Jozef Chrena

* 1948  

  • “Many arrangements preceded that; we had to go to the district and to Bratislava. We prepared posters; we sent them to newspapers and to radio. About 15 thousand people came there that day. The first aid as well as firefighters were present, too. People went on horses, in folk costumes. This 15-thousand-mass of people moved even before we were near Morava River. We were curious how this river looked like. Although we lived nearby, we never saw it. It was arranged with the Austrian side that the meeting should take place app. at noon. By the Morava River, there were about thousand people present also from Austria. A brass band played music from their side, and we had our brass band on Slovak side as well. Austrians sailed on boats to meet us – there was an Austrian mayor Mr. Gajda, a priest from Hohenau, and also five or six Austrian local representatives. We festively hosted them; girls and boys in the folk costumes treated them with bread and salt, and of course, also with slivovitz (plum vodka). The brass band played and the atmosphere was amazing!”

  • “There were also state security members present, so-called kontráši (slang expression for members of military counter-intelligence) and we pulled their leg a bit. One of my jokes almost didn’t turn out. They were spying all the time. Once there was a new kontráš – coming from the east – who was geared towards me one night. He wanted me to prove my identity when I stopped for one beer after service one summer evening. He asked me to show him my identity card. However, I knew who he was, so I didn’t want to give it to him. I was still his target so I decide to play a little with him. I went to him and said: ‘Listen, you are spying on me, I come from here, from Moravský Svätý Ján, but before I came here, there was some guy asking me in weak German language how to get to Austrian borders.’ He said: ‘And what did you tell him?’ ‘I showed him, because you picked on me who lives here since childhood and you miss many diversionists!’ ‘And which way did he run?’ he asked me. ‘Well, he ran this way, towards the borders.’ This kontráš had to be some kind of fanatic, as he started running and he immediately called his unit through walkie-talkie. Other men were laughing: ‘What a lesson you gave him!’ We kidding together with my friend, he was there as well. But as I came home and got to bed, suddenly someone rang the bell. There was a commander of the border guard asking me how the diversionist looked like. That was time when I realized it wasn’t fun anymore; somehow I overplayed my hand. Well, I had to play on as I couldn’t take it back. I lay back down to bed, but in about an hour there was some major from Malacky with our commander and they were suspecting me of making the whole story up. They said they were on alert from Devín to Lanžhot and that they mobilized everything. They asked me to describe all I knew once again. They kept coming to talk to me until morning, when some colonel from Bratislava came. He interrogated me as well and I knew I had to insist on my made up version since nobody could prove if some man really asked me about the way or not. So I insisted on my claims although it seemed to be endless. Yet in two days they called off the emergency service and somehow it calmed down. This happened approximately half year – four or five months – before the November 1989, before the revolution.”

  • “I was so enthusiastic about building up back then Czecho-Slovakia just to be able to catch up with Austria. We even filled in some questionnaire: ‘When do you think we might be able to catch up with Austria? In one year, in three, five or seven years?’ Well, we thought seven years was too long. ‘By that time we surely pass them!’ So I wrote we would catch up with them in three years.”

  • “Once I went to paint to Devín, to Devín Castle. It was truly grotesque as they kept driving me out from there. I went to the top of the castle and I wanted to paint panorama to Morava, Danube and there would be also a little part of Austrian side. But a soldier came to me and said I had to turn my stand and paint only the Slovak side of the country. I was really angry! I promised him to do as he said; I began to paint only the Slovak side but when he left, of course I painted also the Austrian part. This kind of meaningless orders they had!”

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    Moravský Svätý Ján, 11.12.2013

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There are many positives as well as negatives; personally I see more positives - we can move freely

Jozef Chrena at The March of Freedom
Jozef Chrena at The March of Freedom
zdroj: archív Jozefa Chrenu

Jozef Chrena was born on March 10, 1948 in Moravský Svätý Ján. He was growing up together with his three brothers. In their family there was natural resistance against the communist regime, which beside other facts originated also in the reality that in 1950s the regime confiscated their only cow. Since his childhood Jozef Chrena felt to be artistically talented and after the elementary school he wanted to continue his studies at famous Bratislava‘s School of Art Industry (today it is the Jozef Vydra‘s School of Applied Arts in Bratislava). However, he wasn‘t accepted. Since he didn‘t have chance to do art professionally, after finishing the secondary school he worked in various professions; during the second half of 1980s he was an ambulance driver. Besides his regular work, in his privacy, he devoted himself to landscape painting. During the revolutionary days of November 1989 Jozef Chrena decided to help to fight for freedom. In Moravský Svätý Ján in a public place he posted a self-painted poster informing about the upcoming nationwide general strike, demand of free elections and about an end of the communist tyranny. In the following days and weeks, also despite of telephonic and written threatening of physical liquidation, he was engaged in organizing local manifestations and preparations for establishing the public party with democratic program. Together with his friends they decided to organize a manifestation march towards the Morava River, where they wanted to carry out a friendly meeting with citizens of the neighboring Austrian village Hohenau. After solving many problems, on December 30, 1989 they managed to organize a March of Freedom, which on a Slovak side attended approximately 15 000 people. As majority of former Czecho-Slovakia‘s citizens, also Jozef Chrena was hoping for better development of future after the year 1989. In spite of various disappointments in events that happened during the following years, he is still convinced that the fall of the communist regime and gaining back freedom has been a great benefit for the society. Today Jozef Chrena is a respected painter.