The political changes in Czechoslovakia, following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, transformed the end of the year into the biggest party Monika had ever experienced. Although she had to experience the anguish of the truth first.
Her father returned home, just before the events started in Bratislava on Thursday, the 16th of November, as a peaceful student demonstration made its way throughout the city.
At their home, they all watched the collapse with great anguish. Especially Monika’s mother. It was as if everything they had believed in and lived for had just fallen and been washed away like a sandcastle.
Her father, almost a stranger in Monika’s life for 16 years, was finally home. Albeit with both legs and arms broken (a true irony for an orthopaedist).
Was it a kind of Catharsis* Monika and her mother, Ata, went through together during the months leading up to the day** when Václav Havel was named President of Czechoslovakia?
Together, they lived a little of everything. From the initial confusion at not understanding the reason for the revolt. To the fear they sensed when they identified with the protests. And finally, to the pride of having added their shouts to swell the voice of the malcontents.
Spontaneous meetings in the yards that defined the neighbourhood’s geometry would begin the day, followed by pilgrimages to wherever people were needed.
* Catharsis – from the Greek "kátharsis", is a word used in different contexts, like tragedy, medicine or psychoanalysis that means “purification”, “evacuation” or “purgation”. According to Aristotle, catharsis refers to the purification of souls by means of an emotional discharge caused by a drama.
** The victory of the revolution - was topped off by the election of rebel playwright and human rights activist, Vaclav Havel, as President of the republic (December 29th). Free elections held in June 1990 legitimized this government and set the stage for the changes needed to deal with the remnants of the Communist party’s power and the legacy of the Communist period.
More than a million people filled the streets demanding the resignation of comrade* Miroslav Stepán. In those days, relationships grew to such dimensions that only those who experienced a revolution could feel or understand them.
At the beginning of January, returning home after having joined thousands in the Czech city squares celebrating the arrival of the New Year, Monika and Ata noticed a large number of police cars parked at the head of their street.
Seeing that in those days, was not something unexpected. The purges** — cleaning out those who had previously sat in the seats of power*** — were becoming more and more common. And would only increase. Particularly the purging of those involved in the torture and killing of opponents to the regime.
Their surprise was seeing the husband and father, Josef Lavova. Limping out of their building crestfallen. And in handcuffs. Escorted by several agents of the recently formed police
It wasn’t easy to accept that throughout the months Josef’s trial, the closest the Doctor came to the orthopaedic service, was having broken both his arms and legs. Contrary to the account Josef told, he almost died inside a torture cell when a former boxer reacted rather strongly to Josef’s questioning of him.
He spent more than 20 years living in a skin that was not his own, in order to freely spy on the lives of others.
At the hospital he pretended to be a doctor, while trying to discover conspirators. And in his relationship with Ata, he pretended to be a husband.
From the moment when she had fallen in love with someone singled out as a dissident, her life too became one with the famous StB. For in life we want our friends close but our enemies even closer.
Months after the trial, when the divorce of Ata and Josef had at last come through, mother and daughter re-started their life.
Prague, beautiful Prague, which for family reasons they had never visited, was to be their chosen destination; a new life, in a new city.
Monika swore to her mother that she would never get married. And that everything her mother had suffered, Monika would live the opposite in equal measure. Monika would be profoundly happy until the last day of her life.
*Comrade – After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the communists often used the term as an egalitarian alternative to the form of address “sir” and other similar terms. The term could be used along with titles to bestow a socialist tone, like for example in Comrade General to address an army general. This usage began in the times of the French Revolution, when the abolition of nobility titles and the forms of address monsieur and madame (gentleman and lady, accordingly) was followed by the usage of the form citoyen (citizen).
** Purge – (from purge), medicine or substance that cleanses one. Purge (from Latin Purgare), v. to make pure; clean; purify; ease the intestines; free oneself of what is toxic.
*** Seat of power – The seat occupied by those near the people ruling or actually in charge.