Posts Tagged ‘Vaclav Havel’

Good Square Wenceslas

July 24, 2017

At Prague’s big square called Wenceslas

in a feast of freedom

the people gathered roundabout

to end their socialist grieving.

Brightly shone their bold intent

to form a new collusion.

Hither came brave Havel, sent

to guide their revolution.

Wencsl'89

Gather, people, stand today,

if freedom be your calling!

Yonder Soviets, who are they?

We’re done with their cruel mauling.

Sure, they’ve been in charge out here,

acting like they own us.

But now it’s time to cast out fear

and strive for freedom’s onus.

Bring us liberty to speak what’s true,

and tell it like it is–

There’s more in this life for us to do

than perish in their communism.

From high and low they did assemble;

So bold, in unity were they staying.

In Solidarity they did resemble

their Polish brethren who were praying.

People! Oh, the day is bright’ning

and a mighty wind of freedom blows,

Behold! Despite their Soviet tightening,

the depravity of their gulag shows.

Collapse of their system is now imminent.

We here resolve to accept our fate

while we apply a democratic liniment,

to this demising socialist State.

VelvetRev

From Soviet rubble these Czechs have trodden

in the wake of tyranny’s destined fall,

Czech and Slovak Republics  plodding

to rise from detritus of fallen Soviet wall.

Now proletariat, artist and bourgeois too

can think and work and overcome their loss,

because the wind of liberty blew through

Prague’s great square called Wenceslas.

WencSqr

King of Soul

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

Obelisk and Balconies

July 19, 2017

As in any city anywhere, many public squares can be found in which some past event or person is commemorated.

Yesterday in Budapest, we came across this obelisk in a place called Szabadság ter, which is Hungarian for Freedom Square.

SovietOb

This monument commemorates the fallen soldiers of the Soviet Union who died while fighting to liberate Budapest from the Nazi forces at the end of World War II, 1945. Now it is a controversial monument, because the Russian liberation of Hungary from Nazi-German occupation, although appreciated by the Hungarians at the time, has faded into the past. Furthermore, the failed communist hegemony that was later imposed brutally by the Soviets is no longer tolerated. In fact, the Hungarians have delivered themselves out of the grip of Soviet domination.

Many Hungarians resent the entire communist period. Consequently, many  want to get rid of the monument. That is a controversy for the people of Hungary, and especially those in Budapest, to decide among themselves.

It is a problematical situation because you can’t please everyone who has deep feelings, or an opinion, about such things as the blood of long-dead soldiers in the ground.

As an American visitor, my personal feeling is: it was unfortunate that our guys did not liberate eastern Europe after the Big War, instead of the Soviet Russian soldiers. With the framework of our American Marshall plan, we could have– we would have– done a better job of helping the Hungarians–the Czechs, Romanians, Yugoslavians, East Germans, Ukrainians and all other eastern Europeans–helping them to recover from the terrible aftermath of warfare.

But history is full of could-haves, would-haves, should-haves. All of history is truly water under the bridge, or, as in this case, blood under the ground. Russians died there in Hungary while running the damn Nazis back into their holes in Germany. It happened. Shit happens.

So the Memorial should probably remain. Nevertheless, there are many other statues that formerly commemorated Soviet Russian activities in Hungary, which HAVE been removed, and I commend the Hungarians and other eastern Europeans who have made such revisions in order to clear the area for setting new courses of liberty for their people.

Moving right along, however . . . Very near this memorial site is another significant site in Budapest,  the Hungarian Parliament Building.

HungParl

We see here the front side, which sits squarely on the Pest (Pesht) side of the Danube river, facing Buda on the west. What an impressive vision for building representative government we see in this nocturnal viewing.

On the backside of this building, there is a very special window, which opens onto a balcony.

BalcBudp

On the ground below it is a large square, Kossuth Square. In that spot, on a certain Tuesday night in October of 1956, thousands of Hungarian citizens were gathered; they were hoping to impose a big change on their government, maybe even a revolution. These people were sick and tired of the communist oppressions that the Soviets had been imposing on them, and they were ready to ditch the whole plan and start over.

The people who had gathered here on that fateful night in 1956  had a man on the inside– the inside of the building, and the inside of the Hungarian Communist Party– which had heretofore been controlled by the International (Russian) Communist Party.

The inside man’s name was Imre Nagy. He was a man of the people, a popular leader, a true Hungarian, and he had just been appointed by the Communist party to be the next Prime Minister.

But Imre was trying to walk a middle path between two impossible positions. The position he favored was in support of what those people down in Kossuth Square were demanding. The other position he strove to represent was the official program of the Communist Party as it was determined by the Supreme Soviet in Moscow.

On a particular Tuesday night in October 1956, Imre Nagy discovered that he could not walk that middle line; he could not negotiate a path of reconciliation between these two positions.  This awareness came to him in a terrible moment of realization–when he squinted out from the balcony and saw the thousands of expectant Hungarians out there. There was a new fire in their eyes, a new tone in their collective cry for government of the people, by the people and for the people.

https://www.amazon.com/Imre-Nagy-Biography-Communist-Lives/dp/1845119592

Janos M. Rainer describes the scene in this 2009 biography of Imre Nagy. With the thronging crowds gathered in from of him, Nagy stood in an open window ready to deliver a message to the people. It was about 9 p.m. The crowd was so large that some people could not hear him, even with the loudspeakers. Rainer writes:

“As Nagy approached the open window, he saw himself confronted with a completely unfamiliar force. (Nagy later said): ‘Only when I perceived the mood in the square did it become clear to me that what was called for was quite different from what I had prepared.’ “

“Comrades!” he began.

Some answered, “We are not comrades!”

Many retorted loudly, “No more comrades!”

Someone said “All of Budapest is here!” “The nation is here.”

The people had gathered there to receive the leadership of a new, fearless Prime Minister to guide their movement into its destiny. They were seriously ready for a change. They were fed up with those guys from Moscow and their lackeys. As far as they could see, Imre Nagy, who stood ready to address them, could be their man of destiny. He had the courage and the independent spirit to rise to the challenge.

But Imre was in no position to accept their mantle of leadership. The heavy burden of his role in the Communist party prevented it. Oil and water do not mix.  He was too good a Communist Party man. According to Soviet doctrine, the Revolution could not happen here and now because the Revolution had already happened.

In 1917, In Russia. According to Communist doctrine, that Bolshevik event would be the model and the inspiration for all revolutions heretofore.

So while Prime Minister Nagy thought he was inching the people’s governance forward a notch or two, an entirely different strategy was being planned by the Soviets for the next day. The light of dawn  saw Soviet tanks rolling into Budapest, to put an end to those Hungarian upstarts thinking they could do something without the Communist Party’s approval. Nagy did nothing to stop it because he knew he couldn’t stop it. He was a realist.

That was one balcony scene. But that  night’s gathering was a mere flash in the pan, a failed attempt to bring democratic processes into communist hammer and sickle brutality. It happened in Soviet-occupied Hungary in 1956.

But there was another balcony scene in eastern Europe and it took place in a not-so-different place–Prague, Czechoslovakia–but at a very different time– 1989.

BalcPrag

From this balcony on Wenceslaus Square in Prague, dissident leader Vaclav Havel, spoke to thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who had gathered there on a fateful night in November of 1989, to demand the right to govern themselves.

Fortunately, this balcony scene ended quite differently from the earlier one in Hungary, 1956. On November 30, 1989, the overwhelming resolve of the assembled Czech people  put an end to Soviet domination. Things were never the same after that liberating night in Prague. Later it was called the Velvet Revolution, because it happened with very little violence.  That’s the night when the Soviets finally began to give up on trying to fix Europe according to their communist programs.

The Prague balcony scene in 1989 is the one that changed eastern Europe forever. But here’s the cold, hard truth about how the cold war finally ended: what the Czechs accomplished with their Velvet Revolution in Wenceslaus Square in 1989 would  not have happened if the Hungarians had not started the ball rolling in 1956.

In history, it takes a while for destined events to happen. In the case of the obelisk and balconies of Soviet-occupied eastern Europe, it took over forty years. Let that be a lesson for all of us freedom-loving people.

King of Soul

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

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

a little Vaclav Havel family history

January 5, 2012

Almost 23 years ago, Vaclav Havel led the people of Czechoslovakia in a revolution that ousted four decades of Soviet communist rule. Early in his life, Vaclav had been a dissident playwright; When the Soviet was rejected in 1989, he became, despite persecution and imprisonment,  President of liberated Czechoslovakia, and in 1993 President of the Czech Republic.

Vaclav Havel died a few weeks ago, on Dec. 18.

Vaclev had come from a good family. His grandfather, Vacslav Havel, had held a venerable role as a civic leader in Prague during the the first decade of the 20th century.  A notable component of Vacslav’s (with an “s” in the middle) legacy, and the legacy of his family, was a grandiose Prague landmark, called the Lucerna Palace, the construction of which was begun in 1907.

Consider this historical account of what happened to the Havel family’s creatively constructed heritage,  before and after a communist government nationalized it in 1949.

From page 37 of Eda Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:

http://www.amazon.com/Vaclav-Havel-Authorized-Eda-Kriseova/dp/0312103174

“Vacslav Havel, Vaclav’s grandfather, built Prague’s Lucerna Palace, an arts and entertainment center that was on a par with that of any great European city. It was his life’s work. He loved Prague and wanted to do something that would promote Prague from an Austro-Hungarian provincial town to a great city…

“…and from time to time, he consulted his wife, Emilie. In his memoirs, Vaclav’s father writes: ‘When his (Vacslav’s) project was finished, he showed my mother his suggestion for the facade on Vodickova Street. As soon as she saw it, she exclaimed that it was like a great big lucerna, or lantern. May father jumped at her remark, saying: That’s a good name for the whole building, Lucerna, It is a Czech word that even a foreigner could pronounce well.’ ”

“During the first stage of development from 1907 to 1908, they built the building on Vodickova Street and its courtyard wing. Grandfather Havel built Lucerna in three stages at his own expense with the help of bonds and mortgages. He and his wife, Emilie, guaranteed the repayment of the loans with all their property as collateral.”

Continuing, from page 38 of Eda Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:

“The ambitious concept of a single enterprise for entertainment, haute cuisine, and culture was crowned by the construction and inauguration of the Great Hall in 1920. The hall was submerged three stories below ground; above it stood a seven-story building. It was the largest underground concert hall in Prague. For the construction of the hall, Vacslav Havel innovated the use of steel-reinforced concrete for the pillars and ceilings, designed and engineered by Stanislav Bechyne, later a member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The construction was a worldwide rarity.

“…after the war (World War II), the Communists nationalized the Lucerna Palace.”

But 18 years before World War II, When Vacslav had died in 1921, ownership of the Lucerna had passed to his son Vaclav (senior, father of the late President Vaclav), from whose possession it was later taken when the communists took over in 1949. From page 84 of Kriseova’s biography of Vaclav Havel:

“According to Vaclav’s father’s memoirs, 1952 was the family’s most difficult year. Mr Havel had to leave the Lucerna. It had not belonged to him for three years, but they had allowed him to work there. He worked well and his employers liked him. The final parting was hard for him, because he was attached to the business by countless emotional ties, by his family tradition, by his whole life.”

Something tells me that this is not the way things should happen. A family was robbed of its legacy by a communist government. The government later allowed the former owner to work as an employee.

If you care to know more about this Lucerna Palace of Prague and the Havel family who built and managed it until it was taken from them, then look it up, or google it. My point here is that there have been times in human history when the hard-earned legacy of an enterprising family was absconded by a redistributive totalitarian government. Among the many forms of injustice in history, this misappropriation is one of them. It happens  when a meddlesome State steals property from the so-called bourgoisie (merchant class), or when a statist government, for purposes of leveling income inequality, occupies the assets of “the rich.”

Here in America, we value and constitutionally protect the rights of individual citizens and families to own private property and manage it as they deem necessary. Let’s keep it that way.

Glass half-Full