Category Archive 'Czechoslovakia'

14 Jan 2020

Anamnesis

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View over the Prague downtown Wenceslav Square with the hero’s statue in foreground. A huge crowd was assembling again, Thursday evening, November 23, 1989, for another demonstration for more democracy in Czechoslovakia.

Michael Brendan Dougherty quotes Roger Scruton’s memory of meeting the Czech dissidents with whom he would go on to create an underground university in the 1980s. There he gave lectures on philosophy, history, and literature — meditations on the whole inheritance of Western civilization — that were forbidden by Communist authorities. Scruton would finally be detained by secret police and his name placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons.

From How to Be a Conservative (2014):

In that room was a battered remnant of Prague’s intelligentsia — old professors in their shabby waistcoats; long-haired poets; fresh-faced students who had been denied admission to university for their parents’ political ‘crimes’; priests and religious in plain clothes; novelists and theologians; a would-be rabbi; and even a psychoanalyst. And in all of them I saw the same marks of suffering, tempered by hope; and the same eager desire for the sign that someone cared enough to help them. They all belonged, I discovered, to the same profession: that of stoker. Some stoked boilers in hospitals; others in apartment blocks; one stoked at a railway station, another in a school. Some stoked where there were no boilers to stoke, and these imaginary boilers came to be, for me, a fitting symbol of the communist economy.

This was my first encounter with “dissidents”: the people who, to my later astonishment, would be the first democratically elected leaders of post-communist Czechoslovakia. And I felt towards these people an immediate affinity. Nothing was of such importance for them as the survival of their national culture. Deprived of material and professional advancement, their days were filled with a forced meditation on their country and its past, and on the great Question of Czech History that has preoccupied the Czechs since the movement for national revival in the nineteenth century. They were forbidden to publish; the authorities had concealed their existence from the world, and had resolved to remove their traces from the book of history. Hence the dissidents were acutely conscious of the value of memory. Their lives were an exercise in what Plato called anamnesis: the bringing to consciousness of forgotten things. Something in me responded immediately to this poignant ambition, and I was at once eager to join with them and make their situation known to the world. And I recognized that anamnesis described the meaning of my life too.


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