Daughter of political prisoner speaks out about legacy of Stalinist terror

22-11-2004

Thousands were jailed and hundreds were executed during the terror of Stalinism in 1950s Czechoslovakia. But, what was it like to be a child whose parents were jailed during those times? Czech American Jana Svehlova knows just what it was like- her father was a political prisoner and she herself has just written a Ph.D dissertation on the issue.

There is absolutely no research about this topic, not in the Czech Republic, not in any of the post communist European countries, as far as I know. If anybody knows about any research, I would be very interested.

What motivated you to do this study?

When a friend of mine in Washington, told my American friends, in my presence, that anybody who was intelligent in Czechoslovakia during the communist regime could go to university, I almost had a heart attack. When I heard that, it motivated me because that wasn't so.

Are you one of the daughters that you write about?

I am one of the daughters but I was fortunate that I could completed my education up to a Ph.D even though here (Czech Republic) all I had was an eight year education.

What were the main findings of your study?

The main findings were the horrid impacts on the family of the prisoner. The prisoners had it bad but these daughters had it bad also, not as bad as their fathers and sometimes their mothers. The problem is that they can't talk about it because then they feel they are taking away from the suffering of their parents. They have been silent all these years including after 1989.

What would you say are the long term impacts on these daughters?

The main problem is that they feel like second class citizens to this day, because the worse that could happen to most of them is that they were not allowed formal education after eighth grade. However, they live in a culture where education is extremely important. That is the greatest tragedy because they feel it to this day. People treat them as second class citizens because they do not have the education, and nobody talks about it.

My hope is that, with my little talks, I am getting this topic in the consciousness of some people. This is the first time I have done this lecture and I am so pleased that people are interested.

22-11-2004

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