Conference Report: Anti-Communist Resistance in Central and Eastern Europe
Anti-Communist Resistance in Central and Eastern Europe
Date and place: 14-16 November 2011, National Council of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava
Organizer: National Remembrance Institute and the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity in cooperation with the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (Czech Republic), the Institute of National Remembrance (Poland), the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Hungary), the Confederation of Political Prisoners of Slovakia, the Political Prisoners/Union of Anti-Communist Resistance, and the National Council of the Slovak Republic.
The question of anti-communist resistance has been among the less- researched topics in Slovak historiography, and for various reasons it continues to receive very little attention, despite the fact that research in this area has been intensifying in the neighboring states (especially in Poland and the Czech Republic). Only limited studies are available in Slovakia, mostly focusing on the 1950s, but no single publication exists which would map out the broad spectrum of anti-communist activities. For political reasons some researchers are trying to marginalize the issue of anti- communist resistance, or even to discredit it entirely. Yet the issue remains pertinent, showing both the repressive nature of the communist regime and the people’s legitimate opposition to it.
The Nation’s Memory Institute attempted to close this gap by organizing a large international conference titled Anti-Communist Resistance in Central and Eastern Europe, which took place on 14-16 November 2011 in the historic building of the National Council of the Slovak Republic in Bratislava, under the auspices of the Council’s Speaker, Pavol Hrušovský. More than 40 researchers from 14 countries presented their research in the area of anticommunist resistance. The conference was organized by the National Remembrance Institute and the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, in cooperation with foreign partners – the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (Czech Republic), the Institute of National Remembrance (Poland), the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Hungary), and the Slovak partners, the Confederation of Political Prisoners of Slovakia, the Political Prisoners/Union of Anti-Communist Resistance, and the National Council of the Slovak Republic. Thanks to support from the National Council of the Slovak Republic, the conference took place in the Council’s historical building, adding grandeur to the proceedings. The International Visegrad Fund provided financial support for the event. The three days of the conference consisted of presentations about the anti-communist activities of individuals, groups, and official organizations. Various presenters also talked about armed anti-communist uprisings, state retaliation against anti-communist resistance activists, and about activities by political exiles against communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.
Ivan A. Petranský, chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Remembrance Institute, officially opened the conference. After additional remarks by the representatives of partner organizations, the conference started with the first panel titled ‘Individuals and Small Groups in Anti- Communist Resistance’. The first presenter on this panel was Jan Pešek from the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, who spoke about Ján Ševčík, a Democratic Party politician, whom Pešek depicted both as a fellow traveler and as a victim of the communist regime during the 1950s. Ševčík had assisted the communists’ rise to power by participating in the breaking down of the Democratic Party. After the party’s collapse he had become the chairman of a pro-communist satellite party, the Party of Slovak Revival, but in 1952 he was arrested by the ŠtB, the plainclothes secret police, and sentenced to seventeen years in prison on trumped-up charges. The next presenter, Professor Vladimír Varinský from the Faculty of Humanities at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, spoke about the anti-communist activities of Profesor Kolakovič and his organization ‘Family.’ Prof. Varinský stressed the political and anti-communist aspects of Family’s activities, which were in line with the organization’s religious mission. At the same time he highlighted the broad spectrum of legal and illegal activities undertaken by the organization and by its most prominent members. The Czech historian Petr Blažek from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes gave the third presentation. He acquainted the audience with the work of Miloslav Čapek, who emigrated to the West in the 1950s and worked as a courier in the intelligence unit of General Moravec, a unit connected to the American intelligence agencies.
After being arrested, Čapek was sentenced to twelve years in prison, which he served in various communist penitentiaries, including Leopoldov and Jáchymov. Even during his imprisonment he continued to participate in illegal activities. In 1968 he became active in the group K-231, and after the Soviet invasion he was under Secret Police surveillance. He was rehabilitated only after the fall of the communist regime. The first panel ended with a presentation by two historians from the National Memory Institute, Ľubomír Morbacher and Jerguš Sivoš. Their talk centered on the anti-communist activities of Jozef Macek, who was the head of a group which transported emigrants across the Iron Curtain to Austria during the 1950s. He managed to smuggle many people across the border before being arrested in 1955 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. After a short break the first day of the conference continued with a second panel, which focused on the activities of illegal groups and dissidents in the anti-communist resistance. Peter Borza from Prešov University opened the panel with his presentation ‘Illegal Activities of the Greek Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia in the Years 1951-1958’. He analyzed the broad spectrum of anti-regime activities carried out by Greek Catholics, who had become de facto illegal after the official abolishment of the Greek Catholic church. Among their illegal activities he listed support for the faithful and priests, attempts at reinstatement of the Greek Catholic church, and administering sacraments to the faithful. Mr. Borza also talked about the key leaders of the Greek Catholic church at the time, such as Ivan Ljavinec and Miron Petrašovič. The second presenter on this panel was the Romanian historian George Enache from the University of Galati, who spoke about the various forms of anti-communist resistance in the Romanian Orthodox church between 1945 and 1964. He underscored the role of the members of the Orthodox Church in the armed resistance against Communism, and also stressed the leadership’s attempts at gaining freedom of religion. The next presenter, Valeri Katzounov from the Committee for Disclosing and Publicizing the Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens with the State Security and Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army, talked about the anti-communist activities of the Goryani Movement in Bulgaria, identifying it as one of the first armed anti-communist resistance movements in Eastern Europe, which lasted from 9 September 1944 until 1956. The predominantly guerrilla tactics of the Goryani provoked a strong response from the communist government. Members of the movement were frequently executed and their families were subject to harsh persecution. The first part of the second panel concluded with a presentation by Daniel Atanáz Mandzák from the Monastery of the Redemptorists in Michalovce, who talked about the opposition of the Greek Catholic laity to the outcomes of the 1950 Sobor of Prešov. Even though their opposition did not take the form of armed resistance, it did prevent the state from subjugating the Greek Catholic Church, which paved the way for its reinstatement in 1968.
The Russian historian Elena Gluško from the Institute of Scientific Information in Humanities at the Russian Academy of Sciences opened the second part of the second panel with her presentation titled ‘Czechs, We Are Your brothers: The Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia after 1968 through the Eyes of Dissidents’. She talked about the lesser-known aspects of Soviet dissent during the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces in 1968. She also considered the relationship between dissidents in the Soviet Union and Charter 77 during the 1970s and 1980s. The next presenter, Patrik Dubovský from the National Memory Institute, spoke about the work of the Movement for Civil Liberty in Slovakia during the period shortly before the fall of the communist regime. This movement was a kind of aggregate of the various branches of Czech and Slovak dissidence, and its primary activities included printing samizdat works and organizing remembrance events and protests. Professor András Bozóki from Central European University in Budapest gave the next presentation, titled ‘The Dissident Intellectuals in Hungary in the 1980s’. He mapped out the wide range of activities of the Hungarian dissidents during the 1980s. Professor Bozóki had himself spent time in dissident circles and had taken part in the so-called Hungarian Round Table Talks in 1989, during which the opposition negotiated the handover of political power from the communists. The next presenter was Dr. Detlef Stein, the director of the East European Center in Berlin, who gave the talk ‘The Political Anti- Communist Opposition in East Berlin 1985-1990: Together Against the Regime?’ Speaking as a historian, but also as a participant in the events, he explained the situation of East German dissidents shortly before the fall of the regime. Next came the presentation titled ‘The Coordinating Council of “Solidarity” in Brussels and Its Fight Against the Polish Regime’ by the Polish historian Alexandra Aftaruk, in which she discussed the anti-communist activities of one of the foreign coordinating centres of the trade union Solidarity. These foreign centres started to emerge after 1981 when several Solidarity activists went into exile to escape state retaliation after the declaration of Martial Law in Poland. A key role of these foreign outposts was to inform the Western public about the real situation in Poland. The second panel and the first day of the conference concluded with a talk by the French historian Beatrice Scutaru titled ‘The Romanian Anti-Communist Case Study: The Romanian League for the Defense of Human Rights in France (1979-1989)’. She examined the activities of a Romanian exile organization that attempted to fight the communist regime in Romania by demanding that it respect human rights during the second half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
Dumitru Lacătuşu from the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Remembrance of the Romanian Emigration opened the second day of the conference and the third panel titled ‘Opposition Activities in Official and Semi-legal Organizations’ with his presentation about the many forms of anti-communist resistance in the Dobrogea region, including armed revolts. The state frequently retaliated against such revolts, especially between 1950 and 1952. Next, the Hungarian historian István Papp from the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security spoke about the National Agrarian Party and the secret police measures against it. The Polish historian Agata Mirek gave the next talk, titled ‘The Role of Nuns and their Participation in Shaping the Anti-Communist Resistance in The People’s Republic of Poland’, in which she summarized the role Polish nuns played in the fight against Communism. They were considered enemies of the regime mainly because they were able to influence the upbringing of generations of young Poles, and thus presented an alternative to the state school system. The first segment of the second day of the conference was concluded by a presentation by the Czech historian Václav Veber from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in which he spoke about the third resistance in Czechoslovakia in 1956. This was a landmark year in the history of the communist bloc, with armed uprisings taking place in Hungary and Poland, and the world being shaken by the armed conflict in the Near East. The author concluded that the relative peace in Czechoslovakia was a direct result of the harsh state response to the events of 1953; nevertheless, several lesser-known anti-communist demonstrations took place that year.
After a short break the third panel continued with a presentation by the Polish historian Anna Piotrowska from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, who spoke about anti-communist resistance in Polish music after 1945. The following presentation also concerned Poland, and it was delivered by Patryk Pleskot from the Institute of National Remembrance. He focused on the Polish students’ struggle against the communist regime, and specifically on the underground activities of the Independent Students Union between 1982 and 1989. His presentation was followed by Olena Palko from the I.F. Kuras Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. In her talk, titled ‘Ukrainian National Communist Opposition against Bolshevik Authoritarianism’, she clarified the position of Ukrainian communists within the centralized Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The next speaker was Tadeusz Ruzikowski, a historian from the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, whose presentation was titled ‘The Road to Freedom: Organizational Structures of the Underground “Solidarity” in Warsaw during Martial Law (1981- 1983) – Origins, Activities, and Aftereffects’. The declaration of martial law in 1981 made Solidarity an illegal organization. Despite this setback Solidarity was able to organize a vast underground operational network to carry on its work until martial law was lifted, and even until the fall of the regime. The author focused on Solidarity’s underground network in the capital city, where it organized demonstrations and printed unofficial publications. The regime’s response was to try to break up the network with the help of the secret police. The third panel concluded with another Polish historian, Marek Wierzbicki from the Institute of National Remembrance, who spoke about youth opposition organizations in Poland between 1980 and 1989.
After a lunch break the conference continued with the fourth panel, whose central theme was insurrections and rebellions against communist regimes. The French historian Alexandra Gerota from the University of Versailles opened the panel by giving an overview of the armed conflicts against the communist regime in Romania between 1945 and 1962, and later she described several of the incidents in greater detail. These clashes were a response to the communist government’s repressive measures such as forced collectivization. Many armed resistance groups formed in Romania and continued their open struggle against the regime until the mid 1960s. The Croatian historian Aleksander Jakir from the University of Split gave an interesting presentation about the activities of Croatian anti-communist guerrilla groups, also known as the Crusaders, between 1945 and 1960. While their extensive activities were aimed against the communist regime, they also had the goal of regaining Croatian independence, which offers an interesting parallel between the Croatian and the Slovak anti-communist resistance. In the next presentation the Slovak historian Michal Šmigeľ from Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica talked about the anti-communist aspects of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s operations in Slovakia between 1945 and 1947, which were met with harsh official persecution. During this time period the Bandera faction undertook several incursions into Slovakia in order to spread its propaganda. In 1947 members of the group attempted to reach the American occupation zones in Austria and Germany via Czechoslovakia, where they hoped to seek asylum from harsh Soviet repression. Next, the Hungarian political scientist Miklós Mitrovits gave a talk titled ‘1956, 1968, 1980-1981: Three Uprisings Against Communist Regimes. Similarities and Differences’. He described two of the most well known instances of Soviet military intervention and compared them to the 1981 developments in Poland, which nearly resulted in a similar outcome. The next presenter was professor Jacek Tebinka from the University of Gdańsk, who outlined the principles of Great Britain’s power politics toward the anti-communist opposition in the Socialist bloc states in a talk titled ‘From “Liberatión” to “Détente”: Great Britain and the Anti- Communist Movement in Soviet Satellite Countries’. The final presentation of this segment was entitled ‘The Anti-Communist Movement in Bohemia in 1953’, and it was delivered by professor Pavel Marek from Palacký University in Olomouc. Prof. Marek focused on two large anti-communist events: the April mass demonstrations in Prostějov, Moravia prompted by the removal of the statue of T. G. Masaryk, and the May demonstrations in Plzeň prompted by the monetary reforms which impoverished much of the country’s population.
After a short break the conference continued with the fifth panel, dedicated to the forms of judicial and extrajudicial persecutions of anti-communist resistance activists. The Romanian historian Catalin Cristoloveanu from Indiana University opened this panel with a presentation titled ‘Conflict in the Countryside: Peasants, Resistance, and the Romanian Communist State during Collectivization, 1949-1953’. He spoke about the situation of the Romanian peasants during the collectivization of agriculture, shortly after the rise of the communist dictatorship, about their resistance, and about the state’s reaction to the various resistance movements. In the next presentation Michal Miklovi spoke about the units of the Czechoslovak Intelligence Service dedicated to the prevention of emigration from communist Czechoslovakia, and described their organizational structure from the 1950s all the way to the fall of the regime in 1989. The following presentation, titled ‘1956 as “lieu de mémoire”: The Hungarian State and the Opposition on the Anniversaries of the Revolution’, was delivered by the Hungarian historian Alexandra Botyánszki from the University of Szeged. She talked about the various government actions on the anniversaries of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Much of her talk focused on 1988 and on the aftereffects of the 1956 revolution during the debates between the government and the opposition on anniversaries of important events. The British historian Paul Maddrell discussed the topic of Stasi records and what they showed about the activities of Western intelligence agents in the German Democratic Republic. Fighting communism was very important to these agents, since most of them had emigrated from East Germany. The second day of the conference concluded with the presentation ‘Legal and Illegal Sanctions against the Participants of Anti-Communist Resistance in Czechoslovakia’ by the Czech legal historian Kamil Nedvědický from the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic. He concentrated on the communist legal system, modeled after the Soviet legal system, which became the main instrument of persecution. He also talked about the prison system and the situation facing political prisoners who, even after being released from prison, were treated as second-class citizens. Finally, he discussed the serious problem of the extralegal persecution of opponents of the regime, which often had no less tragic consequences than direct imprisonment.
The theme of the third and final day of the conference was political emigration in the battle against the communist regime. Ján Bobák from Matica Slovenská was the first presenter of this sixth panel. His presentation titled ‘Slovak Revolutionary Resistance and the Beginnings of Organized Anti- Communist Resistance Abroad in 1945 and 1946’ provided an overview of the first anti-communist activities in the Slovak emigration after 1945. It also highlighted the close connection of these activities to the situation in Slovakia through people such as Jozef Vicen, Štefan Chalmovský, and Rudolf Komander, whose work occupied a large portion of the discussion. The next talk, given by the Czech historian Jan Cholínský from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, was titled ‘Correspondence and Cooperation between Czech and Slovak Exile Political Organizations which did not Recognize the Council of Free Czechoslovakia’. The speaker discussed the anti-communist views of exile organizations opposed to the largest Czech exile group, and he focused on the activities of the historian Josef Kalvoda. The next presenter was Ján Uhrík, who spoke about the battles the Czech and Slovak emigration waged in 1948-1949 against the communist regime, but also about the internal strife among the various political exiles, which could be traced back to WWII and even to the period of interwar Czechoslovakia. He also touched upon the crucial issue of the conflicts between the existing emigrants and the new emigrants from the period after the communist takeover. The Czech historian Zdeněk Hazdra from Charles University in Prague was the next speaker, and he talked about the activities of the Czech aristocracy in exile after 1948, as exemplified by Francis Prince of Schwarzenberg.
The conference continued after a short break with the final set of presentations, starting with one by the Czech historian Peter Kubík, whose work covers the broader topic of the Czech anti-communist and anti-Beneš exile after 1945. Mr. Kubík outlined the activities of those Czech exile groups which were opposed not only to Communism, but also to president Beneš. The next presentation, titled ‘The Baltic Path in American Anti-Communism: Policy in Action (1945-1963)’ was delivered by the Latvian legal historian Leo Jansons. Even though the US had been closely monitoring the situation in the Baltic states, which the Soviet Union annexed in 1940, superpower policies as well as political ties to the Soviet Union prevented the US from officially supporting these de facto occupied countries or from openly defending their rights. The final presentation of the entire conference was delivered by Christopher Molnar from Indiana University, who investigated the activities and the radicalization of the Croatian emigration in West Germany, whose representatives were the most radical of all of the emigrant groups. Their goal was the renewal of an independent Croatian state, in pursuit of which they carried out several assassinations in former Yugoslavia, a few of them as late as the mid-1960s.
A stimulating discussion with ample audience participation followed each panel. During one of the post-panel discussions Dr. Martin Rakovský gave a short presentation on the 1956 student anti-communist demonstration in Bratislava. The conference organizers are planning to publish the conference proceedings, which will include all of the conference presentations as well as those that could not be presented due to time constraints.
Peter Jašek. Born in 1983. Slovak historian. He graduated in history at the University of Trnava, where he obtained PhD in 2009. He works as an academic researcher at the Section of Research in the Nation’s Memory Institute. In his academic work he focuses on the contemporary history of Slovakia, especially the Slovakia of WWII, period of so-called normalisation (1970s and 1980s) and the fall of communism in Slovakia. He is the author of several scientific studies published in Slovakia (Anti-Communist Resistance in Central and Eastern Europe, Following the Footsteps of Iron Felix. State Security in Slovakia in the years 1945 – 1989, both 2012).
This article has been published in the first issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies.