We were sitting in the twilight, looking out the window at Prague Castle. A somewhat pale unobtrusive sun slid slowly under the horizon. Our conversation drifted. Upon coming to the recent EU election results, there was a pause. Hana shook her head, looked out the window and asked: “What kind of a society is this? Where are the normal people?“
I moved to this country fourteen years ago because of family tradition and a promise. Although I was very well informed of life under the communists (my father co-founded the Czechoslovak desk of Radio Free Europe), the disappointments of the early “post-revolution“ days were hard to take.
But to what extent are our misfortunes unique? In the last fourteen years, not just our nation, but the whole world continues to divide into two groups – those that have and those that do not. It is a world in which civilian prisoners are publicly beheaded by terrorists, whereby the cries of a few are diluted by the silence of the rest, as they read the story and put down the magazine to watch TV. Planes smash into skyscrapers, trains crammed with commuters explode, and young girls blow themselves apart to go to Allah. Life is cheap.
Where are the normal people? In just a short time, Europeans, east and west, have again forgotten all the lessons of their past, and have resurrected nationalism and alibism. Instead of coming together and focusing on true threats, badmouthing one‘s allies is again the European norm, as seen in the behavior of France and Germany toward the United States, a country that ensured their future not once, but three times during the last one hundred years. As for America, even though it still leads the world, it too is a nation that is polarized as never before. The phenomenon of Ronald Reagan‘s passing showed just how much America yearns for the days of the past and how it is devoid of a clear vision of its future.
In the Arab world, time stands still. It is a world without a single democracy, in which a few rule at the expense of the many. Punishment is still meted out by public lashing and the amputation of a limb. It is a culture with which we haven‘t learned to communicate with, because we are unable to comprehend the fact that we are centuries apart.
Who do we allow to lead us in our world? The American president has begun a war based on a false premise. We open our arms to former terrorists Moammar al-Gaddafi while we allow Yassir Arafat, who supports terrorists, to keep our most sacred public award, the Nobel Peace Prize. To represent Czechs in Europe we elect corrupt Senators and active communists. We applaud their leader Grebeniček who, if given the power and the chance, would again order that we be shot in the back if we tried to run across a field to freedom.
But none of these people got there by chance. We Czechs voted for them. We simply don‘t learn. We yearn for our former communist masters and reach for the outstretched hand of a familiar corrupt face over an unfamiliar honest one. We enter the future via excuses: “It was actually a rough period, in which Senator Železný, just like everyone else, had to orient himself regarding the law of the land. We really should forgive him.“ Thus spoke a Senator colleague of Železný‘s recently. We overwhelmingly support a president who divides our society into those that agree with him and those that do not. Instead of offering vision and hope, he warns of our entry into Europe, thereby strengthening our national sense of perpetual uncertainty.
And so we sit at home in the twilight, gazing out at the sun as it sets behind Prague Castle, the symbol of our nation‘s past. Though it is a symbol that is centuries old, it belongs to a present which, as a result of our short memory and our reluctance to learn, has in reality changed very little.
Martin Jan Stránský
physician, publisher The New Presence and Pritomnost magazines
A version of this article has been written for Prague’s English-language press
|The New Presence||summer 2004|
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