Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writers in Politics I

Role of the literati in modern society


In 1989 somebody said that for the Poles the fight to defeat communism lasted ten years. For Hungarian ten months. For Eastern Germans ten weeks. And for Czechs and Slovaks ten days. Certainly not only the unknown author of this bon mot, but most of the people thinking about the collapse of communism in these countries agree that in former Czechoslovakia the revolution was in the hands of intellectuals, mostly writers. They played a significant role already in so called “Prague Spring” and they were first who suffer after defeat of the utopic idea of “socialism with human face”. They were leaders of dissent and they naturally were prepared to lead a revolution against communist regime. And it actually happened. The so-called “Velvet Revolution” started in theaters with proclamations to the public. The public listened and went to the streets to free not only the prisoners of regime as Bertold Brecht dreamed, but also whole society. It is not surprising that the “Velvet Revolution” attracted so many observers from abroad to the tempting conclusion that it was an excellent example of the qualities that could only intellectuals add to the politics. The utopian vision of the intellectuals ruling the nation in perfect agreement with the majority of ordinary people seemed to be fulfilled in these days. First of all, the so-called “Velvet Revolution” was really velvet. The Communists retreated willingly. Moreover the Communist parliament was eager to elect a former enemy like Václav Havel as the new President and power was suddenly in the hands of writers, actors and intellectuals generally. It all seemed like building a new home for everybody on a new green meadow.

Václav Havel -- a coin of two sides

It was that time when Václav Havel started to be an international hero. A myth was born about the ideal role of writers as politicians. But was it true?

Maybe Václav Havel is good example of the facts that have to be considered if we would really like to solve this question. Former President of P.E.N. International and well-known playwright, Ronald Harwood, said in 1996 at the first conference of Writers in Prison Committee in Elsinor, Denmark, that it was Václav Havel whose image was build for years and spread world-wide by P.E.N. International. It was so successful campaign that while he was in the headlines of newspapers and on TV stations around the world, in December 1989of the same year he had to go on Czech and Slovak TV to show himself to the nations whom he wanted to be a President. Havel, the first democratic President after fall of the communist regime, was for 90% of the ordinary people in former Czechoslovakia, practically unknown. He was later elected by the Parliament, where 99% of the members were the hard communists who had been ruling the country and set him to the prison for several times. And we could hardly say that they elected him because they were fans of Václav Havel or fans of the idea of writers ruling state generally.

To evaluate the role of writers in modern politics, the first steps of Václav Havel in his fresh position of federal President are crucial. First of all, he ordered the famous amnesty -- not only for politics prisoners, but a general amnesty. In fact, in that times were only some tens of prisoners who we could call as prisoners of the regime. But Havel in the general amnesty released tens of thousands of prisoners, and of course, among them thousands of hardened criminals. This amnesty could be, within scale of the countries, compared only with that done by Lavrentij Berija, the long-time Chief of Soviet Secret Police KGB, after Stalin’s death. Havel, the author of absurd dramas started to implement absurdity in daily practice. He created a scene for real tragedies. It cost around 30 lives, among them children killed by sexual deviants. Wave of criminality caused by these prisoners raised fear that lasted about a year and was never successfully suppressed back. For the citizens of the former Czechoslovakia, it was the first signal what they could expect from the utopia of writers running the state.

There are, of course, more facts that we could use to describe the reality of the political abilities of the most prestigious writer of that time -- Václav Havel. Briefly, two examples from the topic that he claimed as a one of his priorities in Presidency. It was the problem of the relationship between Czechs and Slovaks in one federal state. He said openly, and often, that he would like to do his best, and we could strongly believe that he did try. As in no other area could we say that Václav Havel had such a theoretical goodwill to help to hold the federal state together. Paradoxically, it was also he who helped by some unhappy steps in practice to break up the former Czechoslovakia.

(to be continued)

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