Alenka Bizjak is a Slovenian environmental activist, a lawyer by training, who was born in Maribor in 1937, to the parents who emigrated from Trieste to Maribor after the dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy. Upon graduating from secondary school in Nova Gorica, Bizjak worked at the Yugoslav Railways Directorate in Ljubljana (1958-1962), the Organization of Clubs of the United Nations in Slovenia (1962-1968), Institute of International Law and International Relations of the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana (1968-1972) and the administration of the School of the Medicine of the University of Ljubljana (1972-1990). In 1990 and 1991 she was a consultant in the Office of the Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister, Leo Šešerko, who was responsible for environmental protection and regional development.
Bizjak was active among Slovenian grass roots activists that established the Association of Environmental Protection of Slovenia in 1971, and she was the Association's secretary between March 1982 and December 1984 as well. Under the Association’s aegis, intellectuals of various professional backgrounds collaborated, while her role was writing press releases, preparing materials and writing articles. All of those activities earned her reputation and label by government as "someone who is blocking progress and development."
Bizjak's task was to draw the Slovenian public’s attention to environmental issues in Slovenia and Yugoslavia. The cases of the River Krupa in the Bela Krajina Region (1985), and then the Rivers Reka, Koritnica, Kamniška Bistrica and Krka should be mentioned. In all major cases, the common denominator was the plan to build hydroelectric power stations even in national parks (the Rivers Soča, Idrijca, Sava Dolinka) or on highly polluted rivers (Mura) or at the intermittent Lake Cerknica, and last but not least the construction of the Vršič and Triglav cableways. In the 1980s, she even participated in opposition to the use of electricity from the Krško Nuclear Power Plant due to the unresolved issue of nuclear waste.
Bizjak, together with her sympathizers, established the Green Party of Slovenia in 1989. In the first democratic elections in Slovenia in April 1990, the party won seats in the Slovenian Parliament, and afterward the party became part of the new Slovenian government led by Lojze Peterle. Despite its success, the party was torn apart due to infighting, and thus lost support and members, including Alenka Bizjak.
Following the formal introduction of democracy, Bizjak continued her environmental activism, warning the Slovenian public of the negative effects of the construction of golf courses on arable land, and the issue of illegal construction, even in protected areas. Since 2008, she has been active in the civil initiative Tržnice ne damo (We’re Not Giving Up Marketplaces), an initiative that opposes the construction of garages in the city centre of Ljubljana, and also opposes the support of the Slovenian government in setting up Magna Steyr, a paint shop at Dravsko polje near Maribor.
- Ljubljana , Slovenia
- Maribor, Slovenia 2000
Ana Blandiana (b. 25 March 1942, Timișoara) is the literary pseudonym of Otilia Valeria Rusan (née Coman), well known as a poet, public intellectual, and president of the Civic Academy Foundation – indeed the personality from whom the image of this institution is practically inseparable. She is one of the personalities who, due to the experience of the family from which she comes, has campaigned actively in postcommunism both for the recovery of the memory of the victims of communism and for the punishment of those guilty of crimes committed under the former communist regime. Immediately after the installation of communism in Romania, her father, the priest Gheorge Coman, was arrested as an “enemy of the people” and subjected to a long period of detention, which he only survived for a short time after his release in 1964, when there was an amnesty for all political prisoners. The traumatic moment of her father’s arrest is recalled by Ana Blandiana for the television channel Digi24 as follows: “I was in the first grade, and I was alone with my father at home, because my mother and my sister were away, and a team came and searched the house and after that they arrested my father… Someone from outside was called to be present at the search – it was a form of hypocrisy to make everything as legal as could be. And one of the men who had come said: ‘I have to go and call a witness,’ and he went out, went away… he came back two minutes later and said he couldn’t open the gate… and my father went out with him to show him, and I didn’t have the courage to stay alone in the house with the others so I went with them to the gate.”
Ana Blandiana took her literary pseudonym from the name of her mother’s native village, in the belief that in this way she could bypass the chicanes of communist censorship. Despite this precaution, her right of signature as an author was withdrawn in three different periods: 1959–1964, 1985, and 1988–1989. In the first period of interdiction, the official motive for the decision of the communist authorities was that she was a “daughter of a political prisoner.” In 1985, the withdrawal of her right to publish was due to a poem that had appeared in the student literary magazine Amfiteatru. Entitled “Totul” (Everything), the poem consisted of a list of ordinary things connected to everyday life, such as: “leaves, words, tears / matchboxes, cats,” alongside things that reminded everyone of penury, such as “trams sometimes, queues for flour,” or of propaganda and the personality cult, such as “little flags, well-known portraits,” which were typical of the period of Nicolae Ceauşescu. It is said that it was the reference to “the boys on Victory Way,” in which all readers could recognise the Securitate officers guarding Ceauşescu’s daily route, that attracted the interdiction. This poem and the one entitled “Eu cred” (I believe), in which Blandiana speaks of the Romanians as a “vegetable people,” incapable of revolting, circulated in hand-written copies and became pieces of Romanian samizdat. The final interdiction, in 1988–1989, was the result of the publication of a parody of Ceauşescu’s personality cult in the form of a poem for children. Inspired by her own tomcat, Arpagic (Chive), the poem of the same name became a symbol of literature with undertones, such as was practised by many Romanian writers who wanted to test the limits of censorship. The tomcat Arpagic was described in Blandiana’s poem as a superstar who is acclaimed by everyone, greeted with the traditional bread and salt and with grand pomp wherever he goes, while all those around him obey his orders. This imaginary portrait reminded everyone of scenes familiar from newspapers or television, presenting Ceauşescu’s working visits all over the country, when people vied with one another to obey him and to follow his famous indications, even if these were pointless or even harmful. As a consequence of the publication of this poem in the volume Întîmplări de pe strada mea (Happenings on my street), during the last two years of communism Blandiana was forbidden to publish and her books were removed from libraries. The journal Index on Censorship dedicated a substantial article to her, starting from this episode of interdiction as a writer.
As for what the communist period represented in the history of Romania, of Europe, and of the world, Ana Blandiana remains faithful to the idea that the preservation of the memory of the victims of these undemocratic regimes is a fundamental duty of each society, and to the principle that the victims of communism and fascism deserve equal treatment on the part of those who manage the memory of the twentieth century: “We are turning defeated from the greatest illusion in history. Communism was that illusion, and it broke countless lives. I do not mean that it was an ‘illusion’ in the sense that it wasn’t properly put into practice, but in the sense that it couldn’t be put into practice. And every time the attempt was made to put it into practice, it produced monstrous, and often literally murderous results. One of the cynical conclusions that communism has left behind it is that people cannot be made happy against their will, by proposing and imposing on them a particular sort of happiness, the communist sort. You cannot impose mass happiness – when you try such a thing, as a rule, what results is the opposite to your initial intention. What results is something inhuman, antihuman. As I see it, the only correct way to regard communism and the truth of it is to do so from the point of view of the victims of communism. Because we must not forget: communism, together with Nazism, created the most monstrous century in the history of humanity. Not that there weren’t precedents – the French Revolution, for example, or the Inquisition. For the first time in the history of humankind, with communism and Nazism came mass killing. And the mass killing was in the name of ideas that promised supreme happiness in the name of a highly evolved ‘new humanity.’ I believe that it is decent, proper, desirable not to make a new humanity but to make the existing humanity love and not hate. And not kill. This history – which both communism and Nazism wrote in blood – was based on hatred. Class hatred or racial hatred. Red-brown.” Thus Ana Blandiana concludes her comparison of the two totalitarian systems of the twentieth century.
Ana Blandiana received the Herder Prize in 1982, thus becoming the youngest winner of this important distinction. Indeed, both as a writer and as a leader of opinion and an activist for civic rights, Ana Blandiana has received many awards, both national and international. She is also doctor honoris causa of numerous universities in Romania and an honorary citizen of the cities of Timişoara, Botoşani, Sighetu Marmaţiei, and Oradea. In 1990, she re-established PEN Club Romania, whose president she was until 2004; in this capacity, she participated in all the major conferences and congresses of international PEN and organised four regional conferences in Romania (1995, 1998, 2000, and 2001). Since 2004, she has been honorary president of this institution. In 2016, in Gdansk, she received the distinction “European Poet of Freedom.” She is the author of more than twenty public lectures, delivered both in Romania and abroad, and of over sixty volumes translated into more than twenty-five languages. She has participated in over forty-five international literary festivals in fifteen countries, and has given public readings in over twenty countries. She is a member of the European Poetry Academy and the World Poetry Academy (under the aegis of UNESCO). Her rich body of work enjoys a very generous reception, both at the level of specialised critics and among the general reading public. Since 2012, the Ana Blandiana National Festival of Creation and Interpretation for Pupils has been held annually in Brăila. In 2016, she became a corresponding member of the Romanian Academy. At the present moment, Ana Blandiana is one of the best-loved and most respected public figures in Romania.
She is a co-founder of the non-governmental organisation Civic Alliance, which she ran as president from 1991 to 2001, and has been president of the Civic Academy Foundation since its foundation in 1994. She is also the founding director of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance. Within this institution, she has carried out sustained research activity, and she played a decisive role in the creation of several of the rooms that make up the Sighet Museum ensemble: Room 42 (“Masters and Works Behind Bars”); Room 43 (“Repression Against Literature”); Room 50 (“The Piteşti Phenomenon”); Room 51 (“Poetry in Prison”); Room 77 (“Opponents and Dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s”); Room 91 (“Ethnic and Religious Repression”). Ana Blandiana is also the author of numerous studies, prefaces, and postfaces published in volumes published under the aegis of the Civic Academy Foundation. She has been actively involved in the Sighet Summer School, as a participant in discussion panels, as a speaker, and through her activity of fundraising and organisation together with the Civic Academy Foundation teams. She has participated and continues to participate in dozens of meetings with pupils and teachers in schools in Bucharest and all over the country, as part of activities to promote the Sighet Memorial. She promotes the image and the ideas of this institution through her participation in numerous public debates both in Romania and abroad, and for to the same end she has given hundreds of interviews in the Romanian and foreign press. Ana Blandiana is the author of one of the most famous formulations regarding how we should justly relate to the communist period: “When justice does not succeed in being a form of memory, memory alone may be a form of justice.” This formulation may be seen, very visibly, in several places, including the Sighet Memorial.
- Bucharest, Romania
Ivan Blatný was a Czech poet and translator. His first poems were published in 1933 in Studentský časopis (Student’s Journal). Later, he contributed to the Catholic journal Akord, artistic-literary review Kritický měsíčník (Critical Monthly), philosophic-artistic quarterly Listy and daily newspaper Lidové noviny. Ivan Blatný left Czechoslovakia for the UK in 1948 as an official delegation member of the Czech Journalists’ Syndicate where he, upon his arrival in the UK, announced on BBC radio that he decided to emigrate from Czechoslovakia because of the political pressure against artists. He applied for political asylum in the UK, and as a consequence, he was deprived of citizenship and property and became a banned poet in Czechoslovakia. He endured life in exile with great difficulties, became ill with paranoid schizophrenia and he was hospitalized for the first time in London in the autumn of 1948. Between 1948 and 1954 Blatný cooperated with the BBC and Radio Free Europe. However, he was permanently hospitalized in a various psychiatric hospital in England from 1954. Despite his hospitalization, Blatný continued to write poems. Nevertheless, Blatný became almost “forgotten” in Czechoslovakia. According to Czech poet and dissident Zbyněk Hejda, only Blatný’s four books published in Czechoslovakia before 1948 were known in Czechoslovakia until the 1970s as there was no information about Blatný’s life and works in exile. However, Blatný’s emigration poetry was published in Canada by the Czechoslovak exile publishing house Sixty-Eight Publishers. In the 1980s, it was also published in Czechoslovakia as a samizdat. Blatný’s life story became internationally known mainly thanks to the German magazine Stern, which published an article about Blatný by Jürgen Serke in 1981. A year later, the BBC and the Norwegian television broadcasted a documentary film about this Czech poet. Blatný’s work could be published in Czechoslovakia again after 1989. Nowadays, Ivan Blatný is considered an important personality of Czechoslovak literature, his name appears in school books and is regularly a topic of students’ theses. In 2007, Miloš Orson Štědron’s music revue “Ivan Blatný Cabaret” was performed in the Comedy Theater in Prague. However, as stated recently by Czech journalist Aleš Palán, Blatný is “one of the last important poets of the twentieth-century not fully discovered by the reading audience.”
- Brno, Czech Republic
- London, United Kingdom
Petr Blažek is a historian specializing in 20th century Czechoslovak history, specifically the opposition and resistance against the communist regime, as well as Polish-Czech-Slovak relations. He studied history at the Institute of Czech History at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University, and he received a doctorate from the same faculty for the dissertation thesis, "History of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity. Relations of the Czechoslovak and Polish Opposition 1976-1989 ". Currently, he works as a specialist at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. He was the operator of the grant project "Committee on the Defense of Unjustly Prosecuted. The History of the Opposition Group (1078-1989) ", within which the website vons.cz was created.
Petr Blažek is also one of the volunteers who are part of the Center for Documentation of Totalitarian Regimes (CDTR).
- Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
Līvija Blūmfelde (1929-2016) was a department head at the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation from 1955. In 1961, she became the deputy director, and in 1970 the director of the museum. In these roles, she had an impact on the museum’s policy on the formation of collections. Although she was loyal to the regime, she understood the historical importance of artefacts that represented values incompatible with Soviet ones.
- Riga, Latvia