- Mac C
Memories of the Velvet Revolution
If you have ever been to Seattle Center you may have seen the big iron laced spray-painted cement fragment of the Berlin Wall on permanent exhibit. I was living in Montana when the seemingly endless efforts of Marxist Humanists in Czech Republic and Hungary, long suppressed by Russian tanks, finally paid off and Gorbachev, the likable leader of Russia, gave in by a policy known as Glasnost/Perestroika, a time honored idea of openness and change. You would have thought our leadership would have responded with moving and insightful sentiments, but they never did.
Havel was a member of a group called Charter 77 who petitioned against the Occupation which began when the Third Reich was defeated. America depended on Russian armies but never showed the slightest gratitude, so the peace was strained. Havel, a Parliamentarian and playwright landed in prison but when offered exile refused.
In Czech Republic at that time it was legal to write anything you wanted provided you did not show it to someone else. Any form of exchanging hands was considered publication and a punishable offense. To circulate plays, poems, epistles, sermons, political philosophy was very dangerous but Charter 77 and others in Czech intellectual circles began smuggling, slipping works to each other in grocery stores, as intrepid as shoplifting. Caught, you could die in prison, as an elderly petitioner Havel loved, Jan Patochka did. This movement had a lovely name: Samizdat, meaning freedom of expression.
Havel's intellectual forbearer was Ivan Svitak, a leader of Prague Spring. Svitak lost his citizenship for dissent. Ironically, when he came to California to teach after what was known as The Velvet Revolution, he said that teaching the beauty of Marxist Humanism in America was like Galileo trying to explain the Earth revolves around the Sun. They are both brilliant, sensitive men who believed first and foremost in the discipline of the search for truth, in politics, art and science.
Greta Thunberg reminds me of Havel and Svitak. She's caught in a maelstrom, she suffers for her friends, and is in anguish about her duty, but brilliant and wry. She also believes in the search for truth.
Europe can be astounding.