• Kester Eddy

Antall, Havel, Iliescu Face Listeners' Questions on BBC World Service - plus the "Slovenian Gandhi"

Photos: (Left to Right) Hungarian PM József Antall, Czechoslovak President Václav Havel and Romanian President Ion Illiescu. Photos from in 1991, 1992 and 1995 respectively.

One of the great, unexpected delights of writing this blog is the feedback on posts from knowledgeable readers, and reminders of events that otherwise would be lost in the proverbial mists of time - unknown except to a small circle of people as memories fade.

So, for example, one reader wrote to me concerning Janez Drnovšek, the Slovenian PM whose visage as photo number 2 of the mosaic in KesterTester 35 was compared to that of Vladimir Lenin.

In the pic (from 1995, I think) he certainly could act as the stand-in for any Lenin film, but while Drnovšek was an 'interesting' character (some might say eccentric), he was almost the diametrical opposite to the fiery Red revolutionary.

In the early 2000s, partly as a result of being diagnosed with kidney cancer, Drnovšek took up the life of a recluse, withdrew from party politics completely, became a vegan and moved out of Ljubljana to live in the countryside.


Photo: The "Slovenian Gandhi". Critics might note that, rather like the Mahatma, Drnovšek was not all saint. According to Wikipedia, he discovered in 2005 that he had fathered a daughter from an ealier liason. .


His unconventional lifestyle – at least for the president of a European nation – prompted one political commentator to dub him "Slovenia's Gandhi". (I wonder if he ever met Prince Charles – they should have got on swimmingly.)

More practically, as my friend recalled, Drnovšek later came out of his shell somewhat and in 2006 publicly criticised the treatment of the Strojans, a Romani family from Ambrus [a village 45 km south-east of Ljubljana], where the authorities had forced them to relocate. “He went to Ambrus and defended the Roma community, saying “We are all people, aren't we?” “


Indeed, there is still a posting on the Slovenian President's website, where a statement from Drnovšek reads (in part):


May the sympathetic resolution of the issue of the permanent safety of the Strojans and their children be our first serious challenge to begin strengthening relationships in local communities in understanding, trust, respect, tolerance, safety, justice and legality among all the inhabitants. We must not allow people to succumb to intolerance, xenophobia, racial and other hatred or even violence.


https://www.bivsi-predsednik.si/up-rs/2002-2007/jd-ang.nsf/dokumentiweb/3DF0040C90C97AEDC125722C0049412D?OpenDocument


Such words were hardly the stuff of the ruthless Lenin.

This morning, I was also reminded that in September-October 1990, BBC World Service Radio arranged for live phone-in programmes with leaders from the newly democratic nations of central-eastern Europe. As I remember, these were broadcast on Sunday afternoons, and the first was with Vaclav Havel.


Sadly, I can't remember any of the topics raised, and I can't find any links or even references to this series on the internet, but Havel came over as a really intelligent, thoughtful person, keen to see what was then still Czechoslovakia progress to becoming a stable, prosperous European republic for all its citizens.


The next week's programme featured Ion Illiescu, President of Romania. It could hardly have been more different! Most of the listeners phoning in were from Romania, and from the very start, they all hammered home the same point in one way or another, which was, essentially: “Mr President, you've been a commie all your life and career, working your way to near the top of the Communist Party of Romania, which committed despicable crimes against the people it was supposed to serve without a break, from 1945 to 1989, while people like you lived in luxury. How can we trust you and why should the west trust you?”

Illiescu answered the first questioner along the lines of: “I saw that what President Ceausescu was doing was wrong, and I tried to ameliorate the worst of his policies. For this, I was sent into a kind of internal exile, being made president of the Iasi central committee.”


Iasi, then Romania's second largest city, is located far to the north of Bucharest, in Romania's north-east, and in truth, he was sent there, so it sounded at least semi-plausible.

At least until a listener from Iasi was put on the line, who then went on to list allegations of Illiescu's political crimes when in charge of the city.

In truth, I have little idea regarding Illiescu's guilt or otherwise, but after this experience, I have a feeling he wouldn't exactly be asking to volunteer for another BBC phone-in programme in a hurry.


Soon afterwards, Hungarian PM József Antall sat in the interviewee's chair. I'm really sorry, I put his photo into a new montage thinking I could find some information on what he said – but I can't. And I've forgotten whatever I heard. Antall spoke in Hungarian, through an interpreter, which kind of didn't help the spontaneity. Of course, nobody could accuse him of being a former communist, so his interview lacked the furor of the Iliescu show, but neither did it grip the listener – at least not yours truly – with any wisdom, political or philosophical brilliance.


Poor Antall, since he had only recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a kind of cancer, and the country was going through a massive economic contraction, it's understandable he was not on top of the world.


Perhaps a reader will remember some of this interview and remind us of his or her impressions.

I didn't hear any of the other interviews in the series, but I presume there was one with Lech Walwesa. As of 1990, that would then have been about the lot, as the USSR was still hobbling along and Yugoslavia was yet to disintegrate. But I'm open to anyone's comments who remembers.

Speaking of Slovenia, I'm informed there's a mini-film festival towards the end of this week from the Alpine state of fewer than 2 million. So here are some details.

May 6 (Thursday) at 8:30PM – I am Frenk Trailer: https://vimeo.com/344751865

May 7 (Friday) at 8:30PM – Stories from the Chestnut Woods Trailer: https://vimeo.com/356351205

May 8 (Saturday) at 8:30PM – Half-Sister Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIqTz08-2Qg


Films may be played only on devices using a Hungarian IP address (Please note AF, foreign VPNs won't work).


The films will be screened in original language with English and Hungarian subtitles

Toldi Mozi: https://film.artmozi.hu/szloven-filmnapok-2021/

Tickets: HUF 1,000.


Have a safe week – oh yes, we've passed the 4m vaccination mark, so a whole load of lockdown restrictions have been eased. As it says in English:

When the number of vaccinated people reaches 4 million, immunity certificate holders will be able to visit theaters, cinemas, gyms, swimming pools, zoos, museums, libraries and sports events. Hotels and the indoor premises of restaurants may also welcome guests who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

https://abouthungary.hu/news-in-brief/coronavirus-heres-the-latest

Which is great, except I've had two jabs, but there is no sign of my 'immunity certificate'.

Well, my inoculations went well: I suppose one can't expect everything.

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