in the boiler room

Anton’s next job was as an administrative worker in a small factory where wood was processed and wooden barrels were made. He was also responsible for human resources; the biggest problem was finding people who would work in the boiler room.

“It was a dirty and low-paid job that nobody wanted to do,” Pižurný said.

Anton eventually managed to employ three new workers as helpers in the boiler room. They and Anton unexpectedly became friends, and he spent a lot of time with them in the boiler room. It soon became clear they held university degrees, yet, they had difficulty in finding well-paid positions because of their religion and faith, as churches were persecuted under communism.

In November 1989, they all joined the revolutionary process; some of them later became mayors of the villages around Banská Štiavnica.

We realised something was happening, that the way the state acted towards its own people was not right, not to mention that those people were students.

Anton Pižurný on the violent November 1989 police crackdown

A few months before the November 1989 Velvet Revolution, Anton had not believed that anything could change as far as the regime at that time was concerned.

His uncle, who attended the Roman Catholic dissent groups-led Candle Demonstration in Bratislava in March 1988, brought Anton a document entitled ‘Několik vět’ (A Few Sentences). It was drawn up by the Charter 77 signatories, which was an informal anti-communist civic initiative named after the eponymous January 1977 document, in the spring of 1989. One of the signatories was also former Czechoslovak, and later Czech, President Václav Havel.

The’ Několik vět’ document was a petition calling on the country’s government to make a profound change within the system, based on a free and democratic debate. Anton took it and began to reproduce the document in his office at the Banská Štiavnica factory, despite the threat of penalties. The factory director caught him.

Pižurný does not know, to this date, whether it was because of the sudden arrival of the revolutionary days or the director’s unwillingness to act against him, but he did not get into any trouble.

Revolutionary days in Štiavnica

The trigger for Anton’s involvement in the revolutionary process was the moment when he saw a video of a violent police crackdown on students on the 17 November 1989 in Prague, which a friend of his showed him.

“At that time, we realised something was happening, that the way the state acted towards its own people was not right, not to mention that those people were students,” Pižurný recalls.

Read alsoWhat were the first foreign trips after the 1989 Velvet revolution like? Read more 

News on the founding of the Public Against Violence (VPN) political movement began spreading from Bratislava to the regions. The Štiavnica actors promptly became active. At first, Anton co-founded a VPN branch in the factory where he worked. Soon after the city-wide VPN organisation was founded by the Rubigall Youth Club.

Besides Anton, other founders included Oľga Kuchtová, Ľudovít Kaník, Soňa Lužinová, Jozef Labuda, and Juraj Paučula, who headed the youth club around that time. They partook in the nationwide general strike on November 27, 1989 by speaking to the crowd on the stairs of the Holy Trinity sculpture in the main square and demanding the end of the rule of the single communist party.

“I have experienced that feeling only once in my life, and I can say there was so much empathy everywhere,” Pižurný said. “It was an indelible experience.”

Turning coats

Naturally, the old cadres in power were not happy about the actions of some “young louts”. When personnel changes were to take place in the main posts, information about the threat of using force against the Velvet Revolution actors circulated behind the scenes. Anton himself had personal experience of being intimidated.

“Watch out! You could get hurt,” they threatened him.

Others were trying to quickly turn coat and join the side of the November actors. Anton recalled, in particular, one man with a Communist past whom he had asked to leave the youth club during their meeting.

He was able to get the crowds to believe him, but we eventually saw who he turned out to be.

Anton Pižurný about ex-PM Vladimír Mečiar

“He was still in red [the colour symbolising communism] in the morning, but by the time the evening came, he wanted to help us establish the VPN,” Pižurný added. He regrets that several similar people who then withdrew are back in high office now.

Anton also managed to meet with the then Federal Interior Minister, Ján Langoš, who was on a formal visit to Banská Štiavnica. After the official part, Anton sat down with him and asked why he no longer had his legendary long hair.

“I put it on the altar of my homeland,” Langoš replied with a laugh. They also talked about the rising calls for the split of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (ČSFR). Czechoslovakia adopted this name after the Velvet Revolution until the end of 1992, when the country dissolved.

“He told me there was nothing to be done about it,” Pižurný claims.

Against the dissolution

After the Velvet Revolution and prior to the free elections, in June 1990, the federal government of national understanding was formed to prepare the free vote. Communists sat in this government but lost their majority for the first time. Apart from the federal government, national governments were formed as well.

The Slovak national government was then led by Milan Čič. In his cabinet, VPN politician Vladimír Mečiar was appointed as the interior minister. This was in mid-January 1990. Anton believes Mečiar would actually have purified society of the communists and dishonoured people. His words sounded more convincing than the philosophical and humanistic speeches of other VPN intellectuals, Pižurný claims.

Read alsoMarking the Velvet Revolution in Bratislava’s squares Read more 

When the time of the free elections arrived, Anton decided to spend it in Prague. Wenceslas Square, crowded with people, was waiting for the results. As soon as they were announced, people were celebrating the victory of the VPN in Slovakia and the Civic Forum (Občanské fórum – OF), the VPN's counterpart in the Czech Republic. Mečiar became the prime minister of the Slovak government.

“He was able to get the crowds to believe him, but we eventually saw who he turned out to be,” Pižurný said.

Mečiar served as the prime minister until 1998, contemptuous of democratic procedures. Because of his way of governing the country, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even called Slovakia “the black hole of Europe” in 1997.

Try to be brave and listen to what your heart is saying. Try to evaluate people not only one-sidedly, but from multiple angles.

Anton Pižurný's message to the youth

Since 1990, Anton has been working as a freelancer. He founded an art agency and his own publishing house. He published several newspapers and had several of his poetry collections published, too.

He did not agree with the 1 January 1993 separation of Czechoslovakia. Anton always liked Czech culture and often visited Bohemia and Moravia, regions of the Czech Republic.

A note for the young

Today, 30 years after the Velvet Revolution, Anton Pižurný thinks the potential that was there for a positive change in the land of 1989 has vanished, although he sees hope in the young generation, for which he has one more message in addition to a thorough study of their own history.

“Try to be brave and listen to what your heart is saying. Try to evaluate people not only one-sidedly, but from multiple angles,” Pižurný said.

“Do not trust the media, form your own opinions, and I wish you the good fortune that your opinion is the right one,” he added.