August 13, 2018


The Prague Spring still haunts Europe : The human thirst for political rights, justice and national freedom is unquenchable (TONY BARBER, 8/13/18, Financial Times)

The Prague Spring seems far off because the geopolitical setting in which it took place is long gone. In 1968 the cold war divided Europe in two. Its eastern half languished under communism -- a repressive, dreary system of government imported from Moscow in the 1940s and not to be cast aside for another 21 years. Nowadays, the reborn Czech and Slovak states are independent, increasingly prosperous democracies and members of Nato and the EU.

Yet there are still lessons to be learnt from the Prague Spring. The first is that doctrinaire ideologies and political practices, whether they be 1960s-style communism or the intolerant dogmas of today's radical right and left, contain the seeds of their own downfall. They propose inadequate solutions to the complex problems of modern societies. They bully critics, deride experts and degrade reason. In so doing, they generate economic inefficiency, social tension and political discontent.

The second lesson is that the human thirst for political rights, justice and national freedom is unquenchable. This was on display throughout the communist era: East Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956, Prague in 1968, Gdansk in 1980 and across the Baltic states in 1988-91. The patriotism of Czechs and Slovaks is more civic than nationalist in nature. But the recovery of independence is one of their most cherished gains of 1989.

The third lesson is that political struggle need not be conducted, as in much of today's world, in the language of the gutter and with the manners of the yahoo. In 1968, Dubcek wore a permanent smile on his face and celebrated the dignity of the individual. He can be faulted for a naive faith that communism was reformable. But he had the last laugh when he returned to a hero's welcome on Wenceslas Square after the triumph of the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Posted by at August 13, 2018 4:17 AM


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