On the True Courage of Czechoslovakian Revolutionaries
Let’s hope none of my people find this article
By MARTIN REZNY
Well, understating things, especially positive personal qualities or the difficulty of accomplishing something, is a time honored Czech tradition. I guess I do it without even thinking about it. But what I actually meant by stating it that way was to emphasize how sudden and apparently effortless the revolution had been, to everyone’s major surprise, at home and abroad.
Communist rule felt as a fact of life, it seemed eternal, it was even its slogan:
“With the Soviet Union forever and never otherwise”, that’s the motto spelled out on that poster. Czech people have heard it so often that in a true Czech fashion, some young troublemakers famously came up with an improved version, “With the Soviet Union forever and not a minute longer”. I hope the joke translates through the language barrier, since Czech humor is famous for its sarcastic subtlety and a penchant for ironic bite. The goal is to be able to pretend you mean it sincerely, in a retarded sort of way, so that no lackey can call you out on it, because then they would seem disloyal to their truly retarded overlords who have no sense of humor or ironic subtlety whatsoever.
After 48 years of the communist regime’s virtually unchallenged hegemony, I don’t think anyone actually believed there is any chance of taking it down. And then, in a matter of days, it simply capitulated in the face of a moral majority. After the brutal dispersion of a student protest, you could see the turning point encapsulated perfectly in a public address of the situation by one of the most powerful communist figureheads in the country in front of a mob comprised mostly of adults, workers no less. It was a meeting, no protest.
The communist speaker seemed to have sincerely believed that the mob will be on his side when he tried to spin the motivations and actions of the protesting students as those of misbehaving children. He said the following:
In no country, not developing, not socialist, not even capitalist, is it possible for fifteen-year-old children to dictate when the president is supposed to leave office or enter it, nor who it is supposed to be.
Before he even managed to end the sentence, he got booed by the core members of the communist political power base standing below him, and before the day was over, Czech people were chanting a resounding response:
We are not children.
Since the event was televised and pretty much everyone in the country was watching, the breaking of the stranglehold of the communist elites over every aspect of everyone’s lives must have been audible. The events of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, more than anything else, prove to me that any sense of reality of power is an illusion and that it really is nothing more than a spell. If enough people turn their backs to the witch, it really makes her disappear.
I’m not trying to say or imply that something like that is easy, just that it’s that immediate. Once it becomes clear to the moral majority that they are indeed a moral majority, not a collection of lone, isolated, and powerless individuals, it’s over for the bad guys. Their power is rooted in fear of punishment and you simply cannot arrest the majority of people or beat them up, certainly not execute them. Once the regime played the brutality and terror card on a large and innocent enough group of people, the students, it totally backfired.
The bravery and integrity of many individuals in face of intimidation and retribution prior to this event were certainly necessary as well, because they laid the moral foundations for the rest of the people, enabling them to articulate their resistance and take a stand when the opportune time came, and they did take initiative to lead people through the events without resorting to violence. In the context of history, it was undoubtedly an impressive accomplishment.
But I assure you you won’t hear Czech people talk about it that way. We don’t allow ourselves to think highly of anything that we’ve ever done. It usually takes outsiders recognizing the greatness of any Czech person or idea for the Czech people to suddenly always having known how great it never weren’t, as Stephen Colbert would put it. I certainly don’t think that such a happy outcome was inevitable, I find it to be a not so minor miracle, actually. Too bad that the leaders of that revolution dropped the ball immediately afterwards by deciding that politics are too boring, or below them. And something is telling me that waiting is not gonna fix it. It’ll take people of courage and integrity.
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