Date of this Version
Czech Language News, International Association of Teachers of Czech (IATC-NAATC), Fall 2019, Number Fifty-one, ISSN 1085-2960, pp 4-7
This autumn we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, when a chain of events all across Central and Eastern Europe gradually brought the weakening yet persistent Communist system to its knees. Though the melt was paradoxically coming with Gorbachev’s reforms from the Kremlin, the Czech hardliners seemed to resist. They had a much stronger grasp over the society than the Communist governments of Hungary and Poland. Nevertheless, the domino effect was there and change finally came.
The geopolitics notwithstanding, sometimes we might forget that samizdat and independent literary culture played a major role in toppling the totalitarian regime. It reflects a deeply rooted, centuries-old belief of Czechs in the power of the written word. “This wicked people,” admitted Pope Pius II in the fifteenth century, “has one good quality--it is fond of learning. Even their women have a better knowledge of Scripture than Italian bishops.”1 Centuries later, the writer Ivan Klíma agreed with this notion: “The appearance of being cultured and civilized is particularly important in the Czech lands, where centuries of national and cultural repression have made the culture, and especially literature, popular and highly respected.”2 Klíma added that the communist regime was well aware of this fact and tried to counter it by controlling all aspects of independent culture. In the post-1968 era, this control culminated in the trial of the Plastic People of the Universe. The 1970s also marked the proliferation of samizdat as an outlet for oppressed culture, creating a variety of underground publishing houses, magazines, revues, films, and tapes.