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Jan Chryzostom Korec 1924

underground priest in Czechoslovakia, targeted for his faith

Jan Chryzostom Korec

Jan Chryzostom Korec

Jan Korec was born in Bosany, in the diocese of Nitra on 22 January 1924. On 15 September 1939 he joined the Society of Jesus. From 1944 to 1950 he studied theology and philosophy. In 1950, after the abolition of religious orders, he was interned in a concentration camp. Released due to ill health, he found a job as a blue-collar worker in a chemical factory.
On 1 October 1950 he was secretly ordained a priest, and on 24 August 1951, at the age of just 27, he was secretly consecrated a bishop. In civilian life he was a labourer, a librarian and a night watchman. In 1955 the secret police discovered that he was a member of the underground Church and started to keep him under surveillance. In 1960 he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the sentence was made public, revealing that he was a bishop. In prison he was kept in solitary confinement for a long time: “This was surely the most terrible of punishments. However, necessity makes man ingenious so I found a very simple way to break my isolation. I imagined that I was doing spiritual exercises. I set myself an intense and a very detailed daily programme. I would start early with a good hour’s meditation, exactly like they used to do in the convent. Then, Holy Mass. (…). Then (…) my studies began: I went over theological and philosophical texts by heart, discussing them out loud as if I were at university, standing in front of my lecturers (…). Evening came without my having managed to complete the whole programme”. From his prison in Valdice (northern Bohemia) Korec asked several times to be rehabilitated, not pardoned. He wrote to the Minister of Justice: “I have not confessed, nor shall I ever confess to having consciously committed the offences against the law or the Constitution of which I have been accused. I have already expressed my opinion about the way this trial has been conducted and I shall not change it (…). I have begun my 12-year sentence convinced that I am the victim of an open reprisal undergone in conditions of absolute physical and legal impotence. Only criminals are punished with 12 years’ imprisonment... with my trial a disservice has been done to Slovak justice (…). Then I consider the charge of remaining loyal to the Pope an honour. My loyalty requires neither the approval nor the consent of anyone. Prison has in no way diminished this loyalty”.
Korec was freed on 20 February 1968 and subsequently rehabilitated. In 1974 his rehabilitation was declared void and he had to serve the remaining four years of his sentence. Released due to ill health, he lost his job as a street cleaner and for some time he remained unemployed; he later got a job unloading barrels in a chemical factory, where he remained until 1984. Between 1975 and 1979 he was stopped and interrogated 15 times. In the Eighties he was in close contact with representatives of the Slovak protestant Church and played a vital role liasing between the various spheres of Slovak dissent. In April 1980 he sent the President of the Federal Assembly a letter protesting against the methods used by the police, in 1983 he signed a petition condemning the repeated repression of Franciscan monks, in 1987 the Declaration against the deportation of Jews from Slovakia. From 6 February 1990 to 28 June 2005 he was archbishop of Nitra. Pope John Paul II raised him to the rank of cardinal on 28 June 1991.

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Dissidents of totalitarianism

in Central Europe's communist regimes

The so called "dissent" in the communist regimes of Eastern Europe cannot be just reduced to the simple notion of an "opposition" as its definition would suggest, but it should be above all considered as an attempt to build a "parallel polis" based on the responsibility of every citizen and aimed at occupying the spaces where cultural, social and human freedom are allowed, as wrenched from the totalitarian rule over the social fabric. Members of Charter 77 and Solidarnosc, such as Vaclav Havel, Radim Palous, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik, have always underlined that “the power of the powerless” consists in winning over fear through the empowerment made possible through a collective assumption of responsibility, witnessed by the exhortation to "live the truth" within a society based on lie. Ver often their "dissent" consisted in a way to claim the enforcement of laws, such as the ones about freedom of conscience, or the international agreements subscribed by their countries, such as the Helsinki Accords. This was the origin of a broad movement that was able to condition the behaviour and mentality of the public opinion, up to the point in which, letting aside Romania, the totalitarian rule was overthrown in a peaceful way, without shedding blood, with the rise of a new leading class recognized by the majority of the population and ready to take on government responsibilities.