Communist crackdown in 1973 commemorated in Bratislava
by Barbara Grabner
50 years ago, dozens of early members of the Unification Church, now called the Family Federation, in Czechoslovakia were arrested. To commemorate the unfolding drama unknown to the wider public, an event was organized 13th November 2023 in Bratislava, Slovakia for members and friends. Despite bad weather, the hall in the “Ambasáda Mieru” (Peace Embassy) was filled to its maximum capacity. In the audience was former Prime Minister Ján Čarnogurský, a renowned human rights advocate during the communist era.
The introductory message was given by early member Miloš Klas. Historian Lubomír Morbacher from the Slovak Nation´s Memory Institute (UPN) outlined the persecution of believers during the 1970’s until 1989. After the end of the Prague Spring in 1968, churches and committed believers were put under incredible pressure. Communist agents infiltrated many dissident groups. Dr. Morbacher praised the courage of the first members of the Unification Church. He condemned their mistreatment by state authorities and lamented the lack of acknowledgement until today.
In 1971 and 1972, the movement was thriving, with pioneers being sent to numerous towns. Everything seemed to be going well – until September 1973. The communist regime had not known about the young movement until priests warned their congregants from the pulpits, and some parents wrote to the secret police to intervene!
Then, a drama of historic dimensions took its course: Secret policemen raided apartments throughout the nation. Within a few weeks, nearly 30 members were imprisoned. 200 persons were interrogated, while nearly 40 members were prosecuted. In 1974 the courts sentenced 37 members to imprisonment, about one third of them conditional; they served a total of 50 years in several prisons.
A power point presentation was shown during the commemorative event in Bratislava, portraying individual members telling how and where they had been arrested.
The second speaker was Štefan Detvai, former President of the Slovak Bar Association. He served as defence attorney for our members. In 1973, he was an advocate with few years of experience, but a huge enthusiasm. He was an acquaintance of Anton Uhnák, one of the members, before the troubles started.
Dr. Detvai explained in detail how he was surprised to find no evidence for any crime whatsoever and was shocked that such pure minded, excellent students were treated like criminals. His sincere effort to prove the innocence of our members almost landed himself in jail! The today renowned lawyer revealed fascinating facts which kept the audience captive. He remarked several times, that for years he himself was traumatized by the verdict. He realized that the persecution was politically motivated and sheer injustice.
Afterwards a panel discussion with some of the persecuted members took place: the first church leader Betka Danišková, Dorota Šimeková, Miloš Klas, Anton Uhnák and his wife Maria, Juraj Lajda and his wife Erika, and Štefan Jakubáč explained how they felt when they were arrested, what worried them most during the interrogations, the reaction of their family and friends, and how they today view their imprisonment and its impact on their life from then on.
The participants had the chance to buy the book “The Faith that Broke the Iron Curtain” written by Julian Gray. Gifts and letters of thanks were given to the persecuted. Tasty food was served, and picture-taking completed the evening. Dr. Morbacher said that he felt honored to have been part of the commemoration.
Featured image above: Some of the members on the panel in Bratislava 13th November 2023. From left to right: Dorota Šimeková, Betka Danišková, Jakubáč Štefan, Juraj Lajda, Erika Lajdová, Anton Uhnák. Photo: Erna Mae Leskovjansky
Text: Barbara Grabner, journalist
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