One of the most fascinating discoveries I’ve made in working on my memoir is the Detská encyclopédia, published in Czechoslovakia first in the early 60s and re-issued in the early 80s. Author Říha was director of the State Publishing House for Children’s Literature from the late 50s (right after the show trials died down) through 1967, just before the Prague Spring, but he became part of the leadership of “normalized” Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact invasion—all of which is to say, he probably was a true believer in the red dawn. The encyclopedia he penned for children is charmingly written, lavishly illustrated, and laced with all kinds of good moral instruction—and a few well-placed threats—for the youth of the socialist tomorrow. Here are my own translations of a few of my favorite entries. The entry name is in Slovak and I’ve put the English equivalent in bold within the article itself.
Agronóm. An agronomist tests the ripeness of the grain. The kernel is getting hard now. Tomorrow the combines will come to the field. The agronomist works on a single farmer’s collective or on state property. He is in charge of crop production. He determines how one needs to fertilize the field, makes a plan for the crops, sees to the reproduction of the seed, and takes care of sowing, reaping, hoeing, and gathering the sugar beets, potatoes, and vegetables. He studies new ways of doing agricultural work and takes care that the yields of the fields get bigger. When the crops are not abundant, the collective workers ask, “Agronomist, how could that be?” The agronomist studies at agricultural school. It is a beautiful and healthy vocation.
Armáda. What would I like to be as a soldier? Today a foot soldier, tomorrow a gunner, the day after tomorrow a tank driver, and last of all a pilot. I’d know everything! Our republic has an army to defend the country against the enemy. The main commander is the president of the republic. The army has various types of weapons: the infantry, the artillery, the tank sections, the airforce, engineers, also rockets. The border divisions of the army are on our borders and protect them. Other divisions are in barracks and in training camps and practice fighting in every way. We don’t want to go to war with anyone, but if it were necessary, we will defend what is ours.
Bieda. Who lives in poverty? Anyone who goes hungry, doesn’t have anything to wear, and lives badly. During our first republic there were a lot of people among us who lived in poverty. Most of them were among the unemployed, those who cannot find work. They lived in makeshift shacks, went around poorly dressed, and ate whatever they could find. Today among us you never hear that someone goes hungry, and people go about well-dressed. But that does not mean that all citizens of our republic have enough of everything they need to live. We have difficulties, especially with living space. We are building new houses, we are building whole housing developments, but we still don’t have enough apartments.
Bohatstvo. Our republic is rich. It also has hard-working people. Our country has really great wealth: fertile fields, parks, forests, coal mines, deposits of iron ore and other minerals, factories, baths, beautiful cities and towns… Everything belongs to our people. The profit from this wealth is distributed according to work. The miner, who unearths more coal, receives more pay. The combine driver, who reaps more crops and without loss, receives a bigger reward. In our state the proverb applies: without work there’s no cake (bez práce nie sú koláče). Our wealth therefore is not only in what nature gives us but also in good work.
Erb. The coat-of-arms was the emblem of the aristocrats. Some cities use the coats-of-arms of yesteryear even today. Usually it was the king who meted out aristocratic rank and coats-of-arms. Whatever was on the coat-of-arms—either a reminder of some heroic exploit from the family history or some quality of the owner—was set upon whatever touched his property. So, for example, the people of Ružomberok had on their coat-of-arms a five-petaled rose. The Schwarzenbergs had a white swan, the Pálffys a deer on a wheel. The city of Bratislava has for its sign three castle towers with a barred gate (portcullis). There are also new signs. For example, the five-pointed star with a hammer and sickle is the sign of the communist party. The hammer and sickle represenent the union of workers and farmers. Times have changed: at one time only the aristocrats had coats-of-arms; today the working people have their own sign. And it is a sign that the whole world recognizes!
Kolektív. A collective is not just an ordinary group of people. A collective wants to make something properly. People today mainly work in collectives: farmers in cooperatives, workers in plants, builders in teams, scientists in institutes, journalists in editorial offices. A collective can do more than an individual. A member of a collective usually works on only one job that he has mastered best. Individuals mutually complement one another and the products of the collective are better. In a collective the work goes faster, so they can produce more. For work in a collective it is necessary to have good personal qualities like modesty, hard-workingness, sociability, friendliness, and the effort to help your colleague. In a collective a person who is as puffed up as a pigeon, offensive, immodest, unfriendly, and selfish will not make it. For such people there should be a separate collective, where they could inflict their qualities on one another.
Kostol. In many of our villages and towns there are churches. The biggest church is called a temple or a cathedral. Some of them are beautiful architectural monuments, for example the temple of St. Vitus in Prague or the cathedral of St. Martin in Bratislava. There are still people who go to church to pray. They seek comfort there. Other people in churches are admiring their architectural beauty and sculptural and painted decorations. And there are still other people who never got into churches at all. Everyone does what he likes. The main thing is for a person to be hard-working and honorable.
Odvaha. Who is courageous? The one who knows how to overcome fear and danger. I’ve already read a lot about the courage of Soviet soldiers in the Second World War, about the courage of the Slovak partisans, about the courage of the Czech people during the occupation. But I still don’t know if I myself am courageous or only an ordinary wimp. I’ve never had the opportunity to test myself. It’s true that I wasn’t afraid to go down the street when boys were watching me, and it’s true that I’m not afraid of Rex, the dog, whom everybody would rather avoid, and also I’m not afraid to go to the blackboard even when I don’t know the answer. But that’s not real courage. That is only completely ordinary boyish boldness. I only wish that I grow up to be a brave and courageous person who is not intimidated and who knows how to stand up against every danger. [Note: the illustration shows men and soldiers with the Czechoslovak flag flying behind piles of rubble and weapons holding up a sign that says in Czech, “Over our dead bodies!”]
Sovietsky zväz. The Soviet Union is the first socialist state in the world. It is a state of workers and farmers, who in the October Revolution in the year 1917 took power in Russia and then formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. According to area, it is the largest state in the world. It stretches from eastern Europe to northern and central Asia. Lowlands predominate in it. The most famous mountain chain is the Urals, but the biggest mountain chains are in the south of the state. The water network is very rich. The USSR has many big rivers and lakes. Also the forested area is gigantic. The climate is very varied. For example, in northern Siberia it is very cold, in central Asia it is hot, and the European parts are rather cool. The mineral wealth of the Soviet Union is mind-boggling. There is especially a lot of iron ore, coal, oil, gas, and colored and costly metals. The Soviet Union builds its own agriculture according to plans established in advance. Already today it has highly developed industry. The farmers’ collectives are also developing. The Soviet Union trades with the whole world, especially with socialist states. It is our big friend and protector. In the Soviet Union there live about 265 million people. More than half of that amount is made up of Russians. The capital city is Moscow. It has about 8 million people. The Soviet Union consists of 15 federal republics, which are further divided into smaller self-administering units. The biggest organ of state power is the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The Soviet Union is the main advocate of peaceful coexistence in the whole world. [Note: the illustration is a collage of sunflowers, the Soviet flag, a map, a church with steeple, the Kremlin, mountains, a huge dam, an airplane, a forest, and factories.]