Resisting False Nostalgia

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As a well-known dissident Czech writer who, unlike the expatriate Milan Kundera, lived in Prague before, during and after the Velvet Revolution, Ivan Klima has probably had to answer more idiotic questions than most from Western reporters, who were invariably concerned that his writerly influence had lessened now that society didn't, um, need dissident writers so much. Glad to see he still isn't taking the bait:

What has this country gained, and what has it lost, in the transition from Communism to capitalism, and now to European Union accession?

"I don't think it has lost something. Maybe some people, mostly less capable people, have lost their feeling of security: it means entirely apolitical people, who didn't like to work too much, who were not very gifted, they were secure. The prices were stable, and so on and so on. Maybe for some people that's something of a loss. Sometimes when I see this invasion of so-called 'mass culture', mostly produced in Hollywood, it's much worse in comparison with the best period of Czech films. But what we've gained is many things. First, we have gained freedom. It's democracy—more or less, of course with some shadows which are, I hope, only caused by this new situation for many people and by much less experience in behaviour and democratic habits. Anyway we have a really free society, freedom of expression, no censorship, and so on, so that's probably in the first place. And that's also for me the main advantage of joining the EU—a union which is based on democratic laws." [?]

Are you nostalgic for the Prague of the past? The Prague of pre-1989? The crumbling, dark buildings in the Old Town, which have the now been done up and turned into luxury hotels and restaurants?

"Not at all. Because Prague was rather ramshackle in the Communist time, and this so-called 'mystical Prague' is more or less a dream about the past. I remember the old Prague when I was a boy. I don't remember any mystical Prague, but I do remember a lot of slums. Maybe fifteen minutes from our house the slums started, with very poor people, and very dirty streets. This also disappeared—and it's positive."

Link via G.A. Cerny.

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  1. Ohhh, how I despise commie chic. I’m amazed at the number of seemingly intelligent people who look at communist dispair and see – what? – a sort of shabby-chic Pottery Barn. Not a destroyer of human hopes and aspirations and dignity, but a funky thrift shop of cool, run-down buildings and anticonsumerist aesthetics.

    Pick up any random travel guide to Cuba, and you will read far more about the cool cars than the political repression, kangaroo courts, and summary executions.

    Good catch, Matt.

  2. Eastern Europeans are so refreshingly sensible.

  3. generally speaking, yes.

    or darkly pragmatic.

    or hilariously fatalistic if they’ve been drinking.

  4. {Eastern Europeans are so refreshingly sensible.}

    Experience will do that for you. Back in the 70s I toured behind the Iron Curtain with a singing group. One of the other groups flying over with us, on Czechoslovakian Air Lines, was a New England high school rock band. They just were agog at the possibility of visiting a worker’s paradise.

    Coming back, they were playing a different tune. When you see your 27th “No Photographs” sign, and it’s posted on an empty field, and the only reason the (communist youth) guide has is “The government says so” your estimate of the value of liberty rises dramatically.

  5. aren’t you nostalgic for the secret police, who could at any time break in and kill your entire family?

    don’t you miss the frisson of danger???

    ridiculous…

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