“Olinka Herzova” by Milan Rufus

Photo: theoddesseyonline.com

 

Rufus – “Olinka Herzova”

July 3, 2015

Allan Stevo

Each Friday, another poem appears on 52 Weeks in Slovakia from Slovak Nobel Prize nominee Milan Rufus (1928-2009). These poems come from a translation excerpted from his final book Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow) and appear in the book In Poems released in June 2015, written by Rufus, translated by me, and published by our team at 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

In the collection appear prominent themes of childhood and coming-of-age. Last week we had a poem about Rufus’s mother and a week earlier, just before Father’s Day, we had a poem about his father. In this week’s poem, “Olinka Herzova,” we see Rufus recalling a crush on his childhood classmate Olinka, or “little Olga,” as we might say in English. English lacks the rich degree of diminutives that Slovaks have so extensively developed and rely on. Olinka in Slovak is a cuter, more endearing way to say the female given name Olga.

Without further ado, first in my English translation, followed by the Slovak original, I present to you the poem “Olinka Herzova” by the man who at the time of his death in 2009 was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia.

Olinka Herzova

I just wanted to help her into her little coat
my fellow first grader Olinka.

I wanted to, but what actually happened is
what matters.
First-gradily unskillful.
With a fingernail I carved a scratch into
one of her precious child hands.

Her father was a storekeeper
who did only honest business.
And when I came to visit her in the store
he grabbed me,
he grabbed a pair of scissors
and he humanized my ten claws,
without blame or unnecessary shouting.
He did it lovingly and peacefully.

And that’s how those
bittersweet years passed

Later, after the war,
time flowed by like a surging river
And every little thing
was about something else.
One day someone said to me “You can no
longer find Olinka here. Into the promised
land, she went, through an Auschwitz
chimney.”

I saw that scratch again
On her precious child hand

It was a cruel sorrow.

Sadder than any funeral.
Sadder than any parting.

* * *

Olinka Herzová

Chcel som jej iba pomôcť do kabátka,
spoluprváčke Olinke.

Chcel, ale čo to bolo platné:
práčikovsky neobratne
vyryl som nechtom škrabanec,
šrám na jej detskej rúčke.

Jej otec, obchodník, nemútil čistú vodu.
A keď som prišiel k nemu do obchodu,
prichystanými nožničkami
poľudštil mojich desať pazúrikov
bez výčitiek a bez zbytočných krikov,
priam láskavo a pokojne.

Tak išli roky krásnokruté.

A potom bolo po vojne,
čas ako živá riečka tiekol,
všecičko bolo o inom.

Jedného dňa mi ktosi riekol:
„Olinku tu už nenájdeme.
Do svojej zasľúbenej zeme
šla osvienčimským komínom…“

A ja som znova uvidel
svoj škrabanec na detskej rúčke.

A bolo mi tak kruto smutno.
Smutnejšie, ako ľuďom býva
na pohrebe
či pri rozlúčke.



Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Milan Rufus (December 10, 1928 – January 11, 2009) was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia. This Nobel Prize nominee has the uncommon distinction of being a poet who has regularly outsold trade paper and mass market fiction. A collection of Rufus poems translated by Stevo entitled “In Poems” is now available.

 

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Rufus: “Mom’s Lattice Crust Pie” / “Mamin Mrežovník”

Photo | bettycrocker.com

Photo | bettycrocker.com

Rufus – “Mamin Mrežovník”
June 26, 2015
Allan Stevo

Last weekend was Father’s Day and we honored fathers with a poem from Slovak Nobel Prize nominee Milan Rufus about his own father, excerpted from the book Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow). This poem appears in the book In Poems released this month, written by Rufus, translated by me, and published by our team at 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

This week for the Mothers, the Homemakers, the Bakers, the Nurturers, the women who gather around the hearth and make each house into a home, and for those who love them, this is “Mamin Mrezonik” (“Mom’s Lattice Crust Pie”) by Milan Rufus. His powerful metaphors in this poem, translated very literally, stayed with me long after I first read them and it’s a pleasure to be sharing them here and as part of “In Poems.” Each Friday, another poem from the collection will appear on this website.

With no further ado, I present to you the main attraction.

Mom’s Lattice Crust Pie

Sunday lunches were adorned by it…
And it was unique
like your hands mom.

Today that pie still
smells so good only in poems.
And together with you went away
into obscurity.

I do time from behind its bars,
and I wonder, who wants to punish me.
And for what? I watch and I search.
And time silently snows.

Snows and snows,
as if it doesn’t want to stop.

And only sometimes does it
prompt me and my poems:

“All living flesh resists as well as it knows how,
but what once was, one day will not be.
And that’s where emotions criss-cross in man’s fate.
Behind whose little bars you were once happy.”

Mamin Mrežovník

Nedeľné obedy zdobieval…
A bol vzácny
jak tvoje ruky, mama.

Dnes už ten koláč
vonia iba v básni.
A spolu s tebou odišiel do neznáma.

Hľadievam občas spoza jeho mreží
a hádam, za čo a kto ma to
chce trestať. Hľadím a hľadám.
A môj čas ticho sneží.

Sneží a sneží,
akoby nechcel prestať.

A iba občas napovie
i mne i mojej básni:

„Živé sa bráni, ako vie.
Čo bolo, to raz nebude.
A tak má človek v osude
mriežku. Tú, za ktorou
kedysi býval šťastný…“

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Milan Rufus (December 10, 1928 – January 11, 2009) was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia. This Nobel Prize nominee has the uncommon disctinction of being a poet who has regularly outsold trade paper and mass market fiction. A collection of Rufus poems translated by Stevo entitled “In Poems” is now available.

 

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The Corruption of American Society,
  A Central European Antidote, &
  4 Ways the Antidote Works

Mozart | Photo: bibliolore.org

Mozart | Photo: bibliolore.org

 

Classical Works

June 22, 2015

Allan Stevo

Yesterday I sat at work with a colleague late in the day and needed to hear Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. It was the first time in perhaps a year that the urge struck me that I needed to listen to a piece of classical music.

In retrospect that clever mind of mine unknowingly gave me exactly what I needed. Every human seems to have a mind that is more clever than one gives it credit for. Somewhere in my other than conscious was the memory, the tidbit, the notion that this piece that I had heard so many times would be perfect for me at this moment at the end of the workday in a draining big city, with that soulless grind everywhere around me, shortly after a meeting with one of the intentionally least beautiful souls I’ve known. Picasso was quoted in LIFE in 1964 saying “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” There was a dust that needed to washed away from my soul. The ubiquitous dust of the big city. I soon began humming the piece. It was a piece of art that so many people have found so effective at washing away the dust from everyday life. Soon it was playing.

My colleague’s face remained unchanged. He shifted his attention from the mass-produced cube on his desk, his laptop, to the mass-produced cube in his pocket, his iPhone, and perhaps thought about the next mass-produced cylinder he would crack open and consume the contents of. As clean as the lines of those well-designed boxes were, that dust of everyday life came forth from the wretched things. Sometimes, if we are very careful about how we use them, good things flow forth from them, but most often it is the dust of everyday life that we find flowing forth from them. It occurred to me though as I mentioned the song to my colleague and then played it, that it wasn’t a displeasure with that music that registered on his unchanging face, it was an unfamiliarity with the music. His words soon confirmed that. To be unfamiliar with such a great piece of ones heritage testifies to a shallowness of experience that likely does not stop there.

If you do not know your own cultural history, I am very intentionally calling you out. It’s a shameful thing to be ignorant of, because while cultural history has so much more to offer, at the very least it provides utility to those who know it.

1. Longevity of Appreciation

Eine kleine Nachtmusik is piece of music that is likely to be as true today as it will be one century from now. It is likely to still be recognized as a valuable contribution to human existence a century from now. Nothing exists in current pop culture that can plausibly make that claim because it has not dealt with the test of time. I hope that there are many contemporary pieces that are still played several hundred years from now, but we know from experience that greater than 99% of what is played on the radio will not be played one year from now, so it would be an unrealistic stretch to claim that any single item will be played 99 years from now.

2. Expression of Art

Picasso wrote about art in 1943 “La peinture n’est pas faite pour decorer des appartements. C’est un instrument de guerre offensive et defensive contre l’ennemi.” “Art is not made to decorate rooms. It is an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.” This of course begs the question of who is the enemy. While Picasso was certainly a political artist, the dust of everyday life was also an important enemy to the man in his art, as seen from his earlier-mentioned quote two decades later in LIFE.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik washes the dust away from everyday life. It is art. I listen to the items that receive radio play today and while I love many of them, at the same time I recognize their inferiority. I can love what I hear on the radio today; I can hum sing and seek out the top Billboard singles, and I can also at that very same time, recognize that they are so very inferior to the music of centuries past at being art and being effective at filling the checkboxes for so many definitions of art that exist, none of which are uniquely authoritative. I’ve turned twice to Picasso here because he is easy to turn to as an opinionated artist frequently interviewed and as someone who lived a life of uncommon longevity for an artist.

While radio songs are curated for a distribution system with bandwidth limits, I can say the same as radio about nearly any song on anyone’s iPad from a contemporary band – they are unlikely to be listened to a year from now let alone a century from now. That is the nature of contemporary music at any age – it is fleeting. They are mere piece to temporarily decorate a room with. A large empty room feels quite naturally empty. Add some furniture, some wall hangings, and some music and all of a sudden the room can feel warm and inviting. Music can be a mere item to fill the dead space, which is the most common use of music. Music can also be so much more. Done right, it can be that weapon against the enemy of dust on the soul. It can cleanse the soul, and it can challenge and build the soul.

3. Beauty

Much can be said about beauty. Beauty is certainly subjective to a considerable degree. It is also apparent far too often that a person has no understanding of beauty, often referred to as bad taste or no taste, as a result of that person not taking the time to develop an understanding of beauty. A connoisseur of wines will taste many wines, recognize the options, and develop a familiarity with the options, perhaps even seeing what among those options best suits him. A fashionista might do the same with clothing or shoes. These are fleeting examples of pop culture.

To have grown up middle class in America, in an age where high level schooling is virtually compulsory through the age of 22, to have reached middle age, and to somehow remain ignorant of the most timeless and pure representations of art society has to offer shows poor character. This is of course a matter of personal choice. Making another choice – to familiarize oneself with ones cultural inheritance – leaves a person with such a wealth of knowledge and ability for navigating the world throughout life that it is hard to see this choice to remain ignorant of ones cultural heritage as anything but a bad choice. There is always time in a child’s upbringing to ensure an appreciation of classic work that has stood the test of time as a continuing example of art. There is always time in an adult’s life to continue that education and to make life feel even more beautiful and even less like the blinking of an eye.

The roses are around us, if you do not stop to smell them, the fault lies only in you. If you do not instill in your children the same appreciation, the fault of that too lies only in you. George Anastaplo, a challenging thinker and fascinating figure from contemporary American History, hailing from my hometown of Chicago, is known to encourage everyone to have a subscription to the symphony. For personal well-being that is a smart thing to do.

4. Soul

A person’s soul is the most unique, the most important, the most beautiful part of that person. It need not be clever, it need not be refined, it need not be anything, but when that soul is neglected it is apparent. Neglecting the soul as if it were not capable of being challenged and growing like a muscle is harmful to that soul, for like a muscle it atrophies and when its development is neglected, its only opportunities for growth become the very difficult challenges that life sends everyone’s way. You can intentionally exercise your soul before the trying times, or you can just wait on the trying times to force you into exercising your atrophied soul. The most beautiful part of you can be allowed to prosper with challenging readings from the Western Canon and study of great pieces of art, or it can be left to find its way through the trite lowest common denominator culture that we are daily surrounded by. As destructive as it is to the soul, many choose the later.

As I played this 6 minute tune – Eine kleine Nachtmusik, written by Motzart in Central Europe, in an established culture of advanced musical development, at a time where America was the backwater Anbar Province of the world – I shared with my colleague my experience living in Bratislava those many years, always attending the symphony, sometimes sneaking in when the pocketbook of this then starving writer was tight, other times owning two season passes to constantly use for treating whatever friend would that week be my partner to the philharmonic. I understood as I spoke that this lover of music, my colleague, was so vastly out of touch with the timeless music of beauty that emerged from the heart of Europe over the past centuries. To not know that is to have not received a well-rounded upbringing and to have not taken the effort to identify and round out that upbringing as an adult.

Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night, in iambic pentameter, his favorite rhythm, the rhythm of the human heartbeat “If music be the food of love, play on.” This is a series of words that are so beautiful and so meaningful that many books worth of ink and paper have been spent on them, many pedantic pages of commentary on what these words mean, pages of commentary so pedantic that even the average lover of Shakespeare has no business reading them. Commentary on texts seldom seem to be as good as the original themselves. Shakespeare used iambic pentameter to demarcate something important that he was saying, sort of like the boldface or italics that are common today in the written word.

To know the words from Shakespeare, or from any other great artist who has stood the test of time, and to let that work roll through your mind, however, is vital. This sentence is a piece of our human existence that every member of our culture misses out on by not having some familiarity with. To not know the history of classical music, to not know the great literature of your language and society, to not have some footing in art, to not recognize the expression of the soul that a creator has made purely in hopes of touching your soul, is to be ignorant of ones own heritage.

Some argue this is a matter of taste and personal preference. It is not a matter of taste, it is a matter of ignorance in ones heritage. Being ignorant of ones heritage makes one poorly raised if one is below a certain age, perhaps fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, or twenty years of age, depending on the individual. Being ignorant of ones heritage makes one a poorly educated adult if one is beyond a certain age. There is some level of leeway that can be offered a person. At some point, that leeway is revoked. A grown man has no excuse to not know his own heritage if he seeks to avoid being seen as a rube in the big city, who has squandered a portion of his opportunity in life.

Every bit of culture we want is available at our fingertips. That culture I will define as anything available on any website anywhere in the world. That flood of culture is amazing. I love our technological age, and with that flood of information, now more more than ever, it is vital that there be suggestions on how one can navigate that culture. That compass can be so effectively put to use in navigating our culture, however you may choose to define our culture, by understanding elements of our culture in all ages that it has existed before deciding to run out and get lost in the flood of information that is the last month or the week or increasingly the last thirty seconds of cultural regurgitation. The key word in that sentence for me is “decide,” that it is a decision to know or not know, that you have free will and that when you recognize that you have that decision you are much more likely to exercise that decision with all the gravitas that such a decision deserves.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.
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A Newly Translated Book from Milan Rufus

"In Poems" by Milan Rufus, Translated by Allan Stevo is all ready to ship !

“In Poems” by Milan Rufus, Translated by Allan Stevo is all ready to ship !



Milan Rufus – “In Poems”

June 19, 2015

Allan Stevo

Good morning Slovakia and good evening America. I hope this note finds you well. This month I’ll have a soft online launch of a book of poetry by the late Slovak Nobel Prize Nominee Milan Rufus (1928-2009).

Rufus in his lifetime was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia and captured the hearts of the Slovak nation more than any other contemporary writer.

While Rufus is widely translated – in dozens of languages in fact – his work has been only lightly translated in English. This edition is intended to make Rufus affordable and accessible. I hope that we’ve accomplished that goal well enough to make this an edition that readers will want to share with friends and family.

The book is 100 pages and contains 16 original Slovak poems and their English language translations excerpted from Rufus’s final volume: Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow). The translation process was assisted by countless people, a translation process I had the pleasure of leading. On June 10, 2015, I started the launch process – running this book through the Amazon system. As of today, June 19, 2015, this book from Rufus is available for purchase from Amazon or through Amazon’s affiliate Create Space.

As a thank you to the readers of 52 Weeks in Slovakia, I will be posting the poems from the book one at a time each Friday starting this Friday. This weekend being Father’s Day in the U.S. it seemed fitting to start off with an ode to Rufus’s Dad entitled “Otec” or in English “Dad.”

Quite a few readers of 52 Weeks in Slovakia offered significant assistance and encouragement along the way. Thank you for your help in making this excellent poet more available in the English speaking world.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

 

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“Otec” (“Dad”) by Milan Rufus

Milan Rufus: Slovak poet, essayist, translator, children's writer and academic.

Milan Rufus: Slovak poet, essayist, translator, children’s writer and academic | Photo: Martin Levinne, soga.sk

 

“Otec” by Rufus
June 19, 2015
Allan Stevo

 

This piece was taken from a collection of poems by Milan Rufus, Ako stopy v snehu (Like Footprints in the Snow), translated by Allan Stevo. The translated collection “In Poems” is available on Amazon and Create Space.

 

Dad

 

Was tightlipped.

Like Hamlet’s Horatio.

But also as loyal as him.

 

He was a bell with a heart.

A wise, quiet bell.

 

Just living was enough of a holiday for him.

With joyfulness that sometimes erupted.

 

He understood pain and love,

those two creatures,

to which he offered his hands,

in hard work.

 

In his hands, you could find redemption.

 

* * *

Otec

 

Bol málovravný.

Ako Hamletov Horatio.

Ale aj taký verný ako on.

 

Zvon so srdcom bol.

Múdry, tichý zvon.

 

A žiť pre neho znamenalo sviatok.

S tou radosťou, čo občas vypukne.

 

Že porozumel bolesti aj láske,

dve svoje dlane,

od roboty ťažké,

vďačne im ponúkal.

 

Akoby výkupné.

 

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at  www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

 

Milan Rufus (December 10, 1928 – January 11, 2009) was the unofficial poet laureate of Slovakia. This Nobel Prize nominee has the uncommon disctinction of being a poet who has regularly outsold trade paper and mass market fiction. A collection of Rufus poems translated by Stevo entitled “In Poems” is now available.

 

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My Friend, Dr. Kuruc

Kuruc2

Pan Riaditel Kuruc

June 18, 2015

Allan Stevo

This piece was written in May 2015 and published on 52 Weeks in Slovakia in June 2015.

Summary:
My friend passed away. He was a leader of men. His passing is an important opportunity to recognize his strength as a leader in what was certainly very challenging times. His name was Dr. Ludovit Kuruc.

 

Note on pronunciation:
K in Slovak is a hard K in English
U in Slovak is an OO in English
R in Slovak is a lot like an R in English only rolled a little like some Scots do it
C in Slovak is a lot like the TZ of Switzerland or the TS of Roots
So, like the English word for the cooing of a dove and the roots that hold a tree in the ground, the Slovak last name Kuruc is pronounced in English Coo-Roots

 

A school in Bratislava – Evanjelicke Lyceum – was the home to many Slovak intellectuals over the last four hundred years of Slovak history as well as many who went on to teach and influence others. The school closed in the early 1920’s. After the World War II takeover of Czechoslovakia by the communists, the communists naturally saw no need for a school like this. It was a church school. Successful church institutions were generally frowned upon by communists then and today. Successful institutions run by intelligentsia were also generally frowned upon by communists then and now.

 

It’s no mystery why this school was not permitted to re-open for so many years, but make no mistake, the Bratislava Lyceum was the home of Slovak intellectuals ranging from Milan Rastislav Stefanik – one of the founding fathers of Czechoslovakia following WWI – to Ludovit Stur and his ardent followers the Sturovci – the group that led the Slovak National Revival of the mid-1800s. The revival, in its least controversial form simply instructed: Slovaks were a different nation, not just stupid versions of Hungarians who have such a hard time learning that strange language (a common narrative of the time), that Slovaks were a nation unto themselves, that the Slovak people had a beautiful history, beautiful people, beautiful language, and beautiful culture.

 

I would like to think that this website, 52 Weeks in Slovakia, walks in the footsteps of Ludovit Stur and the Sturovci by highlighting the beauty of Slovak language, culture, and people in the context of Central Europe and the rest of the world in the early 21st century. I would like to think a unique record is being kept in these pages that will be read for many years hence whenever a snapshot of Slovakia at this moment in history is needed.

 

After the fall of communism, in 1989, a group of people got together and moved to reopen Bratislava’s Evanjelicke Lyceum. It’s not the same focus of study that other schools of pedagogy from the past insisted upon, but they sought to provide among the best educations that could be provided in Slovakia. They sought to provide a home for a segment of Bratislava’s intelligentsia, teachers, and students, they sought to provide a home for Christian growth. They sought to provide a home for the institution that nurtured Stefanik, the Sturovci, the great Ludovit Stur and many others. Stur even held a seat there and was banished from the school, a formational moment in his life. Ludovit Kuruc emerged from that group seeking to re-open the Lyceum and was made the director of the Lyceum.
In 1989, a glorious moment in which the government was overthrown in an idealistic movement, remembered as the Velvet Revolution, gave way to a tremendous vacuum of power. No one knew what the next day would look like – as impoverished Czechoslovakia suddenly had unfettered contact with the West and no inkling of what path the government might take going forward.

 

The 1990s were like the Wild West for Slovakia. Anyone with potential was being taken aim at, on top of that there was a brain drain drawing people West. In that environment, Ludovit Kuruc and others under his lead, focused on reopening the amazing Evanjelicke Lyceum.

 

Today, the Lyceum is among the finest schools in Slovakia, a crown jewel of church schools. In the early 1990s, there was no idea that some 25 years later that would be the reality. The founders of the school in those early years by necessity operated one year at a time and had little luxury to dream of the future. Even today to some extent, there is a somewhat tenuous future for the Lyceum. It is difficult to imagine a Lyceum existing without the firm Kuruc willing it into existence and building it that stable foundation.

 

Ludovit Kuruc built an international reputation around the school. The Lyceum is unquestionably the school Kuruc rebuilt. For all his critics who found the man too authoritarian, especially when he was being authoritarian to them, there are many more who understood that he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time for the Lyceum to become that grand institution that it has become.
On Friday, May 15, 2015, that man, Ludovit Kuruc passed away, my friend, my former boss, the man who rebuilt the school that attracted me and hundreds of other Americans to Slovakia. The man who built the school that thousands of young Slovaks went through, young Slovaks who have a tangible effect on Slovakia, and are doing amazing things in the world, partly because of the opportunities created for them when Kuruc and his team made this dream of his a reality.
On a more personal note, because without Kuruc there is no Evanjelicke Lyceum, and without the Evanjelicke Lyceum, I would never have spent years in Slovakia. It’s unlikely I would have been anything more than an occasional tourist taking a run through the tourist traps every decade or so. I would not have taught the fantastic students who inspired me, much like I’ve been told I inspired them, I would not have had the colleagues who were so formational for me, or the connectedness to the culture that I did. You can understand in addition to the grand contribution to the world this man has made by insisting that the Lyceum be great, I am grateful as well to the way this school shaped my own existence. I am grateful for what he did for many others, and it is also important to be grateful for what he did for me.

 

Of the many things the man did for me, I will illustrate just one: The fact that he attracted me to Slovakia. In 2000, a teacher there named Matthew Kraft started writing me about his experience at the Lyceum, writing and encouragement that I found so interesting, adventurous, and even comforting to a post 9/11 American youth. At that time, like many of my generation, I was likely afraid of the world and with a chip on his shoulder still about 9/11. By 2002, I was at the Lyceum working under Dr. Kuruc for a year, which soon became three amazing years, and as the pages of 52 Weeks in Slovakia testify to, I have not been able to get Slovakia out of my system since then. Of the most important hours of my day – the time I get to spend writing – at least half of my writing time still focuses on Slovakia.

 

The Lyceum was an intellectual home for me. It was relatively stable footing in an unstable place. It was a place where anyone would answer any question and intellectual debate and cultural investigation surrounded me everywhere I went on the Lyceum campus. At this school, in the Slovak capital, less than half a mile from the Slovak-Austrian border, less than half a mile from the border of East and West, where English and Slovak were the predominant languages of instruction along with some German, one could imagine this environment perfectly eclipsed the “somewhere-in-betweeness” that constitutes Central Europe.

 

In the early 1990s, Kuruc probably did not intend for Allan Stevo or anyone like me to walk through the door and be inspired, but he created the home, the team, the inspiration for exactly that to happen and my life has been changed, because that man followed that dream of his. I cannot imagine a situation in life that will cause me to forget the overwhelming gratitude I have for Kuruc for that impact he had on me. So much of my life has been affected because I was able to walk into the Evanjelicke Lyceum in August of 2002. With 13 years of hindsight, I know that I can praise this man’s impact on me confidently. Ludovit Kuruc changed my life.

 

Emotions can be hard to translate into words. Your feelings are unique to you. Sorrow to me does not mean the same as sorrow to you. We do not experience it the same way. No two humans do. Gratitude to me does not means the same as gratitude to you. These are exactly the two emotions I want to express over the passing of Dr. Kuruc – sorrow and gratitude. Even saying the words sorrow and gratitude feel so empty and brute, like words that are so far removed from the feelings I have and the limited words that I am left with to express those feelings. Translating those emotions into words and hoping the words are impactful enough to translate back into those same emotions for the listener is an impossible task. We can only hope for a small fraction of the emotion to be conveyed, for a verbal approximation of our own feelings to translate into the same approximation of feelings in another person. I know enough to know what a challenging task that is. It’s enough really to simply expect the listener to feel ’emotional’ at hearing words at such a sad moment. Emotional too feels so vague. Add another layer of complexity by running my feelings through my English language thought processes, communicating them into Slovak as a non-native speaker, and then to a person whose mind is operating in Slovak, before translating those into feelings.

 

I write these words 30,000 feet over the Atlantic aboard Aeroflot flight 101, on my way to the funeral of Dr Kuruc, Pan Riaditel – Director of the Lyceum. I am crossing the Atlantic to spend 36 hours in Slovakia, for no other reason than to be at the funeral of Dr. Kuruc, because it’s vital that man be honored. It’s vital that man’s family know much he meant to me.

 

I only wish I had a better way to communicate that.

 

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.
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Happy New Year from Slovakia, by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

 

Marcus Aurelius at the British Museum in London | Photo: Livius.org

Marcus Aurelius at the British Museum in London | Photo: Livius.org

Marcus Aurelius

January 1, 2015

Allan Stevo

Marcus Aurelius is said to have written portions of his still read Meditations some 1,800 years ago from the Roman province of Pannonia (present-day Austria, Hungary, and former Yugoslavia) looking out across the land today known as Slovakia.

He probably wrote portions of it at the Roman military center and lower Pannonian capital of Sirmium (on the Sava River in current day Vojvodina, Serbia) while planning military campaigns.  He wrote parts at the Roman city of Aquincum in present day Budapest, Hungary. He also wrote part at Carnuntum the Roman military encampment and city along the Danube just west of present day Bratislava where the once important amber trade once crossed the Danube. He even wrote part of it IN present-day Slovak lands campaigning against the Quadi on the River Hron in present day central Slovakia.

These meditations were a journal outlining his stoic philosophy while challenging himself. It’s possible that his dozen book journal was never intended to be published.

Here is an excerpt from Meditations particularly pertinent to the New Year. Perhaps another good year is joyfully behind us, or perhaps it was a bad year that can now be joyfully behind us as well. We have a fresh start, we have new life. Saying goodbye to the past can be bittersweet. It can be the sad from the passing of a loved one, and refreshing as when the grudges of yesterday die with the grudge holders of yesterday; the year is new.

“Remember the doctrine that all rational beings are created for one another; that toleration is a part of justice; and that men are not intentional evildoers. Think of the myriad enmities, suspicions, animosities, and conflicts that are now vanished with the dust and ashes of the men who knew them; and fret no more.”

May 2015 be the happiest year for you yet and may we both find comfort in fretting no more about the past.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

H/t to my friend Richard Lorenc for posting this quote on Facebook.

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17 November 1989 – The Fall of Communism: A Victory For The People

Police guarding the road to Prague Castle 11/19/1989 | Photo: BBC

Police guarding the road to Prague Castle 11/19/1989 | Photo: BBC

Velvet Revolution
November 17, 2014
Allan Stevo

On November 17, 1989, the people of Czechoslovakia took a decisive step away from the nanny state. The nanny state in Czechoslovakia was one that sought to control all aspects of life.

Controlling Individuals
Those aspects included: what a child studied, what career options a person would have, if an artist or writer would be allowed to participate in official culture, where a person would live and with whom, if a person would travel, how many imported purchases a person would have access to. These were directly controlled by the state, apparent for all to see.  Those are just a few examples among the many that existed.

Controlling an Entire Economy
There were many other controlled aspects of a person’s day-to-day life that were not recognized during totalitarian times to be directly caused by the failures of the state, but which certainly were failures of the state and are failures that are easily repeated wherever a state sees it best to control an economy.

In Czechoslovakia this included tangerine shortages that left tangerines as an exciting, hard to get, exotic St. Nicholas Day present for children each December 6. The popularity of the tangerine as a special gift is an indicator of how relatively impoverished Czechoslovakia was.

This included underwear shortages that left people walking around in tattered rags for underpants, causing young men embarrassment when they found themselves in a romantic encounter that they had no untattered underwear for (as depicted by Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being).

This included condom shortages that left abortion as a multiple occasion de facto method of standard birth control used by many for family planning.

This included doctor shortages that made a small bribe of a bottle of alcohol or something similar an almost mandatory aspect of rudimentary medical care.

This included the disruptive and burdensome attitude that eventually became commonplace that anyone who did not steal from the state was stealing from their own family.  The economy was largely forced into the incapable hands of the state and as many reasonable and entrepreneurial people took to one of the only methods of social advancement – pilfering – in order to provide for the family, this system became an even greater drain on the economy.

This included the lack of economic development that put Czechoslovakia further and further behind the freer parts of the world year after year. It’s the easy to miss issue of the Seen and the Unseen that Frederic Bastiat and Henry Hazlitt so effectively demonstrate. Simply put, it can be hard to recognize that missed opportunities are occurring around you. Every Slovak today was in a sense betrayed by every ancestor who allowed a less free Slovakia to exist. And every Slovak today is in a sense given a gift by every ancestor who allowed a more free Slovakia to exist.

The Good in Communism
Depending on what your definition of “good” is, there were certainly unintentional good aspects of communism. Not one of those good aspects that I can think of have a thing to do with greater personal freedom.

Communism was 40 years of individual Czechoslovaks having to deal with unnecessary burden and hardship in life caused for them by their government that insisted it was acting in their best interest. The concept of “the people” was treated as the ultimate authority and that authority was used as effective propaganda, yet it was a government that sought to take power out of the hands of the people with each passing day.

To have lived in such a time, to have realized that government was doing the opposite of what it claimed, and to have watched so many around you obediently agreeing must have been infuriating. It’s infuriating enough for me to live in the much freer United States, where I thought the arguably worst government in US history in January of 2009 was coming to an end, only to realize that things could actually get worse.

The Unaware West
Today, even in the most free market Western countries governments participate in massive economic intervention, as if the poignant lessons of Soviet-style controlled economies are somehow isolated to the Eurasian landmass.  The government’s intervention is praised in the West by those who do not have a well-read understanding of markets from multiple economic perspectives and tend to confuse the concept of a free market with crony capitalism. In allowing the debate to be defined by people with such a poor understanding of free markets, the West denies itself of what may be its most significant birthright: the unfettered human achievement that comes when freedom is allowed to exist.

Medical care, pharmaceuticals, and education are three excellent examples where the West insists on hindering itself by undermining the market.  In doing so, it almost certainly punishes the weakest members of society. Just as the statists of Czechoslovakia in the last century claimed to act on behalf of the people while acting to their detriment, the statists of the West in this century follow in those footsteps.

Personal computing, telecom, the Internet, and burgeoning technologies are areas where technology has moved with such dramatic creativity that governments have been nearly incapable of restraining the markets. Every year the government regulated industries become less effective and more expensive while the market regulated industries become more effective and less expensive. Economists for several hundred years have pointed this dynamic out.

Politically Untruthful
In politics, the wise pay attention to what a person does and to ignore what a person says. Aware of this, governments have a tendency to tell lies to those foolish enough to listen.

Many lies are told every day by many politicians and the governments that they run. One lie from history is that socialism is a government for the people and that reaching the end goal of a communist society is a great victory for the people. The two are certainly the opposite of what they claim to be.

The victory of the people, the victory of the individual took place on November 17, 1989 when a relatively small group of people in Czechoslovakia started events in motion that could not be stopped if they tried and brought an end to communist rule of their lands. By the end of the year, a dissident imprisoned many times by the regime would sit in Prague Castle (Vaclav Havel) and a beloved reformer long ago chased from power by the Soviets in 1968 and relegated literally to the backwoods of Bratislava would be chairman of the federal legislature (Alexander Dubcek).  Many small victories for the people continue to take place every day in the lives of millions of Slovaks and Czechs as they exert their wills freely over their own individual lives.

Skepticism
Skepticism towards any political and economic system is understandable in Central Europe.  There have been some unpleasant attempts at using government and economics to control the people. Many look back at 1989 critically and wonder if the right decisions were made during the transitions. Some even look at the time before that with rose colored glasses and long for what was. Some prospered in the old system and miss it.  While the old system promised comfort to some, it was not a system of individual freedom.

Greater Individual Freedom
It is impossible to look at Czechoslovakia circa 1988 and to say it was a greater place for individual freedom than the Slovak and Czech Republics circa 2014. The potential of the individual is less restrained today, as a result the wealth in the hands of the people is greater today, a boy or girl from Slovakia can grow up to be a very big deal in the world in a way that once could not have happened, the world can today be that person’s oyster.  A Slovak citizen in this time is without a single excuse of why his life dreams are unable to be fulfilled.

Twenty five years later, despite the many difficulties that freedom has brought, and the growing pains from transitioning out of the cradle to grave welfare system, the Velvet Revolution that historians tie to this date – November 17 – has proven to be a great victory for the people and a great victory for individual freedom.  While the communists long lauded themselves as the ones fighting for the people, it was their demise throughout Central Europe that was the greater victory for the people.Each day statists and individuals do battle in this place where East meets West and overwhelmingly it is the spirit of 1989 and not the spirit of 1948 that wins the battle.  From the West (sadly) and from the East (as can be expected) these people face regular encouragement to backslide into their statist past. Many, however, maintain a firm resolve. The most simple village farmer in this part of the world understands how a central bank works better than many economics students in the West and the least of the economics students of this land understand the breadth of free market economics seemingly better than the handpicked central bankers of the West.  The spirit of 89 was alive and well here long before 1989 and remains a decisive uptrend.  From this land, the West has much to learn.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

Prague, Czechoslovakia, December 1989, after the election of Vaclav Havel as President. |  Photo: BBC

Prague, Czechoslovakia, December 1989, after the election of Vaclav Havel as President. | Photo: BBC

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