Talking about the politics, it was very tightly controlled by the government, by the Communist Party. You were told what plays you could produce and what you could not stage. You also had to produce a Soviet play, and a play that was so-called ‘progressive’ – that was a political propaganda play.
In high school, I think it was quite quality and, again, a combination of the ideology and then the real subjects. We were lucky because our last year of high school was ’68, so it was very liberal and many changes took place, even in our education and the information provided. Like reading Literární noviny was mandatory, and it was quite exciting. Then we graduated and enjoyed this happy time for a few more days and it was over.
Things seemed right; not entirely right, but somewhat right. Things were far worse in Poland, where a person who was a Polish politician who lived on our street in London by the name of Mikołajczyk – they settled accounts with him by machine gun. Assassinations and so on. Things in Prague seemed to be ok, but not exactly right. And the bottom dropped out of things completely in February 1948.
When you go to the Czech Republic or Slovak Republic, there is more hatred between each other. Prague people will say ‘Oh, we don’t like Slovaks,’ or Slovak people will say ‘I don’t like Czechs.’ But here I never hear anybody say that we don’t like each other. Here we are like one big community, and it’s like a brotherhood over here.
I have photographs of myself being a year and half sitting my dad’s lap and his hair is a big curly afro and drinking beer in pubs. I understand that at that time pub life was very much the center of social life where people were able to vent their opinions and be in maybe safer company.
I remember during the War, and I especially remember when I had diphtheria and I was in the hospital, and every time the bombers came they put us under the beds if they did not have the time to take us down to the cellar. So, we sort of escaped the War in that respect, because we were in nursery school, my brother and I, but because I had diphtheria, he was quarantined, so he could not be in school with the other children, and at that time a bomb hit the school building and all the children there did not make it.
I spent six months in Italy living in Rome with a Catholic priest attached to a Slovak bishop who was there, was part of the Vatican. Essentially their mission was to help refugees – at that time there was a lot of refugees in the refugee camp south of Rome – so I was helping them out visiting the refugees.
He just said ‘When you grow, my son, don’t stay here, just go to America. If you only saw what big buildings they have!’ Or another sentence that puzzled me was ‘If you go to America…’ Obviously he was speaking in Slovak: ‘Keby si vedel ake tam maju velke cary.’ I said ‘What the hell is cary?’ Well, he was referring to cars. So that was the idea that stuck in my mind and he kind of injected the temptation in my head. So I was growing up and I was thinking always ‘One day I am going to go there and see what America is all about.