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Border Ahead! Devín Behind the Iron Curtain 1948–1989 is an exhibition that revisits disturbing memories of communist totalitarianism

Bratislava, May 17, 2024: The Bratislava City Museum presents a new exhibition, Border Ahead! Devín Behind the Iron Curtain 1948–1989, focusing on the history of Devín Castle and its surroundings as it relates to the Iron Curtain. As we mark the 35th anniversary of the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, it is crucial to remember that the democracy and freedom we enjoy today are neither automatic nor guaranteed to last forever.

The exhibition Border Ahead! Devín Behind the Iron Curtain 1948–1989 aims to document the increasing restrictions on freedom of movement following the February coup in 1948, when the Communist Party seized power in Czechoslovakia. It details the impact of these restrictions on the lives of Slovaks, particularly those in Devín, which became virtually inaccessible in the 1950s. The exhibition focuses on the status of Devín Castle during the communist regime and the military measures imposed on the border with Austria. Additionally, it includes accounts of specific escape attempts across the Devín section of the state border.

At a time when the values of democracy in Europe are often questioned, it is all the more important to remember the impacts of totalitarian regimes on the lives of ordinary people. “Our intention is to draw visitors’ attention to the history of the second half of the 20th century at Devín Castle. Through an expert and critical evaluation of this period in the specific context of Devín, we aim to contribute to the public debate on modern Slovak history and strengthen the values of democracy, freedom, and tolerance,” says Milan Zálešák, head of Devín Castle and curator of the exhibition.

The Iron Curtain, which divided Europe into two hostile blocs in the 20th century, is one of the most recognizable symbols of the Cold War. It primarily represented an economic and political barrier between the democratic West and the communist East, but in the countries of the Soviet bloc, it also had a physical form that brutally interfered with the lives of the population. In addition to curtailing freedom of expression, assembly, and the media, freedom of movement was significantly restricted in these countries. Today, free travel, including passport-free travel within the Schengen area, is common. During the socialist era, it was an unattainable dream.

“In communist Czechoslovakia, restrictions on the right to free travel were introduced shortly after the February 1948 coup d’état. The state leadership quickly allocated armed forces specifically for the protection of the state border, and the first roadblocks were soon erected on the western borders,” explains Milan Zálešák.

In July 1951, the law “for the protection of state borders” was adopted, which definitively erected the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. This law led to the creation of a “border zone” and a “forbidden zone” in the border regions, where entry was controlled by the Border Guard, whose members were authorized to use weapons even against unarmed persons. During the entire period of the Border Guard’s operation, from 1951 to 1989, at least 7,500 people were detained for attempting to illegally cross the Slovak-Austrian border, with more than 90 percent attempting to cross into Austria. At least 42 people died at the border. This information is confirmed by research conducted by the Nation’s Memory Institute, a co-organizer of the exhibition. The NMI is dedicated to uncovering the crimes committed against the population of Slovakia by totalitarian regimes, both fascist and communist.

Authentic documents detailing the activities of the Border Guard in Slovakia from 1951 to 1989 were used in the preparation of the exhibition. These documents are stored and preserved in the NMI Archives. Anyone interested can freely study them here and thus easily verify all the facts presented in the exhibition,” said Peter Mikle, Director of the NMI Archives and the main author of the exhibition texts, who also lent items from his private collection for the exhibition.

 

Duration of the exhibition: from May 18, 2024, with an expected duration until the end of 2025

 

Credits:

Theme, Script and Curatorial Concept: Milan Zálešák
Texts and Research: Peter Mikle, Milan Zálešák, Peter Jašek
Expert Review: Lenka Lubušká
Architectural Design: Viktor Agócs, Linda Mendelová
Graphic Design: Simona Hojsíková, Magda Scheryová
Proofreading: Soňa Gregorová
English Translation: Jana Levická
Production: Linda Mendelová, Michal Nosek
Installation: SPF Engineering, s. r. o., MEDCOM, Bratislava City Museum
The exhibited items were lent by: Peter Mikle
Photographs: Nation’s Memory Institute, News Agency of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava City Museum

 

Co-organizer of the exhibition: Nation’s Memory Institute

More information can be found at www.mmb.sk and on the Bratislava City Museum’s socials.

 

Media contact: 

Mgr. Katarína Selecká 
PR & Marketing Manager 
katarina.selecka@mmb.sk
+421 2 5910 08 38
0902 972 390 

 

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About Bratislava City Museum:

 

The Bratislava City Museum, with over 155 years of tradition (founded in 1868), is the oldest continuously operating museum in Slovakia. It manages an extensive and diverse collection of more than 120,000 objects, encompassing historical, archaeological, art-historical, and ethnographic artifacts. These collections document the history of Bratislava, the development of crafts, industry, viticulture, city administration, and various aspects of its cultural and social life.

In addition to its thematic permanent exhibitions, the museum also oversees the national cultural monument Devín Castle, one of the most visited castles in Slovakia, and the Ancient Gerulata site in Rusovce, which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021. The museum’s holdings also include a valuable literary collection that comprises the estate of Janko Jesenský.

The Bratislava City Museum is evolving into a modern cultural and memory institution, serving as a source of knowledge about Bratislava’s history and a place for dialogue between the past, present, and the city’s residents. It plays a crucial role in defining and reflecting on the city’s identity, creating spaces for social inclusion and leisure that attract domestic audiences. The museum aims to be an active participant in city events, communicating its themes and content through contemporary forms of communication and event planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navštívte nás
už dnes!

Naplánujte si výlet na jednu z najvýznamnejších národných kultúrnych pamiatok na Slovensku. Hrad Devín ponúka okrem historického či prírodného bohatstva aj expozíciu so vzácnymi archeologickými nálezmi či podujatia pre celú rodinu. Spoznajte hrad aj jeho blízke okolie, ktoré má rozhodne čo ponúknuť.

Navštívte nás
už dnes!

Naplánujte si výlet na jednu z najvýznamnejších národných kultúrnych pamiatok na Slovensku. Hrad Devín ponúka okrem historického či prírodného bohatstva aj expozíciu so vzácnymi archeologickými nálezmi či podujatia pre celú rodinu. Spoznajte hrad aj jeho blízke okolie, ktoré má rozhodne čo ponúknuť.