Posts Tagged ‘czechoslovakia’

Independent Thinking in Prague

July 13, 2017

In Prague, we find a very long history of people who can detect and identify the manipulative hypocrisies that form within human institutions. From Jan Hus to Franz Kafka to Albert Einstein to Jan Masaryk to Vaclav Havel, and including  many other reformers throughout history, we discover in Prague a long line of independent thinkers who defended the initiatives of the people to conduct their own religious and political affairs without being controlled by powerful institutions such as the Church or the Communist Party.

An early historical example of such a reformer would be Jan Hus, whose life and legacy is depicted in this sculpture in Old Town Square in Prague.

Hus3

In the year 1415  A full century before Martin Luther, Hus criticized  a manipulative system within the dominant political institution of that time, the Catholic Church. Over a millennium of time, potentates within the religious hierarchy had managed to erect barriers whereby believers were denied the freedoms of reading/interpreting the scriptures for themselves. Ecclesiastical prohibitions pertaining to the reading, translating and teaching of the scriptures had led to an institutionalized Church that manipulated people for political/economic purposes, instead of assuring their liberty to read/interpret/preach the scriptures for themselves. Such institutional prohibitions had permitted non-biblical practices such as the selling of indulgences to creep into Church religion.

Jan Hus was declared by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as it existed in 1415, to be a heretic. The judgement laid upon him ultimately cost him his life, as he was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.

In modern times, a reformer named Vaclev Havel suffered similar persecutions from the dominating institution of Czechoslovakia during his time of life, the 1950’s-1980’s. Havel’s ultimate fate, however, was a much happier one than that of his 15th-century forebear reformer.

After a persecuted early life of continual resistance against the cruel machinations of the 20th-century Soviet Communist Party, the writer Vaclav Havel’s role was re-defined in a most favorable way. The people of the Czech Republic elected him as their President after the people rose up in 1989 and overthrew the Communists.

As visitors to this country hoping to understand some of these changes, we visited the Museum of Communism here in Prague yesterday. In viewing that time-line  of artifacts and information, we were able to gain a comprehensive perspective. The museum displays presented a  concise history of communist ideas and dogmas from Marx onward, though Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev. A presentation of this history reveals effects that were destructive, insofar as in they oppressed the proletariat who were supposed to have been the benefactors of communist ideology.  The Soviet controls became more restrictive and controlling as the 20-century years rolled by.

One display I saw included this text about the Communist Party establishing a Secret Police after the coup in 1948.

SecretPolice

Vaclav Havel and many other protesters mounted a lifelong, persistent resistance against these  control-freak obsessions. Their efforts paid off. In 1989,  the reformers were able to lead such a widespread popular movement that they successfully rejected Communist Party control and then established the Czech Republic.

From a display in the Museum of Communism, here’s a capsulized explanation of how that happened:

VelvetRev

And here’s the last photo I snapped from the display at the History of Communism Museum. It’s a pic of Wenceslaus Square, Prague,  in November of 1989 when, the old repressive institutions of the Communist Party began to tumble in the wake of a huge popular democratic/republican demonstration.

Wenc'89

King of Soul

Prague

June 21, 2017

A decade and a half ago, I took a few post-baccalaureate courses at our local university, Appalachian State. I had some educational strategies in mind. Those plans didn’t really pan out. Nevertheless, what I learned at that time sharpened some research skills that had been dormant in me since I had become a worker bee many years prior, in 1977.

In one education course that I took, we learned about a strategy called Compare and Contrast.

In the  years since that phase of life I have found Compare and Contrast to be a helpful idea when describing any two things.

In this case, I apply the method to two periods of time that are described in a book that I am presently reading. Under A Cruel Star, A life in Prague 1941-1968 was written by Heda Margolius Kovaly, and published in 1986 by Plunkett Lake Press of Cambridge MA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_a_Cruel_Star

HedaPrag

The book is biographical; its focus is on one period in Heda’s life in post-war Prague, after we Allies had run the Nazis back into their holes.

Heda Margolius Kovaly was so fortunate to be a survivor–an escapee, no less– of the Nazi concentration camps;  Her book of which I write, Under a Cruel Star, begins with a harrowing account of her ordeal in sneaking out of the concentration camp at a time when the war was not yet over  then laying low as she slinked through Poland into the Czech lands and at last managed to sneak into  into her home city of Prague.

When she got to the city, Heda found the whole place bound up with Nazi paranoia. Which is to say: the Nazis were paranoid of losing what they thought they had conquered. At the same time, the locals–the Czechs and Slovaks–were still paranoid because that’s all they had known for the last six years.

After a while, the the Russians came in and “liberated” the place. Thank God.

But they had big plans for eastern Europe–Communist plans.

In the late 1940’s, the Soviets moved all their control-freak gear and Party personnel into the eastern European nations, including Czechoslovakia, Heda’s home country. In Soviet-controlled Prague, Czechoslovakia, the bossy Russians and their local Czech lackeys slowly and insidiously came to  dominate every aspect of life, with an intent to show the world how Communism, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin et al, could be be accomplished.

Long story short, they made a big frickin’ mess of it.

Heda Margolius Kovaly and her husband were right there in the middle of all of it in the early days of Czech communism. Rudolf, her husband was appointed to an important job, a real plum of a job, as a project chief in the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

In her personal story, Heda gives an account of how Russian hegemony became more and more secretive, abusive, and cruel after the Communist coup in ’48. People were desperate for some kind of rebuilding of life, and they paid dearly for their willingness to accept the Soviet prescription for a better life. But it did not work out that way. 

The flaws in Communist ideology drove Czech life into a real dead end. Instead of life getting better for all the good comrades, life in Prague got worse and worse under the enforced Soviet regime. Heda  raises the question of how. How could the Czechs and others in eastern Europe have been so gullible and vulnerable to the force-fed communism?

The main reason these people had been rendered so vulnerable to Russian control and abuse is this: they had been extremely traumatized and debilitated by the incredibly oppressive, cruel Nazi occupation from which they had been liberated. Furthermore, on that side of Europe, the Russians were the liberators; they ran Hitler’s armies back into their holes. In that first  year of occupation, 1945, they were heroes.

After the war and all that life-shattering chain of events, the people of eastern Europe were worn out, broke, busted and disgusted. For the Russians, these people were easy pickin’s, with their hands stretched out, desperately seeking help and some resources to rebuild their cities and infrastructures.

And looking for somebody to tell them what to do, since they were still in a kind of wartime shell-shock.

But Russians came in with an agenda. It’s called communism. And the Ruskies did not have a lot of trouble getting these desperate people cranked up on a little Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination. Power pounces on  a void.

Tank

Why were the people of eastern Europe so vulnerable to Soviet hegemony?

Part of Heda’s postwar explanation goes this way:

“Usually, the reasoning went something like this: if for purposes of building a new society, it is necessary to give up my freedom for a time, to subsume something I cherish to a cause in which I strongly believe, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. In any case, we are a lost generation. We all might have died uselessly in the camps. Since we did survive, we want to dedicate what is left of our lives to the future.

“This streak of martyrdom was stronger that was generally understood. People felt chosen by destiny to sacrifice themselves, a feeling that was reinforced by a strong sense of guilt that characterized many who had survived the camps. Why was I alive and not my father, my mother, my friend? I owed them something. They had died in place of me. For their sake I had to build a world in which this could never happen again.

“This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who today would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

“The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism . . .”

A couple of pages later, Heda arrives at this assessment:

“It was an insidious process and as old as the world. Had it not been for the war and the overwhelming need for change, we would have seen through it easily.”

Now here is where the Compare and Contrast (that I mentioned earlier) comes in.

That naive willingness to accept the communist game plan was in 1945, immediately after the trauma and desperation of the war.

Let’s fast-forward to 1952, after the Communist Party had been been running their postwar recovery show in eastern Europe for about seven years, and after Heda’s husband, Rudolf, a dedicated, very intelligent, workaholic apparatchik of the State had suddenly been arrested and imprisoned without explanation, without trial, and without any indication of where he was being held, or how long he would be detained, or when he might be released.

In her darkest days of disillusionment with the dysfunctional state of the State, in the grip of despair over the unsure fate of her imprisoned husband, Heda begins a chapter of the book by providing this description of what Czech life had become:

“Life in Prague. . . had acquired a totally negative character. People no longer aspired toward things but away from them. All they wanted was to avoid trouble. They tried not to be seen anywhere, not to talk to anyone, not to attract any attention. Their greatest satisfaction would be that nothing happened, that no one had been fired or arrested or questioned or followed by the secret police. Some fifty thousand people had so far been jailed in our small country. More were disappearing every day.”

Compare Heda’s postwar description of the the Czechs’ willingness to accept Russian hegemony– when the liberated people were compliant to help bring in the communist agenda for rebuilding the nations– Compare it to her description of how things actually turned out seven years later.

You’ll find a big difference there, a huge contrast, like the difference between day and night.

But here’s the good news. In 1989, the peoples of eastern Europe–Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs and others, cast off the chains of Soviet domination, and the light of liberty began to shine again.

We need to help them strengthen the good that was gained in 1989.

Smoke

Overcoming Mediocrity and Alienation with Freedom

June 10, 2017

Trying to fix this world is no easy task. Many people have pondered about what is wrong with it, and some have offered remedies about how to correct the perpetual problem of human activity and its destructive effects on our collective life on this planet.

For instance, about a century and a half ago, a very smart German fellow named Karl Marx theorized that the prosperous owners of the world’s production facilities should be replaced by the working folks who keep all the nuts and bolts turning. If this transition of ownership could be accomplished, the world would eventually be a better place, or so Karl thought.

Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades got a hold of that idea, and they enforced the Russian Revolution of 1917. After they deposed the Czar and his Romanov dynasty family, and after the revolutionaries had manhandled power unto the people for purposes of taking control of the “means of production,” the newfound Communists of Russia took a stab at running the country, with their sights sent on the entire world.

There was some confusion in their ranks about exactly what needed to be done; Lenin and his diehards had to push Trotsky and his people out of the picture, but that wasn’t really enough purging to settle all the issues. So later, in the 1930’s, Joe Stalin took it upon himself to purge the revolutionary and bureaucratic ranks of all questionable persons who couldn’t get with the (Stalin’s) program.

Well, that was a sinister and bloody affair. Meanwhile, further down the map in Europe, Hitler and his Nazi goons were making a big bloody mess of Germany and the surrounding countries, and that whole conflagration turned into one hell of a humongous World War, in which we Americans had to go over there and help the Brits and the French, et al, put an end to it.

After the Big War, the Communists were still in control of Russia, and Stalin was still running the show and the gulag, and the working out of the Marx-theorized dictatorship of the proletariat and so forth. Part of the strategy of the International Communist plan to save the world from Capitalist abuse was to spread the revolution into other parts of the world.

After World War II finally skidded to a long-overdue frigging halt, when the dust settled in Europe, the continent was pretty much divided down the middle between the freedom-cultivating Capitalist Allies and the pushy Russian Communists. There was a kind of imaginary dividing between these two entities, which Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

Over here in the West, we were flat-out tired of making war. The Nazi war machine had worn us out, even though we won. And the Russians, although they were certainly tired of fighting the war, were also tired of the whole damned war thing.  Nevertheless, the Ruskies were still quite stubborn in their resolve to save the world from Capitalism.

So they began a new, very big project to impose their Russian version of Communism on the rest of the world– Starting, mainly, in eastern Europe where they were already occupying those post-war-torn Nazi-disaster zone nations, most notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

BrshnvK

Recently I picked up a book, from my precious local library, about people and events in Communist-occupied postwar eastern Europe.

   https://www.amazon.com/Prague-Sprung-Notes-Voices-World/dp/0275945367

David Leviatin’s Prague Sprung  presents a penetrating view into the Communist world of power mongering as it existed from the 1948 takeover until the overthrow of Russian hegemony in 1989.

In his book project, David interviews many Czechs who, as members of the Communist party, performed roles in the development and administration of Czechoslovakia.

During one interview, David Leviatin speaks to Miroslav Jindra about his career as an educator. Jindra’s training as a teacher of English and Czech language began in 1948 when he entered Charles University in Prague. After graduating he taught languages at both elementary and college levels.

During that time Mr. Jindra encountered there, however, a double-minded mindset that tended to complicate everything. It seemed that academic excellence and enquiry were not the first priorities. Rather, he found that behind the surface of the institution was a certain Marxist mindset which was being promulgated by the Communist regime. The politicos in charge of Czech education had an agenda, and it was more about political control than academic enquiry. Consequently, to function in such an academic environment was no simple matter.

“I belonged to the group of people who developed some sort of maneuver, some sort of defending mechanism, because otherwise it was impossible to survive. I learned at the same time to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you were very good, you were conspicuous. Something would happen to you. If you were too lazy, you were also conspicuous. This is what we now call the tendency to mediocrity.”

Jindra goes on to  explain that the Russian takeover of his country in 1948 was followed by a period of radical leftist change, which was imposed methodically by Communist taskmasters. But later, during the 1950’s their doctrinaire extremism began to run out of steam. The demands of economic and political reality required more practical applications of human motivation and activity. By the 1960’s narrow-minded apparatchiks who had imposed Stalinist cruelties had to tone down their rhetoric and their programs as it became apparent that something was wrong.

By 1956, Khrushchev’s admission of Stalinist abuses and crimes initiated a shockwave of reassessment that rumbled across the whole communist world.

As Jindra states it: “They found out something was wrong.” So the Stalinist phase of world communism began to morph into something else.

But Khrushchev’s admission wasn’t the only crack that was then appearing in the Soviet wall of oppression.

Also at that time, in 1956, the partisans of Hungary, next door  to Czechoslovakia, rose up in undisguised anger against their Russian overlords. As a Czech speaking about their 1956 news of the Hungarian uprising, Miroslav Jindra says:

“We were told that the Revolution in Hungary was endangered by some reactionaries, but everybody knew what happened there.”

Which is to say, everybody knew what (really) happened there.

As citizens of eastern Europe found themselves, over the years, mired deeper and deeper in sloughs of Communist Party control,  they were cornered into a new, schizo way of thinking and speaking. Euphemism– saying what is generally known to be true but saying it in a way that would not be objectionable, or even understood by, Communist party officials– became a necessity. Saying what you meant without really saying it become a finely honed, stealthy strategy–even a mindset– of mounting resistance.

Eastern Europe came to be something like a kettle put on low heat; it took a long time to boil. It didn’t actually boil over until 1989.

There were many Soviet oppressions that provoked discontent and bitterness among the people of eastern Europe.

Here’s one bitter bi-product of Soviet oppression in  particular, that Miroslav Jindra’s narrative brings to this reader’s attention. But it was not an obvious one. Rather, it is subtle thing, and it slithers into the fearful comrade’s mind like a serpent: alienation.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been in a job where you wanted to do good work, but could not, because your micro-managing boss or co-workers were obsessed with unimportant details instead of actually accomplishing good work?

That’s what was going on in the world of Soviet political correction.

From page 66 of David Leviatan’s Prague Sprung, educator Miroslav Jindra speaks of the doublethink that was required to function as faculty member at Charles University, in Prague:

“In 1976, I was invited to come back to the faculty since two people had retired and they needed some help. There were some very good people in the faculty. If you had some contacts with them, you were quite safe. On the other hand, there were some very nasty people in the Party, people who were not qualified as experts, as specialists, who were just political figures. Their task was to watch over what we said. If you were careful enough you could evade them. We didn’t have any intellectual freedom at all. We had very limited area to maneuver. If you were clever, you could. I think that quite often I managed to tell the students what I wanted to tell them, but maybe I didn’t tell them directly. I tried to make them find out for themselves.

But it’s a big relief now (circa 1991). I don’t need to think over anything, my next word. This was crazy. It was double-thinking.”

The mindset that requires fearful, constant double-minded euphemism is destructive. When truth cannot be plainly spoken, a kind of collective schizophrenia takes hold of a society. This is what the history of communism has revealed about human nature. In State-controlled regimes, Party-appointed–or even self-appointed– micro-managers who are obsessed with political correctness and petty rules dominate everything that is allowed to happen. The end results bring mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence. For serious teachers, students or workers who want to discover truth and strive for productivity, alienation plagues them and drags them into sloughs of discouragement and despair.

By the late 1980’s, the peoples of eastern Europe–and even the Russians– were sick of the double-minded burdens that the communist State had been demanding of them, so they overthrew it. The revolution began with bold people like Vaclav Havel in the Czech lands, Imre Nagy in Hungary, Lech Walesa in Poland.

Eventually leaders such as Yeltsin and Gorbachev got a hold of it. The rest is history. Gorbachev took Reagan’s advice; he tore down a wall. That certainly to helped to get the ball of liberty rolling.

Much to the doctrinaire Communists’ surprise, the people of Germany turned out to be more than willing to help in tearing down that Berlin wall–piece by piece. Freedom is irresistible when you get a whiff of it.

But freedom is not easy to attain. In America, we are fortunate to have prospered in the liberty that was attained, at great sacrifice, for us long ago. That liberty has since been assured and secured by men and women who are willing to defend it. We defend it, not only militarily, but also politically, academically, and economically.

Let’s keep it that way. Freedom is a way of life that we don’t want to lose. Let us not squander it.

King of Soul

Proxy War

July 9, 2014

 

In the world of the 1930’s, two destructive European ideologies were accumulating an arsenal with which to obliterate each other.

Unlike today, when the world is polarizing along ancient religious divisions, the scenario of the ’30s was moving Europe toward a death-struggle between two opposing Western economic ideologies–fascism and communism.

The rise of two masterminding evil geniuses–Hitler and Stalin– enabled their respective war-making nation-empires to rise to their full militarily destructive capacities and impose widespread destruction upon the world. During that period, seventy or eighty years ago, the civil war in Spain became the puppetized proxy war. Militarizing fascist states–Germany and Italy–propped up Spanish insurgents led by General Franco, as he sought to run the Communist-leaning, Soviet-supported government of Spain out of Madrid and out of power.

Today, the hotspot is not Spain; it is Syria. The power-brokers are not the Allies and the Axis; they are the West vs. Islam.

The civil war in Syria, which is now spreading into Iraq, is becoming the proxy war for two opposing ancient strains of Islamic power–Sunni and Shia. Iraq is caught in the middle between Syria (mostly Sunni) against the Shia empire, Iran, on the other side.

This scenario is eerily similar to the European ideology-based polarization of eight decades ago. During the 1930’s, Spain, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were caught in the middle between Hitler’s bloodthirsty power-grab and Stalin’s stealthy gulag death machine.

Today’s version of human-powered depraved bellicosity is not exactly the same, of course, as what was taking shape in the ’30’s, but there are similarities. The student of history can dimly discern these similarities. In our war-bound world of today, Syria, Iraq and other Arab states are caught in the middle, as Spain, Czechoslovakia and Poland were in the former times.

ISIS radicals in Syria are the Islamic version of Franco’s quasi-Catholic fascists in Spain in 1936-1939. They are hiding  their heartlessly demonic destruction behind a facade of the indigenous religion.

Franco’s insurgents were supplied by the emerging-under-VersaillesTreaty-radar Nazi-fascist German Luftwaffe, who shocked the world with their air-powered obliteration of the town of Guernica, Spain, April 26 1937.

Today, ISIS brutes are shocking the world with their brutality in western Iraq, as has happened in Mosul. Now the battle is getting more intense and bloodier between Sunni and Shia , as it was between Fascist and Communist in the late 1930s.

This showdown is one that the major powers, comfortable in their relative prosperity and peace, prefer to watch from a distance and get involved if it becomes absolutely necessary.

In Britain and France in the 1930’s, capitalist power-brokers stealthily supported Hitler’s camouflaged Nazi heathen militarism, because they saw it as a potential defense against Soviet Communism.

Little did they know what Adolf Hitler had in mind.

Is there an Islamic Feuhrer out there in the middle east somewhere now, waiting in the wings to make his big move?

In 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain went to Munich and made a deal with Hitler. He came back to England waving a piece of paper that he thought represented peace. But a few months later, Hitler, having stalled the Allies off long enough to build up his wehrmacht, jumped on Czechoslovakia and Poland like a pit bull on a squirrel. You know the rest.

The world got sucked into a terrible war; millions were killed. Because the Allies were worn out with it all by 1945, Stalin took the scraps in eastern Europe that Hitler had failed to hold and therefore left behind for his former ally. Stalin, the fox, outsmarted and outlasted his ally-nemesis, Hitler. Stalin could not have done it without our help. War makes strange bedfellows.

Nowadays, it looks as though the United States, weary of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, is willing to turn the defense of weak Iraq over to the Iranian ayatollahs, so that ISIS will not take all of Shia-dominated Iraq.  Hitler didn’t want the Czechs/socialists to have Sudetenland either.

Those Iranian Shia will be doing the dirty work in proxy war as Franco did for Hitler and Mussolini in 1936-39.

Is this something like turning the protection of the hen-house over to the fox?

We shall see.

 

Smoke

Inevitable forces of history

February 1, 2012

There’s only so much that a man can do. There’s only so that any nation can do, to put a stop to inevitable forces of destruction during their lifetime.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t try. We’ve got to somehow oppose the evils in this life, in this time.

This is what I’m thinking about as I research my current writing project, a novel about inevitabilities in the year 1937. Fascism, was a damn near unstoppable force during that time, although the Allies were later able to pull it off when they had defeated the Nazis of Germany, Italy, and Japan by 1945. But there were eight years of pure hell before the beast was put back in his cage.

However, there was another rising tide during those turbulent times of the late 1930s and ’40s– communism. It was in the background.  Over  yonder in Russia, eastern Europe and China, the ideology of Marx and Lenin was a slumbering giant.

Consider the plights of two military leaders (later political leaders) of that time: Tomas Masaryk of Czechoslovakia and Chiang Kai-shek of China. These two men and their armies were contending against the terrible fascist war machines of their era.

But life is never simple, and the perils of war are never predictable. In Czechoslovakia, Tomas Masaryk was trying to lead his fledgling democratic nation into an alliance with the Allies of the west, most specifically France. However, Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary mustering of the Comintern would inevitably blind-side the Czechs and overtake their democratic impulses, but that didn’t happen until the late 1940s, after a whole damn world war, the Second! one, had been fought and driven into the dust of tragic history.

In the 1920s and ’30s. the Czech leader, Masaryk, had his hands full trying to deal with the after-effects of German-Austrian militarism (left-over from WWI) even as the fascist beast began to raise its ugly head again as Hitler’s zombified nazi war machine.

So it was quite sensible, quite understandable, that Masaryk did not want to take sides in the Russian civil war–communist Reds against nationalist Whites. Masaryk didn’t want to involve his people in a bloody Bolshevik struggle when there was still so much to be dealt with on the German side of his problems.

While developing an alliance with the French in the aftermath of WWI, Masaryk and his Czechs neglected the Russian bolshevik threat from the east.  But that same Russian bear later reared up in the late ’40s and overtook the Czechs anyway.

How could Tomas Masaryk have known? It was all he could do to handle the snake-pit of military and political evils on his western front.

There’s only so much a man, or the nation that he is leading, can do.

Chiang Kai-Shek had the same problem in China. His nationalist armies were fighting Mao Tse-tung’s communist Reds in the 1930s. Meanwhile, just across the sea, the fascist imperial Japanese were about to devour half of China (and all of China if it could have). The Japs took advantage of the Chinese infighting between Chiang and Mao’s opposing forces, until the Japanese threat became so undeniably serious. Both Chinese factions had to lay low against each, even in some cases work together, to run the damn Japs back to their island.

But then after all that had blown over–after the World War in which millions had died–in the late 40s, Mao’s unstoppable communists ran Chiang Kai-Shek and his Kuomintang army off the mainland to Taiwan.

There’s only so much a man can do. Communism, during the 1940s, was a slumbering, though inevitable, giant in both Europe and Asia. Now, alas, seventy years later, the whole idea of communism–the whole Marx/Leninism platform– has kind of ground itself into a post-1989 skid; it lingers confusedly with its finger occupying its nose as the world arranges itself into a new set of slings and arrows and inevitable evils and the heroics that oppose them.

Go figure.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

The one thing that stops politics

January 22, 2012

A politician was talking about the unfortunate condition of his government:

Since the economic had begun…

…growing numbers of Agrarians maintained that the state was ungovernable without their participation, and that their party was the only one capable of managing the state…In the summer of 1933, Beran himself was of the opinion that the rising root of aggravation was an exaggerated school education, and (that), for a child subjected to education, a country person ‘began to stink of horse piss.’

‘We have the most educated proletariat…the government has to perform miracles, so as to be able to maintain an army of tramps who mainly despise work…so that an unemployed worker would not have to leave town for the countryside and ask a farmer for a job.’

The state would never get out of its difficulties without reducing lavish unemployment benefits, ‘this social monster which the socialists have created…’

The politician who presented this position was Rudolph Beran, a leader in the Agrarian party of Czechoslovakia during the 1930s. His assessment was supported largely by rural folks who populated a region known as Sudetenland. Many of the these Agrarians were ethnic Germans whose loyalties were gravitating, during the ’30s, toward support for German occupation of their region of the Czech lands. The passage above was quoted from The Life of Edvard Benes, 1884-1948, by Zbynek Zemen with Antonin Klimek (Oxford, 1997)

However, after a while the extremist rhetoric didn’t really produce much benefit to anyone. In 1939, all the polarizing politics that had been cranked out between fascist and communist extremes in eastern Europe went up in smoke, because Hitler’s war blew all the manipulative politics to smithereens.

Europe in the 1930s was a festering boil of political infection and belligerence that eventually erupted as World War II. At the  core of the contagion was a warm-up war of opposing ideologies:  fascism and communism. Fascism was being force-fed by Germany and Italy.  Communism was perpetrating through the nascent Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, led by Russia.

Pretty much the whole developed world was suffering through an economic depression. The democratic nations, primarily France, Great Britain, and their smaller allies, were grasping at security straws. In their faltering attempts to preserve peace and what was left of prosperity, the liberal democracies were attempting to follow a political course between the two extremes of fascism and communism. This was no easy agenda, given the extremities with which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Russia were polarizing their own internally bloody pathologies along with the other nations under their influence.

The most fervent expression of these death-wish ideologies was being hammered out in eastern Europe. Czechoslovakia and Poland, two regions or “nations” that had long been areas of exploitative manipulations between the larger powers, were destined to become the flash points of the world’s next “great war”–the one that the last “great war” (1912-1918) had purported to avoid.

Czechoslovakia was a fledgling democratic republic during the ’20s and ’30s, having been established in the remnants of the Austria-Hungary empire that had dissipated after 1918 and the end of World War I. But this new Czech nation was a fragmented check-list of ethnic groups: Czechs, Sudetan Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, and a few others.

A multiplicity of political identities in 1930s Czechoslovakia generated a swirling frenzy of discontents. The most intense Czechoslovakian rivalries were in the western border districts,  the Sudetenland, where a  plurality of ethnic Germans held to Deutschland traditions and loyalties. This hotbed of opposing discontents is where World War II found its first militarized eruptions.

During 1938, Hitler’s impudently pagan will-to-power intimidated British and French politicians into submissive strategies of appeasement. The Munich Pact conceded Sudetenland to the third reich, and assigned the Czechs to an impotent role as pawns in the game. Czech leaders had not even been consulted; nor were they present when the sellout deal with the devil was signed in Munich in September. The Nazi wehrmacht‘s ensuing occupation of Sudeten Czech lands set the terrible stage for Hitler’s invasion of the Czech lands in March 1939.

But Czechoslovakia was just a wehrmacht warmup for the full-scale blitzkrieg of Poland that came in September of ’39. That’s when the Allies finally woke up to smell the smoke of hitlerian deception and destruction. Then they began to mobilize the Allied resistance that ultimately became successful by 1945. But World War II was no walk in the park.

A lot has changed in our world since then. Today our politics and war rationalizations display a few discernible parallels with those turbulent times past. Now the players on the stage are the same, but different. European ideological extremities have synthesized somewhat, a la Hegelian dialectics, morphing to “the West.” Meanwhile in Eurasia the old kid on the world block–Islam–rises as a newly energized force-field. It will exert  polarizing effects to religiously neuterize our old ideologies into kaffirific irrelevance. Could be a volatile situation, especially if you factor in the spark-breathing dragon in the far East.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

a little Czech wisdom

January 8, 2012

“The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.”

Jan Patocka, spoken to Vaclav Havel, both of whom were spokesmen for

Charter ’77, in Czechoslovakia

Glass half-Full