He fled communism to find freedom

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STRATTON – Peter Smetanka, one of Stratton Lumber Inc.’s new owners, knew he wanted to be involved in the forestry industry in some way as he was growing up in communist Czechoslovakia.

He started studying forestry in college, after spending most of his youth in Prague, but soon made the choice to try to escape communism.

“I was 20,” he said, “with no end (to communism) in sight.” He couldn’t imagine starting a life in a place where so much of life was controlled by the state. “The normal human need for freedom was too strong,” Smetanka said.

He got himself to Italy, and lived in a refugee camp there for almost a year before being allowed to immigrate to Canada.

“It took a while,” he said, “but it was worth it, definitely.”

Now living in Canada for more than 20 years, Smetanka is married, with children and a great job. But even after all those years of normal living in Canada, he still appreciates freedom, he said.

“Whether it’s free speech, freedom of opinion, free travel – it’s huge,” he said.

When he made the decision to leave Prague, Smetanka said, he knew he might never see what is now the Czech Republic again. But, with the fall of communism, now he goes back regularly to visit his family, he said, and likes what he sees.

“The Prague I’ve known is gone, but it’s very good what’s happening there. Very good.”

As for life in Canada, Smetanka is still bowled over by the chances he’s been given to prove himself. “I finished my degree in forestry, got a job, and worked my way up,” he said. “Tree planting was my first job.

“So many people have given me my chance – it’s pretty special. I really appreciate the chances. I worked hard, met a lot of good people who let me prove (myself). It’s been a huge privilege.”

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