Prague Spring 50 Keynote Speech: 1968-1989- From Annus Mirabilis to Annus Horribilis, and Back"
History Department Chair, Dr. James Le Sueur, introduces Michael Žantovský's keynote speech, entitled "1968-1989 - From Annus Mirabilis to Annus Horribilis, and Back," at Prague Spring 50.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - 4:30 - 6:30 pm
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[00:10:09.930]Ambassador Kmonicek warned you earlier on
[00:10:14.440]about how boring
ambassadorial speeches can be.
[00:10:18.830]Well you've heard nothing yet.
ladies and gentlemen,
[00:10:26.720]for some reason, the
history of the Czech nation
[00:10:29.120]and if its many triumphs and tribulations
[00:10:32.800]is haunted by the number eight.
[00:10:36.100]The year 1618 marked the
beginning of the 30 Years' War,
[00:10:39.840]which cemented the 300
years of Austrian dominance
[00:10:43.800]and Catholic religion over the
lands of the Czech Kingdom.
[00:10:48.050]The year 1848, just as much
as elsewhere in Europe,
[00:10:52.700]embodied the hopes for
the national renaissance
[00:10:55.830]and Republican sentiment
[00:10:58.160]whose failure led to a first massive wave
[00:11:01.510]of Czech immigration to the United States.
[00:11:05.300]1938 was the year of the Munich Crisis,
[00:11:08.740]which deprived Czechoslovakia
of its young independence
[00:11:12.660]and set the world on a
course for the horrors
[00:11:15.810]of the Second World War.
[00:11:17.520]And 10 years later, in 1948,
the communists took power
[00:11:23.040]in Czechoslovakia, and
the Iron Curtain descended
[00:11:26.980]over the continent for another 40 years.
[00:11:30.550]You may have noticed though,
that I omitted deliberately
[00:11:34.910]two major number eight anniversaries
[00:11:37.940]both falling on this year.
[00:11:40.210]100 years ago, independent Czechoslovakia
[00:11:43.650]came into being in large
part thanks to the efforts
[00:11:46.540]of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk
[00:11:48.410]and the support he obtained
from many Czech Americans
[00:11:51.180]and from President Woodrow Wilson.
[00:11:53.858]Incidentally, it is also 100 years ago
[00:11:58.550]that a novel by an alumna of
this university, Willa Cather,
[00:12:03.660]about the struggles of a
family of Czech immigrants
[00:12:07.140]to Nebraska, My Antonia, was
published to great acclaim.
[00:12:14.050]Then there are the events of 50 years ago
[00:12:16.720]that brought us all here today,
[00:12:18.700]thanks to the enthusiasm and the vision
[00:12:20.850]of Professor Lasur Mariana
Capkova and the collaborators
[00:12:24.070]at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln.
[00:12:27.452]I suppose that the intention has been
[00:12:30.080]not just to remember and
celebrate the anniversary,
[00:12:33.330]but rather try to make sense of the events
[00:12:36.700]that transpired then.
[00:12:39.190]And it is not easy.
[00:12:41.630]The Prague Spring of 1968,
[00:12:44.880]and for that method that whole year,
[00:12:49.210]resembled an attack of
manic depressive psychosis.
[00:12:54.130]You remember that I'm a psychologist.
[00:12:57.280]After all, it was just
one of the many events
[00:13:00.270]of an annus mirabilis, a year of wonders,
[00:13:04.160]remarkable in equal degree
for the rapid onrush
[00:13:07.830]of hopes and euphoria
as for the sudden plunge
[00:13:12.490]into despair and hopelessness
for the psychedelic mirages,
[00:13:17.360]expressions of unbounded love,
and fits of wanton violence.
[00:13:22.220]All of which engulfed alternately,
[00:13:25.260]and sometimes simultaneously,
[00:13:29.490]Chicago, Warsaw, Belgrade, Los Angeles,
[00:13:33.210]Prague, and other cities.
[00:13:35.620]Almost as if Clio, the daughter of Zeus,
[00:13:39.900]and Mnemosyne, head goddess
of memory, had one too many.
[00:13:45.460]Or at least that is how you
felt if you just stand 19,
[00:13:49.230]like I was then, and never
experience anything else
[00:13:53.280]than totalitarian communism
with its very limited
[00:13:56.420]range of colors, emotions
[00:14:00.580]And then all of a sudden
a world of limitless,
[00:14:04.190]and sometimes endless discussions,
[00:14:06.730]romantic adventures, and
[00:14:10.000]open before you only to shut down again
[00:14:13.123]with a clank of the armored hatches
[00:14:15.270]on the turrets of the Soviet tanks.
[00:14:19.070]Surely the contours of history
[00:14:20.990]are always sharper looking back
[00:14:22.780]than when it is actually happening.
[00:14:25.400]In reality, the Prague
Spring was not born overnight
[00:14:28.980]on the night of the 6th of January 1968,
[00:14:31.900]with the departure of the
Stalinist Czechoslovak leader,
[00:14:35.260]Antonin Novotny, from the top
post of the party hierarchy,
[00:14:39.050]and his replacement by the little known
[00:14:41.070]Slovak apparatchik, Alexander Dubcek.
[00:14:44.490]It was, had been germinating
through the long end
[00:14:48.690]of the winter of Stalinism
from the end of the 1950s,
[00:14:53.370]and through the whole following decade.
[00:14:55.910]It sprang the first bud and blossoms
thinking, daring theater,
[00:15:02.630]obscene dance figures of rock and roll,
[00:15:05.740]innovative movies, and
[00:15:09.320]Many of which withered
and died in the frost
[00:15:12.150]of the official disapproval,
only to be succeeded
[00:15:15.920]by others more numerous
and more daring still.
[00:15:20.690]It could be discerned in
the fits of second thoughts
[00:15:24.080]and apostasy, and many
sometime loyal and stilled
[00:15:27.840]comsummal carders, much as
the pubertetex teenagers
[00:15:33.010]or passion surprises reasonable man
[00:15:35.350]in the crisis of the middle age.
[00:15:38.250]The milestones on this road
to where the mirage of freedom
[00:15:42.440]turned out to be events of a
supremely non-political nature,
[00:15:47.170]such as the first scientific conference
[00:15:50.360]of literary scholars on Franz Kafka,
[00:15:54.160]a non-person for the regime
until then, in Liblitz in 1963.
[00:15:59.720]The first film musical
about forbidden teenage love
[00:16:04.020]starts in Na Chmelu, Love
Harvests in Summer, 1964.
[00:16:09.840]Milos Forman's Concourse,
or Audition in English,
[00:16:14.072](speaking in foreign language),
Loves of a Blonde in 1965,
[00:16:19.220]and other films of the Czech new wave.
[00:16:22.550]The first night in the
theater on the battle straight
[00:16:25.790]of (speaking in foreign
language), the Garden Party.
[00:16:29.610]In 1963, the first produced
play by the until then,
[00:16:33.510]unknown playwright, Vaclav Havel,
[00:16:36.640]which was in its time, only
a path of a major offensive
[00:16:40.800]of so-called small theaters,
[00:16:43.570]with names like (speaking in
foreign language), and others.
[00:16:47.170]And off-Broadway, or
off-off-Broadway type of movement
[00:16:51.070]of nonconformist theater artists.
[00:16:53.910]It was the unexpected public reaction
[00:16:57.480]against the severance by
Czechoslovakia of diplomatic ties
[00:17:01.080]with Israel following the
June 1967 Six-Days War.
[00:17:05.950]The scandalous disobedience of leading
[00:17:08.780]Czech and Slovak writers
at the first congress
[00:17:11.819]of the Union of Czechslovak writers
[00:17:14.230]at the end of the same month,
[00:17:16.319]and the growing resistance
of Slovak politicians
[00:17:19.599]and intellectuals against
the insensitive Pragocentric
[00:17:24.030]policies of President and
Party Secretary Novotny,
[00:17:28.210]which exploded with full force
at the October 1967 meeting
[00:17:33.780]of the Center Committee
of the Communist Party,
[00:17:36.500]and led eventually to
the removal of Novotny
[00:17:39.230]and his replacement by
Dubcek two months later.
[00:17:42.530]There was an intermezzo of a meeting
[00:17:46.280]of the Central Committee
two days before Christmas,
[00:17:49.440]which Secretary Novotny
facing inevitable censure,
[00:17:53.250]famously adjourned by declaring
that the lady comrades
[00:17:58.670]had to go Christmas shopping.
[00:18:02.260]After that, the Prague Spring
blossomed with 1,000 flowers.
[00:18:07.370]Eight months, for that was all it lasted,
[00:18:09.980]it was too short a time to
bring about practical results
[00:18:13.550]of the new more liberal
approach of the Dubcek-led team,
[00:18:17.660]which spent most of its energy
[00:18:19.300]in the struggle with the
determined rear guard action
[00:18:22.050]of the conservatives in the party.
[00:18:24.710]The relaxation at the end
of February of censorship
[00:18:28.300]brought about a flood of revelations about
[00:18:30.680]the Stalinist Trials, the
interference of the Soviet Union,
[00:18:34.560]and the internal affairs
[00:18:37.600]and the dubious past
of some of the leading
[00:18:43.580]with the significant
opening of the borders
[00:18:45.940]for the travel of
Czechoslovak cities (mumbling)
[00:18:49.260]the headiest ships of freedom.
[00:18:52.320]The complete demolition of censorship
[00:18:54.070]by the National Assembly
at the end of June
[00:18:56.650]only acknowledged the reality
[00:18:58.350]already existing on the ground.
[00:19:01.190]Many, though not all of the victims
[00:19:04.020]of communist injustice,
[00:19:07.740]Many hitherto forbidden works published,
[00:19:11.270]and some until then undreamt of products
[00:19:14.070]appear in the stores
signaling the reemergence
[00:19:18.020]of a modicum of market mechanisms.
[00:19:21.290]But that was largely all.
[00:19:23.270]The more fundamental
changes, including amendments
[00:19:26.170]to the constitution to
introduce a federal system
[00:19:29.160]for the country inhabited by two related
[00:19:31.410]but different nations, the
Czechs and the Slovaks,
[00:19:34.670]and to allow for a more pluralist society,
[00:19:38.950]were expected to take place
following the congress
[00:19:41.930]of the Communist Party
at the end of the year.
[00:19:45.880]Such fundamental changes,
which never acquired more than
[00:19:49.860]the vaguest of shapes,
however died premature deaths
[00:19:54.490]during the night of 20th August, 1968,
[00:19:58.970]under the tracks of the Soviet tanks,
[00:20:01.690]demonstrating the so-called
[00:20:04.937]under which a threat to
socialism in one of the countries
[00:20:08.980]of the Socialist camp, meant
a threat to socialism as such.
[00:20:14.440]Ironically, Brezhnev was absolutely right.
[00:20:18.280]Since the beginning, the
reforms in Czechoslovakia
[00:20:22.030]came under the increasing pressure
[00:20:24.540]from the non-Communist
part of the society,
[00:20:27.500]which was unwilling to be
mollified with cosmetic changes,
[00:20:31.420]but rather demanded more
and more energetically,
[00:20:35.020]full civic liberties.
[00:20:37.080]Doing away with the constitutionally
[00:20:40.450]of a single political party,
[00:20:42.590]the freedom of decision on
foreign policy questions,
[00:20:46.039]and the removal of the command monopoly
[00:20:48.930]by the state of the economy.
[00:20:51.835]It was not hard to imagine
that where Czechoslovakia
[00:20:54.840]to win such a degree of freedom,
[00:20:56.920]people in the other Communist countries,
[00:20:59.310]and in the end, even the
citizens of the Soviet Union
[00:21:02.450]would demand the same.
[00:21:06.380]When the drama petered
out several weeks later,
[00:21:09.630]when the futile resistance of ordinary
[00:21:12.080]Czech and Slovak citizens in the streets
[00:21:14.730]and on the barricade ceased,
[00:21:16.880]and when the Communist leadership
[00:21:18.530]forcibly kidnapped to Moscow,
[00:21:20.900]accepted with a single honorable acception
[00:21:24.010]of Frantisek Kriegel, a
[00:21:27.570]to the Soviet demands.
[00:21:29.270]And when subsequently, the
policy of the so-called
[00:21:33.310]normalization not only did away
with the modest achievements
[00:21:37.470]of the reform process, but
embarked on the road of purges,
mistreatment of its opponents
[00:21:45.440]to suffocate even the smallest gems
[00:21:48.230]of the potential relapse of
the democratic infection.
[00:21:52.210]There remained of the whole Prague Spring,
[00:21:55.320]a single but crucial lessons.
[00:21:58.290]On this, I may differ a little
with Ambassador Kmonicek,
[00:22:02.580]but I was there.
[00:22:05.810]The Communist system was unreformable.
[00:22:09.070]Any attempt at its partial reform
[00:22:11.370]led either to its suppression by force,
[00:22:14.320]or to the inevitable
collapse of the whole system.
[00:22:18.210]Human liberty could not
coexist with a political system
[00:22:21.810]that organizes society and its future
[00:22:24.710]according to a preconceived plan.
[00:22:27.870]The final proof of this lesson in practice
[00:22:30.940]was presented, though unwittingly,
[00:22:33.540]20 years later by Mikhail Gorbachev.
[00:22:36.901]The germination and
internalization of this awareness
[00:22:40.300]in the long twilight of the
[00:22:44.360]was to play an invariable role
[00:22:46.770]in the Velvet Revolution of November 1989,
[00:22:49.970]and similar revolutionary events
[00:22:51.770]in all the European Communist countries.
[00:22:54.570]Quite often, human progress is born
[00:22:57.410]not so much out of
victories, as out of defeats.
[00:23:01.504]At the same time, it may
sometimes take quite long
[00:23:04.440]before this happens.
[00:23:06.000]In the events, the collaborators
in the Czechoslovak
[00:23:08.830]political leadership taking courage
[00:23:10.780]from the presence of a
massive occupying force,
[00:23:14.040]immediately set about dismantling
the meager achievements
[00:23:17.390]of the reform process.
[00:23:19.270]In nine months, using as a pretext
celebrations in the streets
[00:23:26.120]following the World Cup
victory of the Czechoslovak
[00:23:28.770]ice hockey team over the
officially unbeatable Soviet Union,
[00:23:33.210]something that the Corn
Huskers should understand...
[00:23:37.060]Dubcek forever hesitating
between courage and loyalty
[00:23:41.220]to the Party and the Soviets was fired
[00:23:44.840]and replaced by another
Slovak, Gustav Husak,
[00:23:48.100]a ruthless opportunist who
started to tighten the screws,
[00:23:51.920]and himself a former political prisoner,
[00:23:54.750]to persecute and jail political opponents.
[00:23:58.450]The purges within the Communist Party
[00:24:00.960]cost several tens of thousands of comrades
[00:24:04.060]their membership card.
[00:24:06.240]And purges within and outside the party
[00:24:09.020]cost hundreds of thousands
of people their jobs.
[00:24:12.680]Any sign of resistance or unorthodoxy
[00:24:15.310]was mercilessly suppressed.
[00:24:17.620]In two years, the most
reformist Communist regime
[00:24:21.080]in central and eastern
Europe became once again
[00:24:24.110]the bastian of neo-Stalinism,
[00:24:27.200]the biafra of the spirit in
the words of the French writer,
[00:24:31.260]Louis Aragon, once himself, a
loyal Communist Party member.
[00:24:36.100]The whole system wound down
[00:24:37.740]to its lowest common denominator,
[00:24:39.680]be it in culture, arts,
education or economy.
[00:24:43.230]All movements stopped and was
replaced by a ghostly silence.
[00:24:47.800]It was as Vaclav Havel remark
[00:24:49.980]in his 1975 letter to Gustav Husak,
[00:24:53.650]which ushered in the era of descent
[00:24:56.020]the quiet of a graveyard.
[00:24:59.050]But the lesson of August 1968
[00:25:01.420]about the fundamental incompatibility
[00:25:03.950]of communism with freedom persisted
[00:25:07.060]and kept undermining any
attempt of the system
[00:25:10.050]at recovering a modicum of legitimacy,
[00:25:13.660]let alone respectability.
[00:25:15.918]One after another, the Communist Parties
[00:25:18.590]in the west of Europe broke
off from the Soviet hegemon
[00:25:22.440]and attempted to practice
a watered down version
[00:25:25.270]of the creed called Eurocommunisim,
[00:25:28.780]though eventually they too, went under.
[00:25:31.890]In an ironic admission of their failure,
[00:25:34.790]the Czechoslovak Communists
internalized the lesson
[00:25:37.550]in a pompous 1970 document called
[00:25:41.380]Lessons from the 1968 Crisis Development,
[00:25:45.300]admitting among other
things, and I will quote,
[00:25:48.420]in 1968, the Communist
Party gradually ceased to be
[00:25:51.980]the command center of
the Socialist system.
[00:25:54.890]The daring and the aggressivity
of the counterrevolution
[00:25:58.520]increased while the
possibility of suppressing it
[00:26:02.440]by means of domestic politics and force
[00:26:05.600]gradually weakened, and
eventually disappeared, unquote.
[00:26:10.700]The lesson was equally internalized
[00:26:12.740]by the small group of
people around Vaclav Havel
[00:26:15.810]and by some of the recently
purged Communist intellectuals.
[00:26:20.190]In a form of political
jiu-jitsu, they started appealing
[00:26:24.910]to the government to practice
its own constitution loss
[00:26:28.720]and international commitments,
[00:26:30.730]notably, the 1975 final act
of the Helsinki Conference
[00:26:35.080]on security and cooperation in Europe,
[00:26:38.040]in which 35 countries,
[00:26:39.700]including the United
States and the Soviet Union
[00:26:42.240]undertook to observe the
human rights standards
[00:26:44.700]contained in the UN Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
[00:26:48.570]Thus originated the Charter 77
[00:26:50.980]Human Rights Initiative in Czechoslovakia,
[00:26:54.170]the Workers' Defense
Committee, later renamed to
[00:26:56.620]Committee of Social
Self Defense in Poland,
[00:26:59.960]and other such initiatives
throughout the Communist bloc.
[00:27:03.390]Although the system
responded with persecution,
[00:27:07.240]beatings, forced exile just
intensives of several years,
[00:27:11.070]and in 1981, even the introduction of
[00:27:15.850]the Marshall Law in Poland to suppress
[00:27:18.990]the Solidarnosc movement,
it was never again able
[00:27:22.700]to put the gin back into the bottle.
[00:27:25.660]When in 1985, Mikhail
Gorbachev came to power
[00:27:29.370]following a secession of walking dead
[00:27:32.490]at the helm of the Soviet leadership,
[00:27:35.410]he was facing a fatal dilemma.
[00:27:38.360]Either to reassert the orthodoxy of
totalitarianism and see
[00:27:43.777]the economy collapse as a
result of the inefficiencies,
[00:27:47.490]the absurdities, and the wastefulness
[00:27:49.900]of the command economy,
which was at the time,
[00:27:53.090]waging a losing arms race competition
[00:27:55.260]with the United States.
[00:27:57.280]Or to relax the reins on the society
[00:27:59.880]in the hope of bringing the economy back
[00:28:02.470]and risk the collapse of
the whole political edifice.
[00:28:06.040]He chose the latter option, on occasion,
[00:28:08.110]citing the model of the
Prague Spring of 1968,
[00:28:12.080]and saw the inevitable happen.
[00:28:15.580]20 years after the invasion,
[00:28:17.680]the writing was on the Berlin Wall.
[00:28:20.410]On the anniversary, 21st of August,
[00:28:24.436]10,000 people were marching
down the Wenceslas Square
[00:28:28.870]singing the national anthem,
and braving police truncheons,
[00:28:32.610]and German shepherd dogs.
[00:28:35.298]On the 28th of October,
the 70th anniversary
[00:28:38.840]of free and independent
Czechoslovakia, they did it again,
[00:28:42.860]and again, and again.
[00:28:45.220]In Poland, after almost the
decade of Marshall Law regime,
[00:28:49.350]the Solidarnosc was resurgent,
[00:28:51.490]entering talks with the
government about sharing power.
[00:28:55.370]The Neues Forum in Germany
organized public meetings
[00:28:58.350]in Leipzig and other big cities
[00:29:00.950]in the face of police violence.
[00:29:05.410]And the Soviet Union itself was falling
[00:29:07.520]to the fall of perestroika and glasnost.
[00:29:11.020]Unprecedented, though limited reforms
[00:29:14.580]somewhat resembling the Prague Spring.
[00:29:17.210]It was now only a question of time,
[00:29:19.910]though we did not know it at the time.
[00:29:23.600]The next year, the whole
[00:29:26.800]in the central and eastern Europe
[00:29:28.290]crumbled with astonishing speed,
[00:29:30.930]and with the exception of Romania,
[00:29:33.520]even more astonishing absence of violence.
[00:29:36.790]Unlike with other revolutions,
[00:29:39.430]implosion was probably a better term
[00:29:41.500]to describe it than explosion.
[00:29:44.820]Roundtable talks between the
government and the opposition,
[00:29:47.760]followed by half-open elections in Poland,
[00:29:51.560]the breach of the Iron Curtain
[00:29:53.210]attained by East German discontents
[00:29:55.250]with the help of the Hungarian Government
[00:29:57.650]and the people of Prague,
[00:29:59.490]the fall of the Berlin Wall
on the 9th of November,
[00:30:03.320]and the eruption of the Velvet Revolution
[00:30:05.460]on the improbable date
of 17th of November,
the plans of the opposition,
[00:30:13.070]and perhaps even of the government
[00:30:15.140]for a final confrontation
on the 10th of December
[00:30:19.380]all led to the quick capitulation
[00:30:21.660]of the Communist Governments,
[00:30:23.310]and the equally quick replacement
[00:30:25.580]by a mixture of dissidents,
[00:30:28.150]reformists and pragmatic bureaucrats.
[00:30:31.891]There was yet another lesson to be drawn
[00:30:33.980]from the events of the
Prague Spring 20 years back.
[00:30:37.320]The opposition loosely
organized around the civic forum
[00:30:40.470]in the Czech part of the country
[00:30:41.940]and the public against
violence in Slovakia,
[00:30:45.730]was a diverse collection
of Liberal Democrats,
[00:30:48.500]former Communist Reformists,
[00:30:51.750]and young radicals bred
by the underground,
[00:30:56.170]largely copying the
composition of Charter 77
[00:30:59.200]as the largest and most
influential opposition group.
[00:31:03.190]Once the revolution prevailed,
the question of the future
[00:31:06.700]that few people had been
[00:31:09.590]because of the prevailing consensus
[00:31:11.530]that there was not much
of a future to be had,
[00:31:14.390]began to loom large.
[00:31:16.620]A small, but well-organized
group of Reformists
[00:31:20.590]centered around a movement
of Socialist renaissance,
[00:31:24.270]called Obroda, renaissance,
[00:31:27.010]explicitly advocated an approach
[00:31:29.260]based on the policies
of the Prague Spring,
[00:31:31.890]with a liberalized political
and economic system
[00:31:35.100]generally adhering to
the Socialist principles.
[00:31:38.830]In this, they could rely on the support
[00:31:41.780]never properly gauged, but set an existing
[00:31:45.030]of many of the Czechoslovak
citizens who found it hard
[00:31:48.870]after 40 years of Communism
to imagine a future
[00:31:52.600]that was radically different.
[00:31:55.010]A larger part of the civic forum though,
[00:31:57.680]drew on the 12 years of
the Charter 77 struggle
[00:32:01.080]for human rights and civic freedoms.
[00:32:03.650]Advocating a road that would
be wide open in many directions
[00:32:08.390]based on the free exercise
of the people's will.
[00:32:13.700]As often happens, this
debate became personified
[00:32:17.420]around the two plausible candidates
[00:32:19.450]for the presidency to replace
[00:32:21.690]the utterly discredited
and despised Gustav Husak.
[00:32:25.370]Of the two, Alexander Dubcek,
[00:32:27.580]the leader of the Prague
Spring, was the better known,
[00:32:31.030]domestically and internationally.
[00:32:33.380]He was generally liked as
a decent and modest man,
[00:32:37.080]praised for his humane
and democratic instincts,
[00:32:40.610]and criticized for his
[00:32:43.560]and ultimate capitulation.
[00:32:46.430]The other man was Vaclav Havel,
[00:32:48.710]an intellectual with no
[00:32:51.650]but at the same time, a man who had won
[00:32:53.960]an enormous moral credit,
which he earned the hard way
[00:32:57.980]through 20 years of principled opposition
[00:33:00.260]to the communist arrogance,
injustice and abuse of power,
[00:33:04.310]and five years in a communist prison.
[00:33:07.290]In the end, it was a no contest,
[00:33:10.610]suggesting that the difference went deeper
[00:33:12.900]than the personal
qualities of the two men.
[00:33:15.810]To the leaders and activists
of the civic forum in Prague,
[00:33:18.900]as well as the public against
violence in Bratislava,
[00:33:22.260]and indeed to anyone with eyes to see,
[00:33:25.270]it was clear that Alexander Dubcek
[00:33:27.980]for all his decency and
niceness, was a man of the past,
[00:33:32.170]representing a symbolic return to 1968.
[00:33:35.866]And the endless discussion
about the compatibility
[00:33:39.070]of a pluralist political system
[00:33:41.170]with the leading role
of the Communist Party,
[00:33:43.820]and that of a command state economy
[00:33:46.533]with private property and
the rules of the market,
[00:33:50.090]while Havel was a man of an uncertain,
[00:33:54.610]but irresistibly tempting future
of a free and open society.
[00:33:59.400]For all the problems,
arguments and challenges
[00:34:02.040]that were to come, the choice
has been largely vindicated
[00:34:06.140]by the developments of the last 28 years.
[00:34:09.690]Now it would be tempting
to finish on this positive,
[00:34:13.820]perhaps even slightly complacent note,
[00:34:17.010]but there may be another
lesson to be drawn.
[00:34:20.620]What had been achieved by the revolutions
[00:34:22.639]in central and eastern Europe,
[00:34:24.370]with the support of Democrats in the west,
[00:34:26.969]seemed at the time, so
definite and so irreversible
[00:34:31.889]that it tempted at least one
talented American politologist
[00:34:36.170]to write a not entirely
well considered piece
[00:34:39.270]on the end of history,
indicating that liberal democracy
[00:34:43.190]was the final stage of political
evolution of societies.
[00:34:47.650]Not only do we now know better
[00:34:49.760]thanks to the enemies of
democracy around the world,
[00:34:53.159]but liberal democracy
itself is being questioned
[00:34:56.550]by an increasing number of
people in our own society
[00:35:00.520]in our midst who point out at
its real or imagined flaws,
[00:35:05.110]such as inefficiency, corruption,
[00:35:09.320]inability to effectively
defend our values,
[00:35:12.000]traditions, and culture against the forces
[00:35:15.290]of the global society and
of the fake news world.
[00:35:19.612]There are voices
questioning the usefulness
[00:35:22.290]of traditional political rules,
[00:35:24.670]constitutional checks and balances,
and division of power
[00:35:31.010]offering quick fixes, instead.
[00:35:34.210]There are even voices questioning
the concepts of history,
[00:35:37.470]memory, and the truth itself,
[00:35:40.420]including the truth about our own past.
[00:35:44.410]But as George Santayana famously said,
[00:35:48.080]those who cannot remember the past
[00:35:50.080]are condemned to repeat
it, and that is also why
[00:35:54.030]events like this are so important.
[00:35:56.310]Thank you very much.
[00:36:08.920]- [Audience Member] Thank
you for your speech.
[00:36:11.880]I have a question...
[00:36:16.290]That relates to the end of your speech.
[00:36:23.780]The end of your speech sounded
like sort of a warning,
[00:36:27.930]or yeah, was a warning.
[00:36:33.030]Kind of a comment on current
situation in Czech Republic,
[00:36:39.490]where there are, let's say...
[00:36:45.750]Rising political forces
that are trying to...
[00:36:55.490]Undermine democratic values,
[00:36:59.260]or that's what I understood
you kind of wanted to say.
[00:37:07.320]Well I wonder, how do you...
[00:37:13.262]How would you explain
this sort of a change?
[00:37:18.510]Why does that happens?
[00:37:26.960]By the way, let me introduce Petra Hulova,
[00:37:31.040]a popular Czech writer.
[00:37:36.355]The question is well phrased.
[00:37:46.856]What I meant to say was a warning
[00:37:51.530]not only directed at my own country,
[00:37:54.740]although I don't hide.
[00:37:57.400]I'm rather concerned about some things
[00:38:02.270]going on there recently.
[00:38:07.470]It applies to most of the
continent we live on, Europe,
[00:38:14.090]and to most of the European countries.
[00:38:16.650]If you look at every single election
[00:38:23.970]in the last two or three years,
[00:38:27.300]the number of votes for parties
[00:38:30.850]that are sometimes called populous,
[00:38:32.880]sometimes called anti-systemic,
is invariably rising.
[00:38:39.998]It's a lesson that is not well understood
[00:38:42.990]because it's been overshadowed by events
[00:38:47.380]like the victory of
President Macron in France.
[00:38:53.570]The fact that in Germany,
the grand coalition
[00:38:58.050]is going to continue,
et cetera, et cetera.
[00:39:04.410]In doing so, it obscures the
fact that the number of people
[00:39:10.210]voting for Front Nationale,
[00:39:13.700]front for the alternative for Germany,
[00:39:17.130]and other of the anti-systemic parties
[00:39:19.290]is continually rising.
[00:39:23.007]Nowhere is this more evident
than in central Europe,
[00:39:26.910]and some of the events
recently in Hungary,
[00:39:31.610]in Poland, and lately in Slovakia,
[00:39:34.920]also point to a shared consent.
[00:39:40.780]I want to be a polite guest, but I...
[00:39:47.326]I have some suspicion
[00:39:51.290]that some of this is going on
[00:39:53.560]in this great country, as well.
[00:39:57.870]Why is this happening?
[00:40:01.460]I have a favorite, one
of my favorite cartoons
[00:40:07.270]is a cartoon, 40 years old,
[00:40:13.090]about a character named Pogo.
[00:40:18.430]Pogo goes around and looks
for all kinds of mischief,
[00:40:24.010]and enemies, and finally
comes back and says,
[00:40:29.940]we have found the enemy,
and the enemy is us.
[00:40:34.860]That strikes me as being very true.
[00:40:38.950]I think that we have
been much too complacent
[00:40:45.340]in the democratic west
over the last 20, 30 years,
[00:40:51.300]since the changes in 1989.
[00:40:54.690]I think we did not...
[00:40:58.920]For a time, we almost denied the existence
[00:41:04.960]of the category of an enemy
as if no enemies ever existed.
[00:41:13.416]They do exist.
[00:41:16.597]We have been, I think, much too tolerant
[00:41:20.934]of corruption and
political backroom dealing,
[00:41:26.570]and things of that kind.
[00:41:30.440]That people I think, quite
justifiably, react against.
[00:41:38.110]For me, that's one of the factors.
[00:41:40.160]The other factor is the
process of globalization,
[00:41:43.720]which has been quite often
identified as a culprit.
[00:41:52.341]Which may have to do with
the fact that although
[00:41:56.136]our media, our governments,
[00:42:01.540]are all living in the world
[00:42:07.400]of a global society these days
[00:42:09.860]because of global trade
flows, and investment flows,
[00:42:14.880]and other such things
that determine the success
[00:42:21.110]of a society, of an economy,
[00:42:23.350]most individual people still
live in a local society.
[00:42:28.910]They don't spend every day worrying about
[00:42:36.310]climate change, and Ebola,
[00:42:38.890]and other global threats like this,
[00:42:45.560]but worry about how to get by
train or bus to the next town,
[00:42:53.940]how to keep their job in a local factory,
[00:42:56.900]and how to get a decent
education for their kids.
[00:43:01.964]Many of them apparently
feel that the politicians
[00:43:06.989]have given them up, that
they've forgotten about them,
[00:43:11.440]that they worry about
Ebola, and climate change,
[00:43:16.558]and not worry about them.
[00:43:21.990]The sad, and last, and
the most complex factor
[00:43:24.545]that I'm only beginning
to try to understand,
[00:43:30.800]not to understand, to try to understand,
[00:43:34.414]is what happened to
global information flows,
[00:43:39.680]and the verifiability...
[00:43:48.290]What happens with hundreds
of millions people,
[00:43:54.020]more than a billion people on the Facebook
[00:43:59.380]who have a problem differentiating between
[00:44:03.650]what is actually true and correct,
[00:44:06.050]and what is not true and correct.
[00:44:14.000]For a long time, this
seemed like something
[00:44:20.070]every major change brings about.
[00:44:24.085]The chaos of what an Austrian economist
[00:44:30.080]Schumacher called, creative destruction.
[00:44:34.620]More recently, some of it looks...
[00:44:40.139]To be in part, deliberate, and designed.
[00:44:50.150]The latest of these stories
[00:44:52.296]that we are trying to make sense out of
[00:44:56.230]is the story of the British company
[00:44:59.780]named Cambridge Analytica
[00:45:02.510]that apparently tampered
with individual data,
[00:45:11.750]and electoral processes in said countries,
[00:45:19.700]possibly on behalf of,
[00:45:22.250]or with the support of Russian companies.
[00:45:28.545]There's one of the designers of,
[00:45:34.150]programmers of the company
who was interviewed
[00:45:36.924]about this recently,
introduced me to a new concept,
[00:45:41.830]which he called the concept
of information dominance.
[00:45:45.360]Meaning that with the data
they have at their disposal,
[00:45:51.610]they are able to bombard an individual
[00:45:56.380]with massive amounts of
information, true or false,
[00:46:02.640]that will basically determine
what they think about
[00:46:06.948]an event or about a process.
[00:46:08.910]That's what's called
[00:46:11.810]and that's Orwellian for
me, very, very scary.
[00:46:18.725]I apologize for taking so long
with the answers. (laughs)
[00:46:23.960]- [Audience Member] Hello.
[00:46:24.793]I have a light-heartedly serious question.
[00:46:29.470]I was intrigued by your
integration of the number eight
[00:46:33.960]across continents, literature,
events that are historical.
[00:46:41.140]I happen to know a little
bit about the fact that
[00:46:44.010]number eight is really
important for the Chinese
[00:46:46.920]because it's linked with
the idea of fortune.
[00:46:50.170]In Biblical studies, the
number eight has relevance
[00:46:53.830]because it's linked to
regeneration and resurrection.
[00:46:59.490]As you think in terms of social psychology
[00:47:02.640]about the relevance of
number eight in the future,
[00:47:07.540]my question is, where is
eight going to occur again?
[00:47:12.040]What can you predict about it?
[00:47:14.280]For the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
[00:47:17.950]a big number that's
coming up for us is 150
[00:47:22.030]because the university
is celebrating 150 years.
[00:47:27.730]And 25, we have a 25
year plan in the works,
[00:47:31.530]but for you it's eight, which
has its own kind of magic.
[00:47:36.200]So I'm wondering, what is
the next important eight?
[00:47:46.547]I've been educated as scientist,
and I try to remain one.
[00:47:51.260]I mean, descriptively, there's no question
[00:47:54.510]that the number eight occurs
[00:48:03.010]in Czech history, but I'm far from drawing
[00:48:06.840]any major conclusions from that.
[00:48:11.950]The science of numbers
exists in many cultures.
[00:48:19.750]And the problem with it
is that it sometimes means
[00:48:25.280]different things for different people.
[00:48:28.310]In Hebrew, gematria, or in Judaism,
[00:48:34.470]the science of numbers assigns a number
[00:48:39.830]to every Hebrew letter, et cetera.
[00:48:45.390]Number 13, which for
most of us in the west
[00:48:50.370]is such an unfortunate number,
[00:48:53.420]that many people avoid the
13th floor in the elevators,
[00:49:00.550]means life in Hebrew, HaShem.
[00:49:04.786]It's one of the luckiest
numbers you can draw.
[00:49:10.880]I don't see a universal
message there, I'm sorry.
[00:49:30.260]- [Audience Member] Thank you.
[00:49:31.830]My question is now 50 years after 1968,
[00:49:37.710]what is a perhaps better way to say it,
[00:49:42.400]how is the legacy of
Prague Spring perceived
[00:49:47.420]in the Czech lands and in Slovakia?
[00:49:55.090]- It's hard to say.
[00:49:59.560]One thing that struck me is that
[00:50:05.876]compared to this grand event
[00:50:08.610]organized at the University
of Nebraska in Lincoln,
[00:50:13.160]there is no such event I know of
[00:50:17.010]that has been organized, or is planned for
[00:50:22.355]in the Czech Republic or in Slovakia.
[00:50:29.070]Again, largely because it probably meant
[00:50:34.330]different things for different people,
[00:50:41.670]it has had somewhat more positive meaning
[00:50:44.440]for Slovakia than for
us in the Czech lands
[00:50:48.080]because Slovakia at least
won one durable concession
[00:50:55.330]during 1968, and it was the
federalization of the country,
[00:50:58.850]that after 1989 they used to bring about
[00:51:05.750]the Slovak independence.
[00:51:13.090]For many people, it's not so
relevant as it used to be.
[00:51:17.790]It is very relevant for
the people of my generation
[00:51:21.440]because for us, for me,
but for every peer I had,
[00:51:28.560]the 1968 and August 21 was the
most crucial day in my life.
[00:51:37.336]Certainly one of the two or
three crucial days in my life,
[00:51:41.970]because that was the day
when we could stop thinking
[00:51:47.320]and worrying about whether
socialism was good,
[00:51:49.870]or whether it was possible,
or whether it was reformable.
[00:51:54.600]It was over.
[00:51:55.650]For us, it was a settled
question, once and for all.
[00:51:59.551]I think we were able to avoid after 1989,
[00:52:04.820]some of the mistakes other
countries were making,
[00:52:09.627]largely because of this.
[00:52:12.260]But for my children's generation, the...
[00:52:21.490]Significance of 1968 is almost nil.
[00:52:28.048]We realized it in the Vaclav Havel Library
[00:52:31.080]when we planned a series of
events for this eight year,
[00:52:44.022]and we discovered that some
of our prospective speakers
[00:52:49.260]or audiences were not much interested.
[00:52:53.490]And some even said, why
do you go on about 1968?
[00:53:00.063]It's 50 years ago.
[00:53:02.730]As it were.
[00:53:04.540]I mean, I think it was
an important milestone.
[00:53:07.640]I think it did play its role.
[00:53:10.100]I think it will remain a part of the...
[00:53:17.940]Modern Czech history, but
you can't ask of people
[00:53:24.466]to see it or understand it
[00:53:29.670]as a momentous milestone like I do,
[00:53:35.083]when they did not experience it.
[00:53:55.210]- [Audience Member] I
recall that this is also
[00:53:56.850]the anniversary of Tomas Masaryk,
[00:54:00.240]as the president of the first republic.
[00:54:02.970]And yet I don't recall
hearing very much about him
[00:54:06.590]in the Prague Spring, and
the events of that time,
[00:54:10.010]and what led up to them.
[00:54:12.300]So I'm curious whether Masaryk
[00:54:14.270]and his philosophical
thinking had much impact
[00:54:17.060]on the Prague Spring.
[00:54:18.610]And then how would Masaryk
be evaluated today at 100?
[00:54:23.200]I'm thinking here of Zdenek David,
[00:54:24.960]my historian friend who's been
writing a book for years now
[00:54:28.740]on the philosophy of Masaryk.
[00:54:34.400]- Well, I think it's helpful
[00:54:38.030]if you think of the Prague Spring
[00:54:44.340]as a play of two acts
with an intermission,
[00:54:51.820]the second of which never took place.
[00:54:59.917]The process was started by
the Reformist Communists.
[00:55:06.890]It couldn't have been
started by anyone else.
[00:55:10.030]They had to make some concessions
[00:55:12.950]for the discussion to start.
[00:55:17.145]For some time, they controlled
[00:55:23.600]the topics of the
discussion, and the topics
[00:55:27.440]all revolved around socialism
this, socialism that.
[00:55:34.560]And is it possible to have
an opposition in socialism,
[00:55:39.670]and is it possible to
have private property
[00:55:42.940]in a socialist country, and to what extent
[00:55:47.030]do the market rules and market laws apply,
[00:55:52.343]et cetera, et cetera?
[00:55:55.972]And they were largely the
ones that had been heard.
[00:56:02.200]They were not the only ones.
[00:56:04.180]There was a smaller group of people
[00:56:10.040]who never adhered to
the socialist orthodoxy,
[00:56:16.937]and who were much more
directly linked to the pre-war,
[00:56:29.400]They did invoke Masaryk,
and his whole legacy.
[00:56:36.910]But they were people like Vaclav Havel,
[00:56:40.260]and others of his ilk, and what is notable
[00:56:47.870]is that Havel was not a prominent voice
[00:56:53.850]in the Prague Spring process.
[00:56:56.720]He was influential among
[00:57:04.630]And intellectuals, he started the circle
[00:57:07.060]of non-communist writers,
et cetera, et cetera.
[00:57:10.300]But he did not give any grand statements
[00:57:13.560]at the public meetings and in the media.
[00:57:20.980]In reality, he really became an activist
[00:57:26.030]following the invasion,
not before the invasion.
[00:57:31.770]What I mean is that if the
process was allowed to continue,
[00:57:37.740]there would have certainly
been the second act
[00:57:40.940]with a discussion about
not just social democracy,
[00:57:46.360]or socialism with a human face,
but about democracy period.
[00:57:52.133]And on this, Masaryk would
be as influential as ever,
[00:57:57.690]and he certainly continues
to be influential
[00:58:03.910]in the debates we had after 1989.
[00:58:07.100]The current Czech Constitution is in part,
[00:58:10.930]shaped after the Czechoslovak
Constitution of 1920,
[00:58:19.257]which was in significant
part, Masaryk's work.
[00:58:26.830]The strong affiliation
[00:58:31.800]that the Czechs have felt, and still feel,
[00:58:37.300]for this country for the United States,
[00:58:39.760]of course has to do with the
foundation of Czechoslovakia
[00:58:43.830]and Masaryk's role in it
during the First World War.
[00:58:54.430]Better than standard,
by European standards,
[00:58:58.360]relationship, is Israel.
[00:59:01.000]It's to a large part, Masaryk's legacy
[00:59:07.490]because he was the first
European head of state
[00:59:10.550]who went to the British mandate Palestine
[00:59:14.360]to express his support
for a Jewish homeland.
[00:59:22.200]He is an influence, but
he was not to my memory,
[00:59:27.180]and I see at least three
other eye witnesses
[00:59:34.950]here in this room of that time.
[00:59:38.270]I don't remember that Masaryk's
name was often invoked
[00:59:42.680]in the first seven months of 1968.
[01:00:01.549]Okay, you must be getting hungry,
[01:00:02.980]so maybe one last question.
[01:00:07.570]- [Audience Member]
Well maybe this will be
[01:00:08.403]an appropriate one.
[01:00:09.950]I want to ask you about Czechness,
[01:00:12.760]the spirit of being Czech.
[01:00:15.460]Especially for people
who are not specialists
[01:00:17.180]in Czech history.
[01:00:18.530]And as a modern world historian myself,
[01:00:20.340]I just can't resist noting
the extraordinary degree
[01:00:24.580]of impact that the very
small number of people
[01:00:28.520]who live in the Czech lands have had,
[01:00:30.900]especially in the last 50
years, on major encouragement
[01:00:34.550]at a global level of liberal democracy.
[01:00:37.740]Here in the Prague Spring in 1968,
[01:00:40.590]again in 1977 with the
founding of Charter 77,
[01:00:43.760]the pursuit of human rights
within the Soviet bloc,
[01:00:46.730]and again with the Velvet
Revolution in the late 1980s.
[01:00:49.350]It's an extraordinary record
for a small number of people
[01:00:53.500]that they have given to a world
[01:00:55.210]that needed that kind of encouragement,
[01:00:56.770]and we may be, as you've
[01:00:58.870]again at a time in history
where clouds are darkening
[01:01:02.160]for liberal democracy in some ways,
[01:01:03.810]and it looks like we
could use some help again.
[01:01:06.840]Is it possible that
there is something about
[01:01:08.980]the Czech people that we
may hear from them again?
[01:01:16.540]I'm very cautious about
answering questions of this kind.
[01:01:23.680]These are relevant question.
[01:01:25.370]I mean, there is, if you
look at Czech history
[01:01:30.880]over the last 100 years,
[01:01:33.540]there is a note of Czech exceptionalism.
[01:01:41.168]In Czech letters...
[01:01:45.290]In political thinking, and
in foreign policy questions.
[01:01:52.034]It almost certainly stems
from Masaryk himself.
[01:01:58.100]After all, it was Masaryk who
wrote that the Czech question
[01:02:01.440]is either a global question or
it is not a question at all.
[01:02:07.610]In 1968, actually it...
[01:02:12.770]Found an expression five
months after the invasion
[01:02:19.300]in December 1968, in a
rather remarkable exchange
[01:02:24.930]between two foremost Czech writers,
[01:02:27.690]Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel.
[01:02:33.150]And it was an exchange on Czech destiny.
[01:02:36.970]In this debate, it was actually Kundera
[01:02:40.640]who argued that the Czechs,
[01:02:44.850]or Czechs and Slovaks at that time,
[01:02:47.310]had a specific mission, specific relevance
[01:02:56.760]because of what happened in 1968
[01:02:59.900]for the future of the world,
[01:03:05.430]and a contribution to make,
[01:03:08.070]and that indeed, we were
an exceptional nation.
[01:03:13.690]To which Havel, ever a skeptic, said,
[01:03:18.460]but you know, what did we
really plan to achieve?
[01:03:24.350]I mean, to win pluralist democracy?
[01:03:31.940]What special contribution
we were able to make?
[01:03:39.330]In the end, he basically argued that
[01:03:43.050]we are people like any other,
[01:03:45.760]and that there are
mostly, that it's mostly
[01:03:50.225]up to each individual
to make a contribution
[01:03:57.770]to play a role.
[01:04:00.336]And in this, he saw some
kind of Czech destiny,
[01:04:06.410]but he was strongly against mythologizing
[01:04:09.730]the period of 1968,
[01:04:14.396]and Czech destiny as the future savior
[01:04:21.326]of Europe or the world.
[01:04:22.220]We're not much of a savior nation.
[01:04:24.770]We have in our history,
we have had I think,
[01:04:28.060]more heretics than we had saints.
[01:04:32.320]Thank you very much.
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