Eva Jurinova was born in Žilina in northwestern Slovakia in 1979. Her mother L’udmila is a pediatric neurologist and her father Vladimír is a nuclear physicist who, prior to the Velvet Revolution, worked in the Ministry of Health. He now heads the radiation protection section of the public health authority of Slovakia. Eva started school in Trnava and later moved with her family to Bratislava. She says that her childhood was ‘beautiful’ and ‘pure’ and that she spent a lot of time visiting her grandparents, who lived in more rural parts of the country. She was an active child and participated in sports, dance, and theatre. Eva was ten at the time of Velvet Revolution in November 1989 and says that although her parents’ careers improved, she did not notice any immediate changes. In 1997, Eva spent one year of high school studying abroad in Richmond, Virginia. Upon her return to Slovakia, she made plans to move back to the United States.
Eva graduated high school and enrolled in an international program through Comenius University which allowed her to study at affiliate colleges in the United States while traveling back to Slovakia to take exams. While in Richmond, Eva had been given a modeling contract and when she returned to the U.S. she settled in New York to pursue modeling. She also became a project manager and marketing director for a brand of luxury watches. Eva received an MBA from Columbia University. She now owns a branding and licensing firm and does PR consulting for luxury watches and jewelry.
Upon her return to the United States, Eva made friends with a number of fellow Slovak-Americans and émigrés and began organizing small cultural events and get-togethers. One of these events was attended by the newly-appointed Slovak consul general who expressed an interest in collaborating with Eva to formalize these events. She helped to form the non-profit +421 Foundation and is co-president of the organization, whose biggest event is Slovak Fashion Night. Eva says that while Slovakia will always be her home, she is glad to have had opportunities in the United States that have helped shaped who she is. Today, she lives in Los Angeles, California.
“My grandparents lived in Kysuce and Orava, these two beautiful mountainous regions, so I spent most of my childhood there and the memories are just beautiful because it was the nature, the animals, the kindness and love of my grandparents. And of course my parents, but they were studying and getting their doctorates, so I was spending a lot of time with my grandparents and cousins. Both sets of grandparents had huge yards, animals – chickens, cows, geese, and ducks – so it was very farm-like and I loved it. I learned a lot about plants and animals and people and love.”
Were you allowed to run wild there?
“Oh yeah, of course! And we would go to the forest, mushroom picking, blackberry, blueberry picking. It was wonderful, really.
“Childhood in former Czechoslovakia was so pure. I was not touched by anything I learned later or read in newspapers about oppression during communism. I definitely felt very secure and safe and all those clichés about communism, that everybody is equal and there is no crime. I really felt that. It was a great level of security, and I really enjoyed that and I don’t see that anymore nowadays, I’m sorry to say.”
“Since my parents were scientists, they tried to be neutral. They were raised Catholic and both of my grandparents were active participants in the church, but since they were living in remote parts of Slovakia, it never really had an effect on my parents’ careers, and my parents were always going to church when we went to visit my grandparents; they went to mass and, yet, they had good positions. It never really impacted them. My dad had a leading position at the Ministry of Health; my mom was a very accomplished doctor. Back then, scientists didn’t really make much money and didn’t have recognition in our society, and I remember my parents complaining about that and my mom sometimes feeling like she was a rag that everybody was wiping their feet on. She would make more comments like that, especially dealing with patients who were workers, plumbers, and who were treating her not very nicely. I recall some memories like that.”
So did life for your family change for better after the Revolution?
“Yes, absolutely. My mom opened a private practice and my dad became a board member of all the multinational organizations, from the UN to the World Health Organization. They’d been traveling always because my dad had to travel for work, even before [the Revolution]. The government would send him on certain missions, and my mom would go along with him sometimes; she would get her visa permit. But, of course, after communism collapsed, my parents were taking full advantage of exploring the world and aligning it with their careers.”
Were your parents in the Communist Party?
“Yes they were. Not active participants, but they understood that if they wanted to advance, or even be functional somehow, they had to do that. It somehow worked out. We would still go to church when we went to visit my grandparents, and then they would be part of the Communist Party and somehow they didn’t think much about it. They just did what they had to do to survive and provide a healthy and happy environment for us.”
Return to America
“It’s all about the people you meet and the activities you put yourself in, and I felt like that was my new home. Yes, I was very lucky. I met some people who are stimulating and a job that was very inspirational. So it was a flow. I didn’t make the cognitive decision ‘I am going to stay here.’ I just stayed because it was a no-brainer. Everything just fell into place, and with Grimoldi, it was a career that just…It was an international firm, so everything happened so fast. We were working with celebrities of the top format so it was just so exciting that one day you wake up and ‘Oh! It’s five years later.’ So it just felt very organic and natural to stay and be here.”
“I had some celebrity friends from Slovakia, so they would come and visit and they were always asking about possibilities of making it here or presenting their works here. So I had a lot of contacts in the music and entertainment industry, so I would try to help them and then through friends – I became friends with a lot of Slovak-Americans and Slovaks living or working in New York, especially – we started organizing little events for my friends coming from Slovakia. And it was very unofficial; it was always just a gathering for the community – the New York friends and the European friends. But then, I think the epiphany came when the first Consul General came to New York – Ivan Surkoš of Slovakia – and the Consulate General was opened, and the Consul General and his wife came to one of these concerts I organized. It was actually for my friend Misha who was a famous singer in Slovakia. And they were like ‘Wow, look at this. It’s so many people and an international crowd. How did you pull this together?’ And that was actually in cooperation with Slovak Info and a friend of mine, Otto Raček, who is also a very active Slovak-American. And the question was how can we institutionalize and enhance these activities? So the question was answered with two possibilities: one is to establish a non-profit organization that would help us obtain funding and would help to really attain volunteers and the whole community of artists and performers and other diplomats who are wanting to be active. And the second was for my ability to become part of a consulate team. So I’ve established, together with the Consul General’s wife, L’ubica, this non-profit organization called the +421 Foundation.”
“We organized many small exhibitions, concerts, book presentations, film festivals that the following year started to grow and they were not so small anymore. So one hundred people that were attending the first year became three to five hundred to fifteen hundred this year. And I do have to depict the biggest – and my favorite program – which is called Slovak Fashion Night.”
That’s the signature event, correct?
“That is. Not only because I used to be in fashion, but because it’s New York. Fashion is the breathing organism of the city, or one of the major industries in the city; and of course it’s very glamorous, models are always very attractive, and we have a very wide scope of guests, so we decided to organize a fashion show. I had to convince the Consul General and the whole team who, at the beginning, was very hesitant to do that, but eventually gave in, and the next thing you know, Slovak Fashion Night becomes a huge event where we get approached by our Austrian colleagues or other European consulates or non-European consulates or other colleagues in the cultural field to co-produce events with them, and it’s very pleasing. Also, since it’s such a popular program, it provides a platform where we can really introduce not just our upcoming and talented fashion designers from Slovakia, but also other performing artists like dancers, singers, photographers, visual artists, moderators. We’ve been able to compile a whole program of different art sections and put it all together and create one huge show that’s definitely, very surprisingly, great.
“It attracts Slovaks living here or other emigrants who have forgotten how Slovakia is and how it’s been growing and evolving, and this is an opportunity for them to come and see, and they’re like ‘Wow, we have all this? This is amazing!’ And I’m very happy to be able to provide this reality check, or this educational aspect in raising awareness about what’s going on in Slovakia and how Slovakia is growing. Also, culture, in my opinion – and this is my little phrase I use every time I promote Slovakia or what we do – culture is the best marketing tool to promote Slovakia as an economic or investment destination, and to help us form mutually beneficial relations, not only in the cultural sphere, but in the economic and beyond as well. So yes, we do invite all of the investors or potential business partners for Slovakia to these beautiful events, and strengthen their relationships. Show them how wonderful we are and what we can do.”
“It’s a constant aspiration of ours, and we do bring in the traditional aspect of Slovakia and all those features that you mentioned – the folklore, the beautiful traditional embroidery, the beautiful music and dances and traditional attires of Slovakia – but that’s not what we want to showcase only because that’s something that’s always been there and we’ve always been showing it in the past. But we bring the old and the new and bridge the modern, evolving, ascending culture and the arts that Slovakia is, as a modern, world-leading country. That we definitely are not stuck in the past or all we have are the wooden dolls and corn dolls and those beautiful, but yet older, traditions. So we bring the old and the new, and our fashion shows have folklore dances or the demonstration and presentation of the embroidery or the traditional costume, and I think it’s just a fun and very innovative way to connect both worlds. I think our guests can relate to that and have been relating to that very well. It’s refreshing, in my opinion.”
“It’s very simple and pure in a sense, because, when I come home to Slovakia, I just feel a sense of belonging. This really deep, gut feeling that that’s my home and that’s where I’m from, and the nature, the feel, the essence, the flair – that’s something that will always be me, my true essence. And when I am in the U.S., especially New York or Los Angeles – I’ve been spending a lot of time in Los Angeles because of my company that’s based there – I feel like this is great, this is where I have my house and my friends, but it’s sort of like a pied-a-terre. It’s not the true house, the true home. So, Slovakia will always be my home, and I hope I will be able to marry someone or find someone who will be either European or Slovakian or somehow will always be able to have that home with me there, too. I don’t have a vision how yet, but I know it’s possible to maybe have an international home, but always be able to spend a certain amount of time there.”
“I think it doesn’t matter whether it’s communism or it’s now or democracy or this era or the other era. It’s about individuality and who we resonate with or what we resonate with, and I as an individual definitely resonated with and found my perfect match in the USA and found my way to create another realization and self-actualization, and that’s what I think is wonderful about the world being open and the world being your oyster. But, my roots will always be in Slovakia and I will always come there and it’s always my home. But America really allowed to become who I am becoming. Who I feel that I can identify with. Who I can understand. And I’m very grateful for that.”