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.

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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.

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