Anna Streckova was born in Banská Bystrica in central Slovakia in 1947 and grew up in the nearby village of Selce with her parents and two brothers. Anna’s earliest memories of are working on her family’s farm during school vacations and the collectivization of the farm in the early 1950s. She was involved in amateur theatre as a student and has continued this hobby throughout her life. After graduating from high school, Anna began working at the Military Cartographic Institute. She says that working on maps of Western countries was like ‘being a spy’ and piqued her interest in the West. Anna worked as a cartographer for 14 years and says that she joined the Communist Party in the 1970s after years of ‘nagging’ by her supervisors. When the new dom kultúry [House of Culture] opened in Banská Bystrica, Anna became the head of the department of amateur art activities where she organized programs such as children’s theatre, puppet shows, storytelling, and folk activities. She says that many of these programs were closely watched by the secret police and other communist authorities to discourage subversive messages.
Anna’s first encounter with the West was in the Montreal airport on a layover on the way to Cuba. She returned to Canada (where an aunt and uncle lived) for a visit in 1989. In 1991, Anna decided to move to the United States due to ‘down-sizing’ at cultural institutions in Czechoslovakia (at this time she was working as a cultural and social coordinator for the Banská Bystrica region). A friend helped her get a job as a nanny and she settled in Washington, D.C. She connected with other Slovak émigrés and studied massage therapy. She also found translation work with the Czechoslovak Services Center and the Smithsonian and taught Slovak-language classes at the Foreign Services Institute. Since 2005, Anna has worked at the Slovak Embassy. She became an American citizen in 2002 and holds dual citizenship. She says that while she would like to stay in the United States and feels more ‘open and enthusiastic’ there, she does not know what the future holds.
“There was a group of people coming to the village and they were communist authorities from the district committee, and then regional; then a policeman who was like a guard, and one very thin, tall guy in a long leather coat. All the time, the same people. And sometimes they also took the chairman of the national committee, predseda národného výboru. But those people who were in any kind of position in the local government were practically part of the village, so they were just there because they had to be there, most of the time. I remember those episodes. They were coming every single day to persuade my father to sign up for membership in the cooperative farm and he just said ‘No, no, no’ and then he was annoyed. So he said, all the time to me, ‘Just stay outside and, when you see them, come and tell me, but well ahead of time so I can run away.’ So he ran to the closest forest to hide, or just somewhere in the fields. They even came into the fields after him.
“But he was not the only one. He was this kind of mid-size farmer, but there were also people who owned more land, so my father was talking to them and they kind of tried to resist. But it was so much pressure from the Communist Party, from I don’t know where else… I remember once, they even took my father at night. When they came at night to our house, we all were up and [wondering] what was going on. Then they broke up them up and [they signed]. But it was also this way when they came: ‘Oh, you can sign up because Jano already signed up,’ and he hadn’t. So they kind of created a trap for them. So this is how it happened.”
“Anybody couldn’t travel [to the West], but I could travel to the Soviet Union, Hungary, Bulgaria, Soviet Union, Romania, Soviet Union and the Soviet Union. So I was there about five times. I even led a group of children – I was there twice or three times – in Tula. I was with 32 children all the time; that was also interesting, to compare the life of our children and the Russian children. They were poor, poor children. We really stirred things up there. They were very unhappy having us there. We tried to provide our children a summer vacation, not drilling. They were there for having fun and not marching along the river Voronka, and the Russian children were so envious because they were tied up with the rules and regulations. We were supposed to follow it too, but it was horrible to follow.”
“I even entered the Communist Party at that time because they were nagging me – the same way they did to my father to get in the cooperative farm. It was just so annoying and I had enough. I didn’t do anything else afterwards; my life did not change a bit. I went to church still, every Sunday. This is what I think, that people… I know that maybe it was not right from the point of view of certain people, but not everybody could leave the country. And I couldn’t imagine that I would leave my country. I really couldn’t. So I just really tried to get the best of it. It doesn’t mean that I somehow used this. There were people who really get into the Communist Party for a certain purpose. But one thing was getting in; the other was getting out. You couldn’t get out, because otherwise it could be a very hard consequence on the whole family, on everybody.”
What happened that ultimately led you to join the Party? You were invited, presumably?
“No, there was not an invitation; there was forcing. I asked them ‘Why me?’ and they said ‘Oh, we need the people who really do a good job at work, who are responsible’ and so on and so on. But it was so strong. Every single day I was called to the big boss’s office or this contract guy – he was a chairman of the Party – so I had them all the time on my neck. They had certain quotas to get what they called intelligentsia and the blue-collars, so they had to fill up the quota for intelligentsia. It took them probably two years until I broke down and gave up.”
“At first, yes, I tried because I needed to communicate, because it was so frustrating and depressing. That’s why I was doing those translations because at least passively I came into contact with the language, and that was important for me. I couldn’t call all the time – it was too expensive; I couldn’t afford that – and Skype was not working at that time yet. And I didn’t know too many people. Mostly, those older people, but I was glad because I can learn from whomever. Whoever has something to offer, I am willing to get. It was my gain. But I knew many people, young people, and I go occasionally, but since I still have that [massage] business, not as intense as it was before, but I still have it because I have to, so I didn’t have too much time. What I miss is [acting] on stage and hiking. People here are working a lot, so it’s almost impossible to coordinate our time. It’s possible, but everybody tries to do their best and do what they have to do. I didn’t go too much; I was once in the Shenandoah Valley and that was it for hiking. So that’s what I miss. I miss rocks very much.”