Neighbours Without Qualities

As someone born in 1976 I belong to the generation of Gustáv Husák’s [Communist Party Chief and later President of Czechoslovakia] children, of whom around a million were born within a single decade. It was hard to imagine a greater contrast than that between these baby boomers and the aging leadership. Vasiľ Biľak, one of the Communist hardliners who had invited in the Russian tanks in 1968, was born in 1917, President Husák in 1913. The Soviet Politburo was also extremely elderly and were the butt of jokes about which politician would be the first to die.

My long-term platonic love affair with Austria, Vienna in particular, began when I was still a boy. Every Friday many families in Bratislava would buy the Austrian daily Volksstimme. On this day the Austrian Communist Party’s official mouthpiece included the weekly programme of Austrian TV which was unavailable elsewhere in Czechoslovakia.


3 Seasons in Hell

New Czech movie freely based on the life and work of Egon Bondy, who influenced me deeply. Directed by Tomáš Mašín.

It’s 1947, a time of sensuality, extravagance, humor and endless expectation. Ivan Heinz, 19, leaves home to join his bohemian friends on an action-packed journey of artistic ideals, inspiring erotic games and celebration of total freedom.

While putting together his first collection of poetry, Ivan rushes headlong into a destructive romance with the exquisite and bisexual Jana. As the new communist regime drifts to show its repressive face, Jana initiates Ivan into her decadent, hedonistic lifestyle.

The new authorities demand absolute obedience, but Ivan and Jana are light-footed dancers on the razor’s edge. They scoff at mandatory work regulations, survive by petty theft and plan their escape to Paris. The borders are unexpectedly sealed, yet Ivan always has some crazy plan up his sleeve.

Bondy, Beatnik aus Böhmen
Official Movie Website


Childhood’s End. Summer 1989

The first summer on which I can provide a detailed report started exactly twenty years ago. Until then, two months of holidays almost always looked the same.

On the 1st of July we would leave for our summer house in the Low Tatra mountains and return on August 31st. From there we would sporadically take off on trips to internationally attractive locations, such as Kokava nad Rimavicou, Domažlice or Zemplínska šírava, the latter being known out of pure desperation as the “Slovak sea”.

The westernmost city I had ever seen was called, appropriately, East Berlin.


The End of the Economic Miracle

The article from F.A.Z now in English.

„Twenty years after the fall of communism scientists, artists and academics are still extremely poorly paid – earning less than cleaning ladies in Austria, they have to manage on 700 euros a month. If everyone did not have a second job, people would not be able to manage. Slovaks’ wallets are now weighed down with euro coins instead of being stuffed with banknotes.“

The essay was originally published in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on June 15th 2009.