Lydka Thielen, born Lydka Horvathova, began life in Czechoslovakia on April 30, 1977, under Communist rule and finally was granted America citizenship on Friday, December 13, 2019 in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.
Thielen was one of three sisters who grew up in the country, which eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993.
The division of the two countries was the result of the “Velvet Revolution” or what was also called the “Peaceful Revolution”, marking when the countries won their freedom from Communist Russia, after the Wall separating the two halves of Berlin, Germany fell.
During the years preceding the Revolution, Thielen lived under Communist Socialist rule, which was very different from life in the United States.
Thielen's uncle on her maternal side was a musician and painter who was able to leave Czechoslovakia before the borders were closed in 1968, going to Austria and then moving on to Canada.
Because Thielen's uncle emigrated to Canada and the fact that her parents didn’t belong to the Communist party, the family was watched closely by the secret police to ensure the family wouldn’t try to escape.
The Horvathova family lived on a block of flats with a number of multi-story flats that stood seven stories high. In each block of flats, which contained 21 flats per block, had at least four secret police with their family members who kept an eye on everyone living in the building, who then would report what they saw to the government.
Every flat looked the same, with the same furniture in varying colors, and had the same number of furniture pieces. When a resident visited someone, it still looked as if they had never left their own homes.
Any mail the Horvathova family received, particularly letters from the now Canadian uncle, was opened, read and redacted with black marker. Additionally, any phone calls were listened in on by a third party. There was often a "click" heard when answering a phone call, because someone had started listening.
Anywhere the family traveled necessitated prior permission. Family vacations or trips had to be approved, but two members of the family always had to remain home, to ensure the traveling members returned and didn’t try to escape.
The closed borders were intended to keep people in, not keep people out.
Though the Czechoslovakians were allowed to attend church, the secret police stood outside the church doors and wrote down the names of everyone attending the church service.
Shopping was usually an exercise in futility, since the shelves were mostly empty, including in grocery stores. Dairy and bakery products were readily available since there were many farms close by. But, if you needed some good cuts of meat that could be a challenge, since the shelves were either empty or just had undesirable pieces of meat left.
Bananas and pineapple were important for Christmastime meals in Czechoslovakia. But even for Christmas, when bananas and pineapple were available, customers had to stand in line to have the produce handed to them. The customers would be limited to one bunch of bananas per person, so Thielen and her two sisters would have to stand in a long line so they could each get a bunch of bananas, though they weren’t allowed any choice.
Many times people would join the line, not know what the line was for, but understanding that it would be something that they couldn’t normally purchase. If it turned out to be something the customer didn’t want, they would take it anyway because it could always be used to barter for something else they wanted.
Shortages were a way of life, but knowing someone could help get what you needed.
Thielen's mother sewed all of the family’s clothes. At the time, it was difficult to obtain new patterns, but a monthly magazine that sold out quickly was the best way to find new patterns. A family friend who sold the magazine would hold back an issue for Horvathova's mother, since the magazine sold so quickly.
Education was widely available, though since the Horvathova family wasn’t a member of the Communist Party, they would not be allowed to attend college easily. Because of her education, Thielen speaks four languages: Russian, as it was mandatory for every student, Slovak, Czech and English.
While attending school, no one was allowed to wear blue jeans to school because that was considered "too American", though blue jeans were a very popular and an expensive black market item. Wearing a pair to school would get you sent home immediately, to change into something else.
Post Velvet Revolution Life
Once the Velvet Revolution happened, store shelves began filling up, merchandise became readily available, borders opened and people had freedom to travel as whole families.
Secret police were still living in the flats, but they no longer had to report to anyone or needed to record who was attending church. Missionaries were allowed into the country, which is how Thielen met the man who would become her husband.
Thielen received a call from a friend asking her to show this guy from the United States a historic church building, but she wasn’t interested and said, “No thanks.”
Thielen's attitude was different from most of the local women, who were interested in meeting men from the United States. However Horvathova did not want to be a part of that crowd, she loved Slovakia and Europe, but was told that “maybe he just needed her to pray for him?”
When Thielen finally agreed, against her best judgement, to meet him at an ice cream shop by the church. The American, Jared Thielen, arrived 20 minutes late and was met with a "You are late!" from an unimpressed Thielen. Thielen's date then explained that he had been in a different ice cream shop, waiting for her, before realizing he was in the wrong ice cream shop.
“He had such a peace and calm about him, not like other Americans," said Thielen.
The two became close friends during the following seven years, writing back and forth, after he returned to the States. Jared asked Thielen to marry him in a letter, but she told him he had to come to Slovakia and propose to her in person, if he was serious.
He did just that. Thielen said yes and moved to Thornton, Colorado in 2009. The two were married shortly after.
The state of Colorado matched up well with the mountainous terrain in Slovakia where Horvathova had just left. A few years ago, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and High Tatras, or Vysoke Tatry, in Slovakia became “sister” parks, due to very similar topography.
Since coming to America, Thielen has gone on to take college courses to get her Associates degree in accounting and will be starting online classes February 13, 2020 to earn her Bachelor degree, then her CPA certification.
After ten years with a green card, including a renewal, Thielen applied for citizenship, paid the fee, was finger-printed and photographed and received her USA history book to study for her test and interview. On Friday, December 13, 2019 Thielen was sworn in as a new United States citizen in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, along with individuals from 12 other countries. Thielen is excited about becoming a citizen.
“Nothing is impossible here – people can thrive, if they want to,” said Thielen, though she is concerned about America moving toward socialism.
“Many people, especially younger people, think socialism is great, but they have never experienced it or lived under it; it is not good for the USA to go toward socialism," said Thielen. "A person can’t thrive under socialism; there are always shortages, the government controls everything you do, limits careers and vacations and developed an distrusting society that will report you if you don’t comply.
“That is why people wanted to leave…people want to thrive," said Thielen. “People don’t appreciate their freedom until you lose it.”
Thielen knows from where she speaks. She wants her son to have an appreciation for his freedom, for his Slovakian roots and to experience different values.
When asked if there was there a reason for her to become a citizen now, Thielen had an answer.
“I wanted to be able to vote for Trump in 2020," said Thielen.
Thielen is proud of her Bronze volunteer award she received from President Trump last year when she volunteered to help do taxes for people who couldn’t afford a tax preparer.
Thielen, her husband Jared and their son Joshua now reside in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Thielen and Joshua have made a couple trips to Europe, developing in Joshua an appreciation for different cultures and for the blessings he has in the United States.
Thielen looks at the United States from her perspective and life experiences.
“In many ways, a spiritual battle is going on in the USA,” said Thielen, who has no desire to live again under socialism.
It is no wonder that Thielen was so proud to be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, as she was sworn in as a new United States citizen, she truly understands what it is to have and embrace freedom.