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Anna Siváková: It’s not enough to hope, you must believe

Vítkov, 30.10.2009 10:32, (ROMEA)

This is an interview with Anna Siváková and Pavel Kudrik, the parents of Natálka, the little girl who almost burned to death in a murderous attack earlier this year. We spoke with them about their feelings after the attack, how the entire event has changed them, how and to what extent it has changed their family’s life, and about several myths that have developed about the case. The interview was painful, not only for Natálka’s parents, but also for us. However, we all agreed that it is good to share these experiences with the rest of the world so as to reveal the full extent of the horror and meaninglessness of the violence committed by racist fanatics. We discussed feelings and relationships with Ms Siváková and practical matters with Mr Kudrik.

Interview with Anna Siváková

How has the attempt to murder your family affected you? What kind of changes has it caused to your ordinary, everyday life?

AS: This will be with us the rest of our lives. It has been half a year now, and since that day we continue to have the same feelings. Before the attack we lived a quiet life, the whole family lived together. We didn’t even suspect that such things are possible in this world. This will stay with us forever, always. Whenever we look at Natálka we will have this attack in front of us.

Everything is completely upside down for me now. I have no time for the other children or for myself. I get up in the morning, make breakfast, get dressed, go to the train, visit Natálka, and return late at night. That is what I do, day after day, almost every single day.

What were your first thoughts after the attack, when you were injured in the hospital and Natálka was not with you?

AS: Those were terrible feelings, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I thought of her all the time, about what was going on with her, where she was, what shape she was in. I asked the nurses and the doctors, but none of them told me what was really going on or what her situation was. They always avoided the topic, because I was also in poor psychological condition with my own burn injuries. Then I asked for the telephone number of the hospital where Natálka was being treated so I could speak with the doctors who were taking care of her. There her doctors told me that they had induced artificial sleep due to her terrible burns, and they prepared me for the worst. They said it would be difficult for a child who was not even two years old to survive such extensive burns.

At that moment I was horribly afraid. I was afraid I would lose Natálka – and I would not have survived that.

When you got over your initial fear, did you start to hope she would be saved?

AS: I didn’t hope: I believed. It is not enough to hope. I believed she would manage to recover – I raised her, so I know what she is like, she is really strong. Whatever she wants “must be”.

What was Natálka like before the attack?

AS: I know that with Natálka this situation will be different, because she was exceptional even before the attack. I have four girls, and Natálka is the smartest one of them for her age. She is completely special. She was always ahead of other children her age. Everyone used to joke and ask me where I got her, because she was so completely different from the other children. Natálka was already walking by the age of one. Before the attack, she was speaking beautifully, clearly, no stammering or mumbling, she knew how to name everything correctly and pronounce everything, she went potty by herself, she ate by herself, she was drinking tea and juice – she was very independent.

Do you think this exceptionality is one of the things that helped her survive?

AS: Yes.

Is she starting to be herself again somehow?

AS: She is not speaking yet, because she has a tube in her throat, but she is still bright. She’s even stubborn still. She is still the “general”, she knows what she wants and gets it, the nurses and I have to give her what she wants.

How does she let you know what she wants?

AS: With her eyes, or she points. If I don’t know, I ask her and show her everything until she nods at what she wants.

Your other daughters are six, nine and 10 years old. How are they holding up?

AS: Really poorly. They want to visit their sister very much, because they have not seen her for half a year, since the attack, but the head physician says that’s not possible for the time being.

Have they had any negative experiences at school or in the outside world because of what happened?

AS: They really don’t like it when someone in the outside world says her name, or when a stranger says it. They always get really angry, every time. Whoever it is, they rail against them, saying they can’t talk about her and they have to leave her alone, stay out of it – but my daughters’ schoolmates treat them well.

How has this affected their psyches?

AS: They have nightmares and don’t sleep well. The fact that they cannot stand to hear outsiders say her name shows how deeply they have been affected. The oldest one, who already understands what is going on, is taking it the hardest. Not only can she not sleep at all, but she blames herself, she says it should have happened to her instead of to Natálka. We tried to discuss it with her, to tell her she can’t think like that, that it was not her fault at all. She has started visiting a psychotherapist.

Do your daughters know who did this and why?

AS: Well, over time they heard about it on television or saw it in the papers, so they know who it was and why they did it. In the very beginning they tried to get as much information as they could from us, they couldn’t understand it. They asked: Why did they do this to us, when we have never hurt anyone?

What did you tell them?

AS: I didn’t know what to say. Pavel didn’t know either. I told them that I would like to know the answer myself.

How has this changed you?

AS: I am more sensitive to other people than I was before, like people who have children who are very ill, or who are living through the aftermath of the floods. It always affects me terribly to hear such stories - I even break down and cry, I ask why such things have to happen. That is a big change for me. A person who has been injured has compassion for everyone and is affected by their misfortune.

Do you think that at least some of those around you have changed similarly?

AS: Here, in this place where we have our new residence, I think so, but not in Vítkov. Today that is the worst place here for miles around in terms of its relationship to the Roma.

Was Vítkov like that even before your attack?

AS: Before the attack the locals did not speak well of the Roma in general, but they never singled us out directly.

You have had a very serious experience. When you speak openly about it, do you think it could help make sure that something similar will never happen again, or that such violence might at least become less acceptable to society than it is now?

AS: I don’t know, everyone is different, right? It’s hard to say. Before this we had not the slightest suspicion that such a thing was even possible. We knew nothing about racism, or neo-Nazism, or these kinds of attacks. It should not just be up to the government and the police alone, people in general should do everything in their power to make sure such things never happen again, because it’s horrible. They should realize, once and for all, that we are people too, of flesh and bone, just like they are. It’s all the same whether we are black or white, color is not the point. These racists live among us, I guess nothing can be done about it, but people should not judge one another based on skin color alone.

What do you think of the attackers?

AS: I think they can’t be normal. A normal person would never do such a thing. This was not spontaneous, they had to prepare for it, plan it, and they knew in advance they were going out to harm others. I don’t know what to call them.

What would have happened to you if so many people had not contributed to the collection? Do you ever think about that sometimes, or is that too difficult a subject for you?

AS: It is very difficult to ask others for help. It’s a sign of their good will that they were able to help. Those people really helped us a great deal. I did not expect that so much money would be raised, that we would find a place to set up a new home.

Did the knowledge that so many people are in solidarity with you change you?

AS: Definitely, yes. It changed me. Without their help we would not have been able to live on. Our life would have stopped. We would not have been able to start over in the environment we have to live in now, before we move into the new place. I feel much better that such people are all around us, that there are also many good people.

You are handling everything admirably. Where do you get the strength? What do you draw it from?

AS: Natálka gives me the strength. I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for her. In the beginning, I couldn’t even get up, I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. It helped me to see how Natálka changed over time, how she got better day by day. Suddenly I told myself I can’t just throw my life away, that I have to do something with myself so I can take care of her. Who else is going to do it otherwise? I had to get myself together and stand on my own two feet, and I mean that literally. I know no one can take care of my children as well as I can. She put me on my feet.

Heartless people

Interview with Pavel Kudrik

The mayor of Vítkov was quoted in the magazine Respekt as claiming that the house you used to live in went up in flames so quickly because you allegedly were storing gasoline there.

PK: That really made me angry. We did not have any gasoline in the house. My father-in-law would never allow me to do that, because he stored wood for the stove there. I wasn’t even allowed to park the car in front of the entrance to the house or by the barn - I had to park some distance away. The police in Vítkov know that very well, because I was fined once for parking in a no-parking zone when there was nowhere else to put the car.

You are working on repairing the new house. Have you gotten to know your new neighbors better?

PK: Yes, our new neighbors are very pleasant and helpful.

Are you having any problems with the repairs?

PK: I can’t hold down a regular job until I finish the repairs, because they are taking a lot of time and we want to have them finished as soon as possible so Natálka can come home. Starting on 1 November we will also have to start paying for the hostel we are temporarily living in, because that is when we will be registered with the cadastral office as the owners of the house we are fixing up now.

How do you think the attack has changed your children?

PK: I think the greatest change is that they have stopped trusting people. They are not sure who is coming to them with good intentions and who isn’t.

What is your strongest feeling about this whole thing?

PK: Concern and fear for my family. I will probably never be rid of that fear. It’s in my head all the time, subconsciously, even though I would rather forget about it if I could.

What do you say to the fact that the police have caught the four men, charged them with attempted murder, and taken them into custody?

PK: I have a good feeling about it. The motion to ban the Workers’ Party also gives me a good feeling. It seems the police and the current government have recently done their best to do something about all this.

What do you think of the arsonists who attacked you?

PK: They are completely heartless.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Markus Pape, Markus Pape, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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