Father and Son, 20 years after the Velvet Revolution

The fall of communism turned around the lives of millions of people. In a special edition of Czechs Today we talk to a father and son of the same name about how this dramatic change affected their lives. Petr Cibulka senior was born in Opava and moved to Prague in August of 1989 –less than three months before the Velvet Revolution broke out. He now owns a hotel in Lednice, Moravia. His son Petr Cibulka junior belongs to the generation which was barely touched by the communist regime. He moved to Prague at the age of 15, later went for a study stay in the US and now works as a researcher at the English-language newspaper The Prague Post.

Petr Cibulka senior: “When I look at our life before 1989 with hindsight, I have one motto: “Horas non numero nisi serenas,” a quote by Cicero. It’s a Latin motto which means “I don’t count the hours, only the good ones.”

I think that our mind tries to remember only the good things. I graduated from high school in one of the most deprived areas in the Czech Republic, near Opava, an excellent school thanks to the teacher.

I played hockey, then love came and very soon the first child, existential worries also came, too soon. I worked in the steel industry, then I got divorced, then I worked in a restaurant. I moved to Prague, in August, and I lived right here, on Římská 12, so I saw everything from my window.”

What about you, Peter? You must have been very young.

Petr Cibulka junior: “I was 4 years old so I don’t remember anything, I didn’t even realize anything had changed because it was so gradual and I was basically too young.”

Mr. Cibulka, how about you? When those historic events were happening right in front of your door, how was that?

Petr Cibulka senior: “Yeah, I was in North Moravia when the 17th November events where happening, then I rushed to Prague. I remember that it started in August, almost everyday something was happening on St. Wenceslas Square. I was working on the street Na Příkopě and I saw something happening everyday, so the Velvet Revolution was just the final target of that.”

And then, after the Velvet Revolution happened, how did your life change?

Petr Cibulka senior: “It was really a difficult time for me, because the change was absolute, everything changed.”

What was the biggest change in your day-to-day life?

Petr Cibulka. senior: “It was about self-responsibility. Today, you are responsible for your life, you have to work on it. In the communist days we didn’t know anything, we didn’t have dreams. When I was young, 20, 22 years, I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing twenty or thirty years ahead. Now I can plan, I can do something, it’s much clearer. At that time, we dreamt about the cosmos, stars, Alaska, Canada, things that were really far away and that we couldn’t picture.”

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So Petr, since you can barely remember what happened before 1989, can you imagine what it must have been like to live under such a regime?

Petr Cibulka. junior: “It must have been pretty tough, because there were no freedoms of expression, no freedoms of choice for democratic people and a way to influence the direction that the country can take. Now we have the choice, you can do what you want with your life, you are responsible for yourself, you have the free choice of pursuing your will, your own goals and that’s what you didn’t have at that time.”

Did you ask your father what it was like?

Petr Cibulka senior: “We talk about the humor in communism. We talk about the funny things in communism.”

Can you give me an example?

Petr Cibulka senior: “Yes, I have an example. When I was in seventh grade, my school had a celebration to unveil a new socialist sculpture in the park in Opava. It was a cube that looked like our national tree, the small-leaved Linden tree. The whole school was there and pioneers, like a small communist army, in blue skirts and red scarves and they showed them the new sculpture. The teacher and director of the school asked the children: “Do you know what this is?” and they were expecting that they’d say “It’s the national tree.” My friend, who was very popular, said: “I know exactly what it is.” And so they said to him: “Come on, tell us.” And he said: “It’s Lenin’s brain.”

And everybody laughed. There were small islands of positive deviation in that past, as I said, the human brain only wants to remember the good things. Maybe Petr remembers, when he was small, in kindergarten.”

Petr Cibulka junior: “Yeah, when Černobyl happened, we couldn’t play in the sand, because of the disaster, and we couldn’t pick mushrooms in the forest, because of the radioactive poisoning, because something bad might happen. And to answer your previous question, if we talk about the time before 1989, we have all these jokes, but for now we try to look to the future and see how we can move forward and what the problems are today.”

Mr. Cibulka, what were your main worries during communisms and what do you worry about today?

Petr Cibulka senior: “When I went to Poland once with three friends of mine in 1987, we crossed the border and were stopped and asked for our passports and our papers by the border police. And we told them that we had a pass to go to a chess tournament, which was a lie, and the border officer asked us “Ok, so how do you start the Indian defense?” Of course we didn’t know, so they inspected us and our car. They found 1000 Deutsche Mark in my underwear so, of course, they tied my hands up and asked me: “What are you doing with this money?” and I said: “It’s a transfer to Poland.” And they asked us to come into the police office in Opava and one of the higher-up officers asked me what I was doing with that money and then, I had to be very flexible to snake out of that.”

So what are your main worries today?

Petr Cibulka senior: “Today, my worries are bigger of course, it’s difficult to say, maybe some new era of democracy is coming, maybe post-democracy, where you can do whatever you want but your personal influence is almost non-existent, and you can’t do anything to prevent bad things. Maybe something is changing here, because my disappointment in the failure of the media and politics in every aspect is big.”

What will you do next Tuesday for the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution?

Petr Cibulka senior: “In our village Lednice, we have a celebration on the town square, and a stage for speeches and music and some remembering events with dancing and a disco. So I think it’ll be a great evening, we can remember all the people who were against this unbelievable regime.”