Stalinist Russia’s oppressive control of eastern Europe lasted for about forty-five years. The Czech and Slavak dissent that ultimately succeeded in driving the Soviets out of their region was a long, clandestine groundswell of popular discontent.
After the peaceful Velvet Revolution of 1989, a prime motivator and spokesman in that freedom movement, Vaclav Havel, was elected President of the first post-communist Republic of Czechoslavakia, A few years later, the new nation split into two separate republics.
From 1975 to 1986, Czech writer Karel Hviždala conducted an ongoing clandestine autobiographical interview with Vaclav Havel, who was already an internationally recognized playwright.
Their interview was later published in a book, Disturbing the Peace, by Alfred A. Knopf in 1990.
The contents of that periodic exchange between two dissident Czechs provides profound insight into the interaction — sometimes constructive, sometimes confrontational — of conservative and activist resistance factions under the weight of a repressive regime.
But strangely, the internal strategic disagreements between those Czech groups reminded me of recent disagreements in our American cultural and political scenario.
Vaclav Havel describes the conditions that would be required, as stated by a certain bureaucrat, to allow a compromise between dissidents and the Party bureaucracy. This dispute was regarding a confrontation that came up in 1965.
Havel explains the situation this way:
“ . . . we (dissidents) (would be required) to come out and say exactly what we were. But such a thing can only be suggested by someone who subscribes to an ideology and believes that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to it must therefore subscribe to another ideology, because he can’t imagine anyone not subscribing to an ideology.”
So the bureaucrat’s proposal was more about identity politics than about the actual issues that the discontented Czechs were trying raise.
This description of communist politics in 1965 seemed, to me, eerily similar to our present American political and cultural skirmishes. Nowadays in the land of the free and home of the brave, you have to declare yourself one identity or the other. There is no more in-between.
No more middle in America. According to our 2021 way of practicing politics, you’re either a socialist democrat or a trump republican.
I don’t like it one bit.