tm. Bratislava, February 1, 2024
The AEJ’s honorary Secretary-General, the internationally acclaimed editor, writer, and champion of human rights Juraj Alner, has died at the age of 86 after a long and cruel illness.
Active in the revival of the Pan-European Union in Slovakia in 1990 and 1993, he founded and presided over the AEJ’s Slovak Section for 15 years, and was elected General Secretary of the International in 2002.
He was born on July 23, 1937 in Kladno into the family of a textile engineer; however, they soon moved to Ružomberok, where Juraj’s grandfather was in charge of a textile factory. Raised a Christian, he became aware of his Jewish origins only when that became dangerous. The Alners had escaped the first wave of deportations in 1942.
But by 1944 the German army was in occupation and the only way to survive was to hide. Protected by brave and loyal friends, the family moved around various parts of the country until the liberation. “We were hidden in a cellar of some house where we had a small window turned to the square,” he remembered. “It was a small place in the centre of the village and German soldiers brought Russian captives there. They were sitting on the ground in the middle of that square and Germans encircled them. One rural woman suddenly took a loaf of bread out of her bag and threw it to the Russian prisoners. The Germans didn’t hesitate and shot her right away.”
The family stayed in Ružomberok for a time, then moved to Žilina and then to Bratislava where Juraj’s stepfather (his father had died when Juraj was only four) found a job as a woodworker in Ligno.
“The liberation itself didn’t come when the Russian soldiers arrived, it was much later and it didn’t last for a long time because not only liberators, but also the KGB came together with the Soviets and the era that we couldn’t foresee was about to come.”
The Communist Party took over the task of making life unbearable for all but the few. Juraj’s stepfather was arrested and sentenced to many years of imprisonment. Juraj managed to enrol at the university. But after taking part in a student protest march, he was assigned to auxiliary labour in a factory in Krupina “to familiarize him with the working class”.
There, after military service, he was a teacher in Krupina, then came a job in Banská Bystrica.
But by the 1960s his dream of writing seemed to be being realised. He was working at the editorial board of the daily paper Ľud in Bratislava, organ of the Party of Slovak Revival…until the “fraternal” Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968. Juraj felt forced to emigrate to the USA. He returned to his family, but had to serve seven years as a manual worker in the printworks. Somehow, in the late 1970s, he managed to land the job of librarian at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (VŠMU).
So the end of “normalisation” were anything but. The doors of freedom and democracy did not really open for him until November 1989 in the days, weeks, and months of the “‘Velvet Revolution”. Only then did his commentaries, analyses, and reports return to the pages of newspapers. He returned to the daily Ľud, later the weekly Slobodný piatok, and the respected daily Narodná obroda. He was also a correspondent for the Austrian Der Standard and the Luxemburger Wort.
He wrote for Slovak and foreign newspapers, wrote books, lectured at Slovak and European universities. His work was honoured with many awards at home and abroad, in 2015, he was awarded the highest French decoration, the order of the Légion d’Honneur.
- Ivan Brada, Chairman of AEJ, Slovak Section, Tibor Macák, Vice President of AEJ Int. and Secretary General of AEJ, Slovak Section Július Lőrincz, former President of AEJ, Slovak Section write: “One of the key events of the EU`s enlargement process in the first decade of the 21st century was the AEJ General Assembly and Congress organised by the Slovak Section in cooperation with the Slovak government in September 2001. The main topic of the congress was European integration from the point of view of the four members of the Visegrad Four – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and also Slovenia. There were not only prominent representatives of political and social circles from the above-mentioned countries, but also media representatives from all over Europe. And it is no exaggeration to say that Juraj Alner was the engine and soul of this hugely successful event. His remarkable life has been permanently inscribed in the chronicle of creative acts of the Slovak and the international media community as a whole.”
- Memory of Nations website – Juraj Alner 1936 – 2024
- IHT, May 7, 2006 New vibrancy in the Old World (quotes Juraj on life in Bratislava after Communism)