Whether they called themselves Státní bezpečnost (“the StB”), the Stasi, or Służba Bezpieczeństwa, or something else, the Communist plainclothes secret police always helped to maintain the political power of the totalitarian regime. The Memory of Nations: Yes/No exhibition tells the stories of 12 witnesses from 6 European countries — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Poland and Slovakia. These witnesses are united by a common experience: they received an offer from the secret service to collaborate. Each of the 12 witnesses had to decide whether to make their life easier and more comfortable.
Some of them yielded to the seduction and responded YES. Others were more courageous and said NO.
The theme of collaboration is in the former Easter Block countries still very vivid and painful. While the stories of those who refused to collaborate are usually well known, the stories of the others remains in the background, or become familiar through sensational medial cases.
We are convinced that to better understand the communist totality of the 20th century, it is necessary to point out both the notional sides. For on both the sides there were people in particular situations, life circumstances, with their inner motivations, or personal failures. We are happy that we found witnesses with either kind of experience who dared to share their life stories. We are deeply grateful for their personal courage.
H. R. was brought up as a communist. After graduating from cadet school in Naumburg, he was enrolled in a military academy. There he was approached with an offer to collaborate with the Ministry of State Security (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit - MfS). “Ok, I’ll go along. I want to serve the better system… I have never considered how they collected information. I was completely blind concerning this issue. Naïve. Like a virgin.” Nevertheless, so as MfS, he also saw the Federal Republic of Germany, British and American secret services and Mossad as enemies. “What we as employees couldn’t understand was how it all blew up…” His father was an old communist. “He once told me: ‘This is not what I fought for.’ It took me a while before I understood…” After November 1989 he continued to be engaged in politics. He wanted to run for the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), but he was rejected by the directorate with the argument that it would have been a scandal if it came out he had been employed by the MfS. At that time he retired from politics for good.
Günther Werner was born in 1941 in Dresden. He was an electrician apprentice. During the night of 29 September, 1961, Günther and his friend Alfred Ewald began to write watchwords in Dresden against the Berlin Wall, and other remembering victims of the regime. They started to write between three and five watchwords per night. The Stasi arrested him in August 1962. He was accused of treason and was interrogated for several days. He took all the blame, protecting Ewald at any cost. He was sentenced to three years in prison, imprisoned for six months under the number 8292 - working in the Oelsnitz/Erzgebirge coal mine detention camp. During his attempt to escape and cross the border at Sülzhayn, he was arrested and escorted to Kaßberg in Chemnitz. The court sent him to prison for 12 years. He was dismissed in September 1966. He managed to get a job at Siemens in Augsburg where he remained for 17 years. He moved to Verden and took over a wood factory. After the war, Günther found out that his father was a Russian and Stasi informer. Today, Günther lives with his second wife and two children.
Everything began before Vladimir was born. His father Georgi Petrushev Goshev was instrumental to the first conspiracy of Asenovgrad and a commander of one of the largest “goryani” detachments in Bulgaria. Goryani were anti-communist partisans who started armed resistance against the totalitarian power in Bulgaria in 1945. After being expelled from secondary school and apprenticing as a carpenter in Plovdiv, Vladimir engaged in the anti-communist Underground Youth Union. In 1968 they raised a rebellion as inspired by movements in other European countries, but they were all arrested. Over the next several months in custody leading up to the trial, Vladimir was subjected to harsh physical and psychological harassment. At the end of his sentence, Vladimir Goshev was offered a pardon and a reduction in his sentence by three months. He flatly rejected the offer by the prison administration. His refusal was considered a definite indication that the work on him during his imprisonment failed to yield any result. The Ministry of the Interior in Plovdiv decided that he must be monitored by the authorities as a staunch opponent of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the people’s power. Today, he is 72 years old.
Aleksandar became a communist activist, although his father and grandfather were imprisoned by the party. In his childhood he joined the Pioneers and because he had excellent grades both as a Pioneer and as a member of the Communist Young League, he was, by definition, "an activist". He joined the Labour Military Service, a special unit of the Bulgarian army, which had been used as a free workforce for the so-called socialist building projects. Gathering with friends from the Service, they witnessed the events of 1968 by listening to the Free Europe radio broadcast. One day the military counterintelligence confronted him and demanded collaboration in the form of informing them on the subject of their discussions. “I have never ratted on anyone, of course, but… I did accept. So, unpleasant as it is, that is a fact.” After military service, Aleksandar Petrovich graduated as an architect, and his first job was in Plovdiv, at the Designer’s Organisation, and then he moved to Sofia, the KNIPI Sofproject - the central organisation for construction and architectural projects in the Bulgarian capital. Today, he is 70 years old and lives in Plovdiv.
Kamil Haťapka was completely devoted to sports. He did not care about politics. But politics cared about him. His father was imprisoned by the communist party in 1949. He was accused of treason and sentenced to death. All Haťapka wanted was to continue first with cycling and later with his coaching career. Instead, he ended up in the Technical Auxiliary Battalion (PTP). Later on, he started his dream career as a coach of the Czechoslovakian cycling team. He reached the highest position among the other officials. He became an informer for State Security (StB). “The fact that I survived and that I was a top-notch coach, that I had all the degrees, that wasn’t due to my collaboration with the StB.” To him, his service to the StB was just mundane bureaucracy. “We lived in the system, you didn’t… We all wanted to survive… Today, people makes such a big deal out of that State Security. But it was the same security as it is in all current states.” After 1989, Kamil Haťapka joined the Slovakian National Party (SNS). In 1994, he became a member of the National Committee of the Slovak Republic.
Juraj Stern was born in 1940 into a Jewish family. Shortly after his birth, the Sterns fled to Michalovce, where their relatives lived. Juraj’s father, Helmut Stern, managed to unnoticeably run away from the collecting ghettos, from where he was supposed to be transported to concentration camps. He was hiding in a secret room; a former SS member lived right in the next room. Later on, the family was hiding in Hlohovec, at the Zelenay family. The father, Michal Zelenay, tried to come up with different hiding places for the Sterns in order to save them. The Zelenay family was also honoured by the Righteous Among the Nations Award. Juraj Stern, however, also experienced hard times during communism. He couldn’t enrol at the university, nor could he find a proper job and he was watched by State Security. In the 1990s he actively opposed Vladimír Mečiar. Later on, he was a rector at the University of Economics as well as the Chair of the Slovak Rectors’ Conference. Nowadays, he is the rector of the Pan-European University in Bratislava.
We looked for witnesses who collaborated with State Security in Poland as well. Our colleagues from the partner organisation Fundacja Sztuk Krytycznych addressed 17 former informers of the Służby Bezpieczeństwa. None of them agreed to give us an interview.
Władysław Frasyniuk was born in 1954 in Wrocław. He is a Polish politician, former activist of the solidarity trade union, Solidarność, and former chairman of the Partia Demokratyczna political party. He served as a member of the Sejm (Polish parliament) from 1991 to 2001. He apprenticed as a professional driver and between 1974–1980 he worked in a transport company. He participated in demonstrations held by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy and Citizens of Poland, when he was detained. He was arrested for his activity, spent time in jail and was released under a general amnesty in 1986. State Security came with a proposal. In exchange for a dismissal of his hunger-striking friend Bednarz, he had to give an interview to the Politika newspaper. He rejected to collaborate, although it meant his friend Bednarz was going to die. Today, he belongs to the greatest critics of the current leading political party of Jarosław Kaczyński. Władysław runs a logistics business. He is married for the second time and has five children.
Jószefné Hartmann was born in 1930. When war broke out, her foster parents escaped. She was dragged away by the Russians and placed in a Donbass colony. Later, she was taken to prison in Lamberg, where they interrogated her as a spy. She was 14 years old. After months of torture, she was sentenced to be transported to a disciplinary camp in Siberia. Itwas mainly a camp for criminals and there were no Hungarians to talk to. Then she was transported to Kazakhstan to build an entirely new town, Balkhash. She was in Balkhash for six years, during which the town was built up. In 1953 Stalin’s death meant amnesty for foreign political prisoners. She was taken back to Lamberg where she had to wait for her release. There she met her future husband Gábor Gyulaházi. Back in Hungary, a military office contacted her to spread information on how great life in the state farm was. She was terrified, but she refused to do so. Two months later, she was called to go to the Debrecen airport as a Russian interpreter. Once again, she rejected. Since then, whenever she went to apply for a job, she was never accepted.
Jószef Végvári was born in Nagykanizsa in 1943. He is a former army major. He comes from a poor farming family. He was expelled from school because his father had not signed to become a collaborator. He was hiding somewhere in the vineyards. Later, his mother signed the collaboration, so that he could finish school. In 1962 he was expelled again. On 21 November, 1963 he joined the army. He was send to Zalaegerszeg to the sites of the mechanised shooter division troop number 88 and after three months he was inaugurated. When they were sorted for particular positions, he expressed an interest to become a radioman. He was good in Morse code and showed extraordinary talent for recognising particular radio broadcasts. Eventually, he was an employee of Hungarian State Security until 1989. First, he was trained to uncover the adversary agents. Afterward, he became the head of the department for protecting the cultural lines inside the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Now, he is 75 years old. He is retired and lives in Budapest.
Joska Skalník was born in 1948. After elementary school he first studied at a commercial high school, but after three years he transferred to a school of fine arts. His first job consisted of painting decorations and scene at the State Theatre Studio. In 1977 he transferred to The Drama Club where he has stayed to this day. He also used the premises of The Drama Club to organise unauthorised exhibitions of paintings and photographs. He actively participated in numerous samizdat book publications as well as magazines. In 1986 he was arrested for his illegal activities, detained and sentenced to a three-year suspended imprisonment. Following his release, he continued with his illegal activities until the Velvet Revolution. He participated in the foundation of the Civic Forum for which he drafted graphic and promotion materials. In 1990 he became an adviser to the newly-elected president Václav Havel. According to the archival evidence of State Security (StB), after his release there was a listening device installed in his studio. Skalník was documented as an agent actively collaborating with the StB. He lives in Prague.
Miloš Rejchrt was born in 1946 in Ostrava. Following the example of his father, he studied theology at the Protestant Theological Faculty with the intention to become a pastor. In 1968 he was active in the student movement. Following the Warsaw Pact invasion, he still managed to leave for his planned year-long studies in Switzerland. He returned in August 1969 and since 1970 served as a pastor in Česká Lípa. However, since he turned down an offer to cooperate with the secret police, he lost the state permit to serve as a pastor only two years later. Instead, he worked as a boiler operator for a number of years. He was among the people who formed the Charter 77 initiative and from 1980 until 1981 he served as its spokesman. He was arrested and frequently interrogated but avoided long-term imprisonment. Just before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, he was allowed to leave for yet another study trip to Switzerland. Thus, he followed the breakthrough of events from a distance. After 1990 he returned to his original profession.
Post Bellum is one of the leading Czech and European BGOs in the field of preserving the remembrance of our mostly Central and East European nations, especially the history of the recent repressive 20th century. We have collected more than 3,500 witnesses including soldiers, war veterans, political prisoners, holocaust survivors, people from local resistance movements, dissent representatives and also active representatives of the past repressive authorities. We confront their memories with archival documents and use them for presenting their legacy to the wider public, especially to young people. Based on the stories of the witnesses, we create educational workshops for both young and adult people, where they can “walk in the shoes” of the witnesses of our past. We make deeply impressive exhibitions based on these memories and annually award the still “invisible” heroes of our history (live TV, weekly radio broadcasts).
Post Bellum SK is an NGO (* 2008) which seeks and documents the memories of key 20th century moments of our past. We record the stories of witnesses and share them with the public. We believe that the unique stories of individuals are the best way of getting to know our history in its broadest context and impact our lives, just as the lives of our predecessors. We are interested in different perspectives of studying history. Each story provides testimony about certain dilemmas of our parents or grandparents who had to face the tragedies of the former century. Witnessing their stories forces us to ask ourselves: how would we have behaved in their situation? The witnesses who remember key 20th century moments quickly pass away, and thus we find it important to preserve their testimonies for us, for our children and their children, who will no longer be able to meet them personally. So, like our Czech mother branch Post Bellum, we actively involve pupils and students, award heroes or seemingly ordinary people and cooperate with foreign partners.
World Wide Words is an international, multi-arts platform for artistic activities with clear social and cultural perspectives. We have done several projects in Denmark and abroad, such as “Karavan” (KuKaVo – Kultural Karavan), while the Kärävan from WoWiWo are on their way to Roskilde. Seven artists will meet up with local citizens to seek out the best hidden local stories to be retold via graffiti, music, film, spoken or written word and digital media. Via a series of co-creative workshops, we will provide local residents with a Story-Performance about the local area through the eyes of young people. “Fjordvilla and the Crime of Silence” is a new performance piece, based on Bertrand Russell´s War Crimes Tribunal story held in Roskilde in 1967 and is to be shared with an audience in autumn of 2017. We use archival materials and interviews with local people who participated on the tribunal to develop and write a script for this unique re-enactment and artistic modulation of those events.
The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes was established in 2008 based on an Act of the Czech Republic. Its mission is to study and document the time of the Nazi regime and the time of the Communist regime, to secure the documents related to those periods and make them accessible to the public. Within our activities, we aim to provide the public with the results of these historical periods by publishing and disseminating publications, organizing exhibitions, seminars, professional conferences and by cooperating with scientific, cultural, educational and other institutions at home and abroad. The Institute´s Department of Research and Education consists of two sections specializing in historical research of the Nazi and the Communist regimes in the former Czechoslovakia, including collecting and preserving memories of contemporary witnesses, and the section of education which conducts projects in the fields of both formal and non-formal education.
The Foundation was established in 2012 in Warsaw to support the development and promotion of Polish audiovisual works, including film and audio art, performing arts, music, literature, exhibitions, multimedia and networking use. The organization´s mission is also to support the development of an open society and to promote the idea of social dialogue, the idea of freedom of expression and the maintenance of free and independent means of artistic expression, including the development of the Internet as an artistic tool.
Pro Libris is a public-benefit foundation whose main objective is the promotion of the art of books in all its aspects, the development of human capabilities to create and improve ideas, concepts and creative models, and the provision of support for cultural and creative exchanges among people around the world. Our participation in projects and events aims to enhance creativity and creative thinking as well as the integration of creative activities in various spheres of social practice. In order to achieve these objectives, the foundation offers technical and advisory assistance, mediation to obtain funding for projects falling within the scope of our organization´s objectives, and the exchange of information and knowledge. The Chairman of the Foundation is Alexander Gyoshev, Doctor of Art History and Fine Arts. He is a teaching professor of graphic design and illustration at AMDFA – Plovdiv. The board member of the Foundation is D. Kelbechev who works in the field of printmaking, graphic design, illustration and N-forms.
The members of the Committee (NEB) and the historical and legal researchers contributing to their work are led by a dual purpose. We are committed to 1) contributing to the tribute to the memory of the victims of the communist dictatorship and preserving their memories in dignity, and 2) exploring the losses our society has suffered and demonstrating both the individual and collective traumas that have affected us throughout the generations. We are in search of an answer to the question: How were the formalized and the hidden mechanisms of the party-state dictatorship operated in daily practice? NEB promotes the history of Europe after WWII and fosters a sense of ownership for how the Soviet Union has developed. We accent the contrast of the evolving dictatorship of the Communist party and its crimes against the democratic system of Europe and make the citizens aware of the opportunities for societal and intercultural engagement and volunteering at the EU level.
In the course of the Peaceful Revolution in December 1989, demonstrators occupied the regional office in Dresden in order to protest peacefully against the Socialist party. They also wanted to stop the destruction of documents. During that time a committee of citizens controlled the area of today’s memorial. All records of the regional office and the district offices were taken to the cells in order to secure them against further destruction and unauthorized access. In 1990 all records were given to the respective authority which was partly based on the site until 1993. A preservation order was put on the former remand prison in 1994. It was opened to the public in the same year. Three years later, the association “Erkenntnis durch Erinnerung e.V.” (Knowledge through Remembrance) was founded. The association ensured the preservation of the main building and developed the Memorial. Nowadays, the association organises guided tours, exhibitions, various events and school projects.
Medo Art & Mondial Research e.U. (MAMR) is an art and research organization focused on contemporary Asian art and culture. We organise art exhibitions, thematic forums, research projects, and residency programs. Our focus is on contemporary Asia-specific social realities and local contexts. Medo is an alternative art space and academic research institution run cooperatively by artists, curators, researchers and other cross-disciplinary professionals. MAMR is located in the heart of Vienna’s cultural and artistic district, boasting both an exhibition space and artist’s residence. MAMR is committed to the development and maintenance of collaborative networks between art spaces and research institutions, both to discuss ongoing issues in contemporary art and culture and to promote dialogue between Europe and Asia through cooperation on residential projects, exhibitions and joint research.