Back to the future

In the book Ferdinand Peroutka – the later years 1938-1978 author Pavel Kosatík explores the events in which F. Peroutka C ech literary giant and political commentator ensured his place in C ech history as the founder of the C ech desk of Radio Free Europe as well as one of the chief moral authorities of C echs living in exile. At the same time the book explores many of the behind-the-scene events of the C ech exile community in the USA where Peroutka lived out his years. Surprisingly the book has stirred up a heated debate in C ech literary circles particularly regarding aspects of Peroutka’s personality and character during his later years.

I was born into the C ech exile community of Manhattan’s east side. As a young boy I would have frequent “discussions” with Peroutka discussions which would continue into my young adult-hood. I remember our trips to Vašata’s restaurant where Peroutka would order his favorite meal of dumplings with eggs and Pilsner beer and then quietly yet systematically question me on the values of youth of that day. When the C ech émigrés met socially I remember him sitting in a big armchair in the corner of the room and puffing on his pipe with a morose expression on his face listening silently to the debate around him. Sitting next to him I felt a feeling of deep sadness on the one hand and of incredible strength and force of conviction on the other.

For me the current debate regarding different aspects of Perout-ka’s character isn’t that relevant. I’m writing these lines in the room on Národní trída that was his office; his pipe is on the shelf next to me his vest hangs in our editorial offices above me. For me what’s significant is the fact that Pr tomnost the maga ine from which most of the articles in this maga ine are translated and which Peroutka founded and my grandfather published is still in print. And that it remains in C ech hands and that interest in it is on the rise. It’s an interest that is now turning to those things of the past that our young nation-state has instinctively praised but not really understood. For forty censored years and for another twelve post-communist years the First Republic often alluded to as the “golden age” of C ech democracy between the wars was considered an ideal. Yet it was history that was snuffed out by the past regime. Now not just the book about F. Peroutka but three additional substantial books released in the last several months detailing the First Republic give us the chance to re-examine and learn our true past. 

Such moments contribute to the forming of a nation’s consciousness and identity something that our post-communist nation still lacks. For a nation with significant memory lapses these excursions into our past are important for by learning and understanding our past we will come to understand ourselves. And that will show us the way to the future.


The New Presenceautumn 2001

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