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Edited (mostly by SQ) and posted for a friend.
I grew up in what is now the Czech Republic. Communism dominated every aspect of life there, and had since 1948. It tried to steal my body, but it never stole my mind and heart. I grew up in a middle class family (but of course there were no “classes” in Communism, since everyone was equal.) My parents were teachers in a small village close to the German border. My grandfather was jailed by the Nazis and the Communists as well. He was released from jail so he could die at home. (I was only one year old at that time.) Due to my grandfather’s jail time, my father was not permitted to enter the university.
My family lived in a village where everybody knew everybody. It was a well-known secret who belonged to the StB (Secret Service), or who was a spy for them. Since my parents never joined the Communist party, they were forced to remain basic level teachers. Still, because they were very active in community activities such as sports and the arts, they were popular, and were somewhat protected from the routine harassment to which other non-Communist citizens were subjected.
Communist Party membership was a prerequisite for the majority of jobs. All state employees were supposed to be Party members, and professional soldiers were no exception. I wanted to become a pilot when I realized that playing football would not be a lifetime career. (I somehow didn’t realize that until I was 18!) So I joined the Czechoslovak Air Force Academy without really thinking too much about politics; I simply wanted to become a pilot. But in my third year at the Academy, I was called to become a Community Party candidate. At first I replied that I was too young to make that decision, and I didn’t feel ready. I was told that I had 24 hours to decide whether I would accept — and if I didn’t, I would have to leave school. That made my decision: I joined. But not in my heart and mind.
Both my father and mother were baptized, but never really practiced religion. They knew that practicing their faith would endanger their children and limit their future prospects. The Communists understood that the best way to motivate people was to warn them about possible negative outcomes for the ones they loved. So the Party Line was simple enough: You can do whatever you like here, because we have a totally free society! But you should always consider the future of your children if you choose things that the Party does not recommend. The potential threat was always there.
In the early 1980s I dated a gorgeous young girl, Iveta, a student at the medical university. After dating for a while, I was devastated when she told me that we would have to stop seeing each other. Although for a long time she didn’t want to tell me her reason, I insisted, so she finally told me. I was greatly surprised to learn that she was a practicing Catholic! I wasn’t even baptized! Her confession made me think hard: how could such a smart, young girl practice religion which I’d been told was for only old-fashioned ladies and was a practice that was dying out anyway?
So I began to think about this Communist mantra about religion. We were all accustomed to living a “dual life”: the one that we showed to the world and the one we lived at home. But this was a level deeper even than that: I didn’t even share my thoughts about religion with my family; this was an intimate and internal process for me. And it was too dangerous to share.
After one year, however, in late 1983, I was baptized and confirmed at the same time. These sacred ceremonies were only witnessed by my future in-laws, my future wife, and the priest. There were no church records (which created a bit of a problem later, because the priest was involved in a car accident and incapable of confirming these actions). But God helped us out, not for the first time, of course. My father-in-law found another priest who understood the situation and officiated at our marriage. We had two ceremonies: the first one (religious) and a second one (in front of state authorities) for public consumption, which included friends, family and others.
For us, the true ceremony was held in a church in a village that nobody but our friendly priest knew about. The only ones there were me, my wife, my in-laws, the priest and God. Nobody else knew about it, not even our closest family members except for Iveta’s parents. Not even her brother. No records. No witnesses. That way, no one could unintentionally tell another person about this occasion. It was simply too dangerous.
Our first daughter was born less than one year after our wedding in 1985. The only way we could have her baptized was to ask the same priest who witnessed our marriage. I’ll never forget the scene: foggy late afternoon in February … our secret squad of five (me, Iveta, my in-laws and Jana, our first-born) sneaking through the gardens … entering at the church’s back entrance where our friendly priest, our guardian angel, once again waited for us. There were no public, semi-public, or church records. Jana’s baptism was recorded in our hearts and in God’s Kingdom again.
During this time I finally officially joined the Communist Party. My candidate period was over and there was no way I could get around it. But I was able, by the grace of God, to avoid the full commitment demanded. In your official CV, everyone was expected to write a mandatory statement. Instead of that statement—“I declare that I believe in Marxism and Leninism, and atheism is my faith,” I didn’t write anything. So I didn’t lie. Nobody noticed. God protected me well, as He always does.
I did ask my father once why he stayed and didn’t emigrate, given the repression. He told me that he was born in this country, loved it and wanted to stay, regardless of the oppressive politics. He also told me that this regime would not last forever as Communist, and that it was my duty to carry on this message to my own kids, and for them to pass it on to theirs.
In 1989, everything changed with the Velvet Revolution. Gradually things improved. God’s help stayed with us, and will be with us forever. My father passed away one year before the Velvet Revolution, but I am sure he enjoys watching this amazing transformation.