To the older generations in her native Slovakia, Hana Ponická is well-known for her successful children’s books and courageous fight against the communist regime. Her psychological ordeal began in February 1977 when the elderly lady refused to sign the so-called anticharta, a condemnation of the human rights group Charter 77, which had published its first manifesto in the West on 1 January 1977. All Slovak and Czech artists had to sign the anticharta; they were forced by the regime to condemn the dissidents, the most prominent among them being Václav Havel (1936–2011), who were standing up against the violation of basic human rights enshrined in the Czechoslovak constitution following the conclusion of the CSCE treaty of Helsinki. Ponická, like most of her fellow artists, had neither read the Charter 77 manifesto nor the text of the anticharta; she thus refused to sign. Her courage prompted the regime to terrorize her psychologically.
This political biography is the first ever written about Ponická, despite her being a household name in Slovakia. Josette Baer’s analysis is based on Ponická’s memoirs of that cruel year of 1977, newspaper articles she published prior to 1971, when the regime effectively banned any critical voice from publication, and newspaper articles she published after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 to promote the establishing of a rule-of-law state and democracy.
The documents of the StB, the Slovak and Czech Security Services, are analyzed for the first time; they are evidence of how the StB tried to pressure the resilient and disciplined grandmother of three into obedience.
Oral history interviews with Dirk Mathias Dalberg, Vlasta Jaksicsová, and Mary Šamal inform the reader about the situation of the Slovak dissidents of Charter 77, how normal citizens lived in the regime, and how the Czech and Slovak exile communities in the USA saw the dissidents in Communist Czechoslovakia.