Posts Tagged ‘Prague Spring’

Carolina on my Mind

July 21, 2017

Yesterday we spent the entire day traveling back from Hungary to our home in North Carolina.

You could say I had Carolina on my mind as it was my destination, while we shuffled through multiple planes, seats, lines of people, airports, coffee cups, etc to get back to my Carolina home. But I wasn’t really thinking about home yet.

What had happened in eastern Europe during my lifetime was thoroughly fascinating to me.

After spending a couple of weeks hoofing around Vienna, Prague and Budapest, I had developed an intense new interest about how these three countries that we visited–Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary–had managed to endure and overcome Soviet occupation, which finally ended in 1989.

So I filled those long stretches of airliner time reading a collection of letters that Vaclav Havel had written during his lifetime. Vaclav was a Czech, a dissident playwright who had dared to resist and criticize the Soviets during their many years of trying to communize eastern Europe. Fortunately, Vaclav had squeezed through all that long time of communist mumbo-jumbo; when the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and other eastern Europeans managed to eject the Soviets in 1989, the newly-freed citizens of the Czech Republic elected Vaclav Havel as their first President.

All of those changes had not come easily.

While trying to understand some of those changes while reading on the plane, I came across a statement that Vaclav Havel had written in 1969 to Alexander Dubcek, who had  formerly been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Hungary during the time of the Prague Spring movement and the subsequent military invasion by which the Soviets had crushed the Czech initiatives with their tanks, guns and occupying soldiers. Through the roughest part of the 1968 showdown between the Czechs/Slovaks and their Soviet oppressors, Alexander Dubcek was the Czech in charge who had tried to reconcile the two differing positions of Czechs and Soviets.

Here is a thought that Vaclav wrote to Dubcek in 1969 a few months later:

“Though (I was) moved by the physical and psychological pressures you endured, and deeply aware of the complexity of the situation and never for a moment doubting the honesty of your intentions, I was still convinced from the beginning that by signing the Moscow Agreements, you were making a terrible mistake. . .”

Vaclav Havel was quite an independent thinker,  a brave man who survived perilous persecution to ultimately prevail and become President of his own people.

He was one of many dissident Czechs. There were many, many others of eastern Europe who suffered all those changes.

We heard quite a bit of info about it, along with other facts about Czech history, as we followed two excellent guides through two different walking tours in Prague.

On the Discover Prague tour, guide Kevin provided an excellent backstory for us about the events/effects of World War II in Czech lands, and the subsequent Soviet communism period.

On the Sandeman’s tour, guide Karel featured the main points and places of historical interest, such as the Castle, but also including this one:

UCarolina

Our Prague guide Karel stands here in front of Universitas Carolina, which is actually called Charles University, because it is named for Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire back in the 1300’s. So this association of similar names is one reason that I say Carolina is on my mind, aside from the fact that both of our daughters are graduates of the University of North Carolina, back home in the good ole USA, to which we have just returned.

A curious collection of European confusion can sometimes be recalled and possibly correlated when one considers the cornucopia of names directly related to this Carolina root. For a long time I have wondered about it. Between England, France, Germany, the Roman Empire, Austria, Hungary, Czechia et al, the Car… prefix nomenclature becomes quite confusing. There’s the Latin Carolus, the several French kings Charles, going back to Charles Martel, Charlemagne (the main guy), and the Carolingian dynasty that arose from their loins. Also, across the Channel, we find the several English kings Charles (including the one who was beheaded), not to mention the German version Karl and the Czech iteration Karel, and we shan’t neglect to mention wild and crazy American variations  like Charlie and even Chuck. And as if that wasn’t enough. . . my own name, Carey, was mentioned to me– by a girl I knew many moons ago who was proud of her German heritage–she claimed that my name  was  a French or English corruption of the German Karl.

But as I was saying. . . Karl in Prague was telling us about Charles IV, and the founding of Universitas Carolina in 1348 as the first University in central Europe, not to be confused with Central European University in Budapest,

CEUBudp

which I hear was funded by George Soros, a financier quite unpopular among my American conservative colleagues because they say he wants to cram more immigrants into  Old School Europe.

Nevertheless, lest I digress, I will mention, in closing, that  Charles University or Carolina, as we see in the first above pic,was attended by Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein and many other notables. This collection of courageous revisionists goes way back. In the 1400’s the Universitas Carolina became, under the influence of Jan Hus, a hothouse of emerging Protestant revision of the Christian faith.

Thank God for that!

Anyway, speaking of God, back here in my Carolina home, we have an old joke: If God’s not a tar heel, then why’s the sky Carolina blue?, which only adds more curiosity to the confluence of C-words connected to a  Carolina root from which it all came and later culminated, I must conclude.

All in all, it’s good to be back in the New World Carolina, the one sung about by James Taylor,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXmgkvIgc0w

 the very same Carolina  that I was on my mind as I was returning here from recent travels in the Old World Carolina.

King of Soul

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