Monday, January 23, 2012

An Intersection of Arts & Politics

My previous article discussed the seeming linkage of the current scope of political discourse with times past. I now would like to take a moment to pen a few thoughts on the first President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, who passed away last month.
         How amazing the change from not so very long ago. A former, so-called dissident playwright becomes a de facto leader of the opposition by forming Charter 77 several years after the apparent crushing of the Prague Spring. The currents then created by this played no small part in the Velvet Revolution in 1989, resulting in Havel’s becoming the first President of Czechoslovakia and returning the key architect of the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek – who rose through the ranks under a reformist banner to become the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and then was subject to internal exile for many years – to power as the Chairman of the Federal Assembly.
         A bit of background. In no small part through the efforts of Dubcek in the political sphere and Havel (and others) in the literary and cultural sphere, on April 5, 1968 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia adopts the Action Program, attempting to create “socialism with a human face”. Specifically, this document announced that, “[o]nly down-to-earth discussion and an exchange of views can lead to responsible decision-making by collective bodies…confrontation of views is an essential manifestation of a responsible multilateral attempt to find the best solution, to advance the new against the obsolete.” On May Day, 1968 a real celebration occurred and, among other things, Dubcek’s words that day spoke volumes about future possibilities. I was there, admittedly young, but I do remember that day like it was yesterday. I also remember the invasion by Warsaw Pact forces in the late summer of that same year, crushing the Prague Spring.
Or so it seemed. Despite the repeated attempts at full state control of all political discourse, Havel, along with others, forms Charter 77. Their aim? The signatories sought to be, “[a] loose, informal, and open association of people…united by the will to strive individually and collectively for respect for human and civil rights in our country and throughout the world.” Important words and Havel stayed committed to them, even when under state surveillance, even during a five-year stay in prison, even in the events leading up to the massive changes in Europe in 1989, even as President of Czechoslovakia and, later, the Czech Republic.
Words matter, discourse can make a difference and the Arts can be on the forefront of both.