Pavol Dzacko was born in 1974 in Bratislava. Before the Velvet Revolution, Pavol’s father, Štefan, worked in an agricultural processing center; following the Revolution, he took a job providing IT services for a bank. Pavol’s mother, Dagmar, was a teacher who, following the Revolution, began teaching French at a small college. Pavol grew up the oldest of five siblings. When he was two, the family moved to Košice for his father’s job. As a boy, Pavol was interested in electronics and heavy metal music; he says his two hobbies intersected when he created homemade amplifiers and other devices for his friends. Pavol says that although his day-to-day life did not immediately change after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, he remembers the time to be one of ‘excitement.’ He attended technical high school and studied computer programming at the Technical University of Košice. Upon his graduation in 1997, Pavol moved to Bratislava where he served one year in the military and simultaneously worked as a janitor at the financial and insurance firm AXA. At AXA (which was contracting for CitiBank), Pavol moved into IT development and, later, became a manager.
In 2002, two of Pavol’s friends who had plans to move to Canada convinced Pavol to join them; Pavol says that he had always thought of Canada as a place of freedom and nature, but that he hadn’t given much prior thought to moving there. He applied for a permanent resident visa which he received less than two months later; he says this was an unusually short waiting period. He and his wife arrived in Toronto where Pavol quickly found a job in a warehouse. After nine months of applying for jobs in his field, he began working for the Bank of Montreal in 2003 and has remained there ever since. Pavol is active in the Slovak community in Toronto, serving on the boards of several organizations including the Slovak House in Toronto and the Canadian Slovak Institute. He is the founder of Canada SK Entertainment, an organization which brings Slovak groups to perform in Canada and the United States. A dual citizen of Canada and Slovakia, Pavol speaks Slovak at home with his wife and keeps Slovak holiday traditions. He lives in Toronto.
“I spent most of my time, not in front of the computer because there were no publicly available computers in those days, but my hobby was to create small electronic devices – radios, blinking stuff, anything which would create a weird noise – little gizmos like that. Very interesting devices in those days, and very popular, were amplifiers, because every good musician needs amplifiers and boosters and all these kinds of devices. So I became famous for my electric guitar specialized devices among my friends.”
“I was in class when it happened. Suddenly everybody went out. Everybody spent a couple of days, a couple of nights, on the streets, and we knew it was over. You knew from the beginning it was over. There was a lot of excitement because now we recognize multiple parties, multiple goals and strategies for how to make people happy in politics. Those days there was only one option – them, Communists, or not them. So I guess it was kind of a surprise for everybody when we realized that we are suddenly free, ok, and what next? Nobody thought of ‘what next?’ means. In the moment we ran away from the school and spent the nights on the street.”
“I was with the Ministry of Defense in Bratislava with an intelligence group, screening through all kinds of newspapers, media, TV shows, and my role was basically to capture any single news which was related to the Army. So my work day was starting at 4:00 a.m. and I was done about noon, and I had another eight hours to have a second job – which was out of the Army in a company named AXA. That’s how I started there. It was interesting in the terms that it was something ‘secret,’ so I felt important. Plus, I didn’t have to shovel roads and run in circles for ten hours and funny stuff like that. I was treated as a professional. So I wouldn’t say it was quite easy, but it was definitely easier than 99 percent of other guys serving in the Army.”
Move to Canada
“I landed in Toronto, and my first feeling when I was landing was ‘Oh my gosh. What did I do?’ I realized in that very moment ‘Yes, this is a remote country; yes, English is the language here; yes, I’m alone; yes, I don’t have a job; yes, I don’t know anybody.’ That was the feeling – frustrating.”
So what happened next?
“I never became homesick, that’s the first thing. Plus, I’m not a person who would sit home and wait for a miracle, so I got a job after two weeks. I worked in a warehouse picking fruits and vegetables, loading trucks. Of course I was looking for a job in my area, but I had to pay the bills. There was rent, there was everything else, so I had to make sure that I had income. So I spent nine months in that warehouse until I found a job.”
“It is a very easy question with a very easy answer. Our lives are like a moving window of 20, 30, 40 years? Nobody knows, right? When you’re gone, whatever you brought to this life is gone unless somebody saves it. Slovak people in Canada came a long, long time ago; they’re dying, everybody will pass away eventually, so if we don’t save what was valuable to them, what was valuable to the community, those days will be gone. There are plenty of historical documents dying in somebody’s basement being flooded, being lost, being thrown away, and the purpose of what we do is to save it. To save it not just for us, but for the future so we know that Slovaks were here, they were not an insignificant group, they did huge things and all these things will not be lost.”
Do you think sometimes that people who are expatriates or people who are abroad have a different relationship to their own cultural heritage than people who stay in their country?
“Absolutely, because staying in a country, you don’t feel the gravity of the situation. In the country, you still speak the same language, you see all those folk groups – professional ones – performing, and you don’t have a feeling that you’re losing something or that there is something that may be lost or forgotten. Away from home, you feel it. Because if a culture is not preserved, people assimilate with native people – which is normal – and after a couple generations there wouldn’t be any Slovaks here.”