Polish journalist and dissident Adam Michnik in conversation with Vaclav Havel, at the time president of Czechoslovakia (and later president of the Czech republic).
The unusual epoch of postcommunism
Havel (H): Adam, apparently you want to interrogate me for three hours…
Michnik (M): Yes, Vaszka.
H: But I don’t have that kind of knowledge which would last for three hours of speaking.
M: Instead you have experience, since so many times you have been interrogated. Three hours are exactly suitable for a “criminal” such as yourself.
Three years have passed since “The Velvet Revolution”, in that famous year of 1989, when on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, communism has collapsed in our countries. I recall my visit in the summer of 1989 to Prague with you at Hrdcany (castle), when I told you that you would become a president. Tell me, in your opinion, do you think communism has been finally demolished or can it still return? Is there a possibility of a communist counterrevoution, a restoration of communism?
H: I think that a global return of communism, the return of history to the times of Brezhnev or Stalin is out of the question. This process is irreversible. Local returns are possible, however. I can conceive of a new variation of the communist method of governing returning under a slightly differently colored flag. In this or another place, for example in one of the Soviet republics, the nomenklature can slightly alter its own flag and basing itself upon the old party hierarchy they can attempt to renovate something that would resemble the previous system. Such local returns are conceivable. But the whole bloc of communism I believe is non-returnable, because history cannot retrace itself and return.
M: What do you think , in your opinion, is going to happen with all that belonged to the previous regime, with the people and the situations.
H: I believe that this is a major problem of the entire post-communist world. Those people who directly or indirectly, in whatever degree, contributed to the regime, and those who through their silence tolerated it, and also all of us who consciously became accustomed to it, we are all responsible. There are large centralized and monopolized state-run and state-owned institutions, government administrative sectors which are filled with the civil servants from the previous epoch. This seems to be one of the largest sources of our problems and difficulties which the post-communist world will have to deal with. It is not the only problem but it is one of the most serious ones. And here we are not concerned specifically with the problem of dealing with specific individuals who are in some way associated with the old regime, but with specific situations. And above all the fight here centres around the habits of average citizens. It is these people who really despise the old totalitarian regime. But at the same time they had spent under that regime their entire lives and became accustomed to it. They became accustomed to the fact that above them a large, strong state was developing which was able to know everything and which supposedly looked after all their needs and which was responsible for everything. The citizens became accustomed to such relationship with the state and to its habits. And these are the matters which are difficult to get rid of. The bad habits inherited from the previous regime cannot disappear overnight. It is a very problematic matter and one of the major sources of our problems.
M: There are two symbolic names of and approaches to the thinning pertaining to the people from the old regime. One of the approaches is polemically referred to in Poland as the “politics………………………………………………..”
Tadeush Mazowiecki utilized that formulation in his …………………expose. Here he was concerned with the state line(?) which was going to separate the past from the present and consequently he wanted to express his thought that the criteria to evaluate civil servants would be based only upon their competency and their loyalty in relation to the new state. Due to that he was accused of trying to give shelter to ex-communists, criminals, ect.
The second symbolic method derives itself from Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and it is called “lustrations”.
These are two extreme methods of thinking in regrd to these issues. What do you think about the philosophy proposed by Mazowiecki and of that proposed by the supporters of lustration?
H: This is another serious problem. It is necessary in some way to swim in between Scylla and Charybdis.
I think that both of these concepts in thier extreme form are faulty. From the history of our nation we know that whenever we practiced such approaches they have always cruelly avenged themselves upon us, it is not important what it was(?) and it shouldn’t interest us. It indicated however that we had not cut out from our bodies some kind of a cyst which is th source of poison of the whole organism. The cyst has rotted and continue to produce poison. I think that the need for such a cut completes justice, and is totally justified and natural.
But at the same time one should not open up the door for an unjustified revenge and people hunting, because that would be a different version of what we just got rid of. Such an approach is traditional for us. I recall those different postwar avengers and usually those who were most evergetic had most behind their ears. I believe that a call to reveal the names of all those who in one or another way had an association with the police, regardless of when and why, is very dangerous. It is a time-bomb which can explode at any moment and once again poison the societal(?) climate, bring into it once again elements of fanaticism, injustice and wrongdoings.
Here we are concerned with finding a suitable measurement, an approach which would be cultural and civilized, one which would not run away from the future. We must confront our past, call it for what it is, draw conclusions and return to justice. But it must be done honestly and fairly, with thoughtfulness, tact, creativity and imagination. There where we will deal with admittance of guilt and repentance, forgiveness ought to take place.
I support a humanitarian approach, and not a new persecution and an atmosphere of fear. It is enough that for 40 years people feared the secret police, there is no need for them for the next 10 years to fear whether someone will rake something up about them. Because many people don’t even know whether they have incidentally stepped into something. That is why I have responded to the policy of lustrations with great reservations and that is why publicly I proposed to the parilament a novelization of the policy.
M: Here, specific examples are required. Yesterday in Prague I was told that the process of lustrations threatens the well-known phoilosopher Karel Kosikow, who after the Prague spring was repressed for many years and sentenced to silence. Presently he is hoing to be repressed for an event which took place 20 years ago, for in 1968 he was a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. How would you evaluate this specific fact?
H: Firstly, I must make a specific factographic observation. The policy is commonly referred to as “lustrations” but it has a wider character and it does not concern only lustrations. The concept of lustrations pertains to verifications whether anyone was present in the ranks of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as a collaborator. Meanwhile the policy makes it impossible for people for a period of five years to perform certain functions if in the past 40 years they were members of the National Police, communist verification committees in 1948 and1968, or members of party committees from the provincial level and up.
There is however, an exception, and it does not concern party functionaries from the time of January 1, 1968-May 1, 1969. I believe that this exception includes among others Karel Kosikow, even though as a 20 year old youth he was a member of the verification committees which after 1948 expelled individuals from higher education institutions.
Generally, I believe, that this policy is very rigid and unjust. Since even if someone 30 years ago just for one day was a member of the National Police Forces, today that will unable this individual to perform certain functions. This also applies to the national policemen who in 1968 defended the unusual party meeting in Vysoczany against the Soviet occupying troops. I conclude that there are few such individuals. But from a moral point of view even if one individual were to unjustly suffer because of this policy, then I would continue to believe that the policy is wrong. For that reason alone the idea of collective guilt and responsibility is never utilized, only individual acts of each individual are assessed. The project of novelization of the policy, which I proposed to the Federal Gathering(Assembly?), foresees that every person could undergo the evaluation of the independent courts which would have the right to confirm each individual able to perform specific functions due to specific circumstances of an individual case. For example, if an individual later participated in the struggle for human rights for a perio of several years, then the courts could eventually rightfully acknowledge that this individual’s achievements are greater than his guilt for having belonged somewhere for some time. This would also apply to people who were forced into collaboration, or those who delegated(?) collaboration with the regime underground organizations. Such incidents are conceivable in the 1950s.
M: There is one more problem. I have heard that the vice-leader of the Slovak Parliament Ivan Czarnogursky addused the former premier of Slovakia Vladimir Mecziar of collaborating with secret service, and Mecziar accused Czarnogursky of doing the same. The arbitrator in such a conflict can only be someone who would be competent, say a sergeant in secret service. Well, then it appears that we are approaching absurdity when a sergeant of secret service begins issuing certificates of morality.
H: Yes, that’s true and I focused upon this in my letter to the parliament: that the most important, absoute and final indicator of suitability to serve certain functions in a democratic state is internal materials of secret service. That in itself is a mistake(?).
M: Much talked about in the world was the issue of Jan Kavan, a former emigrant, who was advising the Czech opposition, and who upon return to the country was accused of supposedly collaborating with secret service. It is said that last week you demonstrated by going out to a restaurant with Kavan in a way to make it visible for everyone to see.
H: Yes, last week I sat with Jan Kavan in a restaurant, but that was not a demonstration. I met with him because our mutual friend Petr Uhl asded that I speak to him and see his version. I did not see a reason not to do it, especially since I worked with Kavan still in the years of dissent. He was helping out then the then opposition and he did a lot for us. this incident of his is very debatable, furthermore I had no reason not to meet with him. However it was not a demonstration.
M: You say that somehow one must swim in between Scylla and Charybdis. Where, according to you is the boundary where the need for justice ends and the need for revenge begins?
H: That boundary can be described as ambiguous and is not defined by such norms (notions?) as feeling, taste, understanding, thoughtfulness, wisdom – certain human traits. If we were to guide ourselves by them then perhaps it would be possible to find that boundary. It is a very touchy problem and such boundaries are difficult to locate, which our policy of lustrations confirms, and which, I believe, is not suitable even though it contains the results of 2 year long investigations. It is an example of how difficult it is to define this boundary when you use as your criteria norms of rightfullness, because there is something which is even worse than a rigid law, and it is a state of lawlessness when everyone and lustrate anyone, scandalize them publicly.
M: You said in one of your interviews that you sense how fear of the past appears in people. When I was recently in Germany and spoke with our friends from times of dissent, they all talked about Stazi. I felt that it was a topic of obsession. They said that for them the actions fo Stazi were comparable to extermination of the soul, and that the entire problem must be viewed from the perspective of the victims. If someone ws victimized by Stazi, then they have the right to botain justice in the sense of finding out who victimized them. That means the right to see their files to find out who was responsible for delivering the wrongful accusations.
On the other hand, when I, not too long ago, spoke with the Spanish writer Jorge Semprun and asked him: “How did you in Spain deal with this?”, since there was a dictatorship, police which tortured people, informants, etc., he replied: “If you want to live normally, you must try to forget, because otherwise the wild snakes once let out of the cans will poison public life for years to come”.
However, a German writer Jurgen Fuchs said: “Lesten, Adam i am not a blood eater, I write poetry, but I will not be able to live with it. If we will not resolve this matter to the end, then it will continue to return to us, like nazism. We had not reidentified ourselves and that weighted above for many years.”
What does a Czech writer think about this, who at the same time is a president?
H: I want to tell you that with regard to this matter my own private opinion differs slightly from that which I have and must have as a president.
As a president I must take into consideration the state of the society and its will. My personal attitude to this is best illustrated through an example. Shortly after I became a president I was given a list of all my friends who informed on me. Not only did I lose that piece of paper that very same day but I also forgot the names of those who we on it. It sim ply means that I personally tend to lean toward the idea of putting it to rest. I have developed a noticeable distance(?) because I am familiar with the mills and I know how they destroy people. I wrote dramas and essays about it aand somehow personally I have resolved that problem within me. Hence I have no need whatsoever to punish someone who had not checked himself.
However, as a president, I must take into consideration that society needs a separation of a kind, because it will feel as though the revolution has not been completed. There are people whose lives had been totally destroyed by the regime, and so lives of their families who spent their entire youth incarnerated in concentration camps and who have a great difficulty reconciling themselves with this. Especially since many of those who persecuted them are now better off than they themselves.
That stings the eyes. In the society there exists an evident need to come to terms with the past, and to eliminate those who terrorized the nation and through evident methods disregarded and abused huan rights, and to remove them from performing any functions in society. As I said previously, there is a histrical necessity to confront our own past without any lenses and to precisely call it for what it is. Hence I cannot approach these matters in the same careless fashion as I did by losing that paper with “my own confidantes.”Sasza Vondra(President’s adviser on international matters): It is interesting to notice that with regard to these matters there exists a difference between Catholic and Protestant societies. On the one side there is Spain, also Hungary, Poland, and on the other – Germany, the Czech nation.
Michael Zantovsky(press spokesperson of President Havel): In Slovakia the approach is taking on a more Catholic dimension…
M: I think that Sasza has touched upon a philosophical structuralism because in Poland it just so happens – I don’t know why – that no one speaks more loudly about calculations as Catholic politicians.
Only such horrible, shady people as Kuroi and myself are not so wild with this(?). However, politicians belonging to the party which has in its name the work Catholic, today tend to repeat that Dod is just rather than that God is forgiving.
H: The fact is that in Catholicism there sxist two traditions which invoke specific dialectical pressures. One is the tradition of sin according to which Catholicism is much more open-minded than the proestant religion. From there you derive forgiveness and penance. The second Catholic tradition is one of inquisition.
Zantovsky: But penance is always associated with confession, admittance of one’s guilt, while inkwizicija concerns itself with the revellationof hidden sins which are perceived as most dangerous.
M: I think that each one of us is sentenced to such a personal dichotomy. When I was still in prison I took two vows: firstly, that I will never sign up for any combatant organization which gives out medals for fighting communism, and secondly, that I will never seek revenge.
On the other hand I kept repeating a verse from a poem by Herbert, who wrote:“Do not forgive, because it is not in your ight to forgive on begalf of those who were betrayed at dawn.”
I think that we are sentenced to such a dialectical [situation?], that we can forgive our own wrongdoings, however, the forgiveness of wrongdoings of others is not within our power. We can encourage them towards it, but if people want justice, they have the right to it.
H: That is exactly my dilemma which I spoke about a moment ago. In my function I cannot behave as I would if I were just a private person. I have no need to persecute my agents or “confidantes”, I do not feel a need for revenge. However, as a civil servant I have no right to proclaim for others a common act of mercy.
M: A moment ago you used a formulation which disturbed me, about the unfinished revolution, What exactly does that mean? When will you acknowledge that the revolution is complete?
H: Hard to say. This revolution does not end on one specific day and there cannot be an indicator upon which one can say that it has just been completed. It is a process which is occurring, which ripens, ends itself and disappear. And only then when new generations will enter political life, it will be possible to say that it is behind us.
But in some sense this revolution is actually not finished. Let us become conscious, for example, of the fact that the program of our revolution included the market economy, yet 95% of ownership is state controlled. The same holds true for the justice system where 95% of regulations and laws come from communist times. It is a similar situation with the political system. Time will bring new people who will replace present government workers, but up to now everything is still in motion.
Nonetheless, I agree with you that it is difficult to say: Now the revolution has ended. There will always be a specific symbolic moment, for example, when the largest steel mill will be transferred into private hands.
Zantovsky: Forgive me but I think that here we are touching upon matters from which you have always defended(?) yourself.
Thanks to the press the term “revolutin” has stuck, but what happened here was not a literal revolution. That is always associated with violence. If it had been a revolution the constitution would have been suspended and the revolutionary courts would have been called forth. We however did not go that way, and I believe that it’s too late to return to it.
H: Yes, but at the beginning we called it a revolution…
Zantovsky: Us – no.
H: Good, then it was called as such. The concepts mean what we want them to mean. Now, for example, debates are taking place about where a federation ends and where a confederation begins. As writers we know well, we are not only readers but also creators of vocabularies. We are aware that each word can gradually take on such meaning which is given to it. What happened here was called a revolution and regardless of that, whether it’s just or not, it’s a certain fact.
Zantovsky: Here I must oppose. Your friend Tom Stoppard ascertained, that the usage of a language makes sense only when words are used consistently. Because otherwise people would not understand one another. Of course, reporters can write what they want, but from the definition it becomes obvious that it was not any kind of revolution.
H: Now a scientist speaking in you, not a poet.
Zantovsky: I was simply quoting your friend who is not a scietist by any means.
M: I think that this revolution consisted of demonstrations which forced the totalitarian authority to compromise. And later that which reporters referred to as the “Velvet Revolution” and had entered upon the road of national rights(??)
In our countries there exists a theory that everything went wrong then. That it should not be[have been?]allowed to enter upon the road of rights, that through revolutionary methods or the road of no rights, destroy communism(???). A revolution always indicates(?) [means?] discrimination, whether of political enemies or of people from the old regime, while the law indicates [means?]fairness. And that, Vasza, is not a scientism but life: law is equal for everyone or there is no law.
I fear that a possibility still exists to deprive certain categories of people of the protection of the law (for example, former communists), as it was done in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution to kulaks and bourgeoisie. And when I ask what this “unfinished revolution” means, I know what I fear. I fear that this process can also lead to its next phase. We know from the history about revolutions (from Cromwell through Napoleon and Khomeni, till more recent examples) which started as a struggle for freedom and ended as despotism.
Many years ago the above mentioned Semprun wrote a script for a movie by Alain Resnais “The war has ended”. The Spanish Civil War was nearing its end and the army material was no longer needed. And when you say “unfinished revolution”, then I pause to think whether people will not appear who will say: Look, enen Havel – a humanist, writer, philosopher, good individual – says that we must continue with the revolution. Well then, are we to continue with the revolution or do we say: The war has ended? There are communists but they have the same kind of rught to live as do other people. If they have committed crimes and there is court proven evidence, then they will be punished as all criminals; but if not, then they cannot be discriminated against for having been in the communist party an X number of years ago.H: I believe that the sense behind these changes – if you don’t want to you don’t have to call them revolutionary – is to introduce law instead of lawlessness. But this societal pressure is caused by the lawlessness which has carried over. Imagine, for example, if you would, that one of my friends, Standa Milota, who for 20 years was persecuted and could not work has a pension today of a 1000 Koruna because he could not advance and had a low basis for the calculation of his pension. And the individual who persecuted him and made it ipmossible for Milota to work, receives today 5 thousand Korunas, owns a villa and other assets. Such situations happen. People see it and say: In appearance those “upstairs” have changed – censorship has been lifted, newspapers can print whatever they want – but in actuality those material, everyday wrongs and consequences of lawlessness have remained in place. And people are rebelling against it. They differ from political extremists since they are guided not by a demand for revenge but a
desire for justice, and moral and material satisfaction. This has nothing in common with some kind of jacobinism or a permanent revolution. The concern here lies in completing the already begun matter of repairing public affairs. At least that’s how I see it. However, if there are some signs of the desire for revenge or signs of fanaticism then I strongly oppose this.
M: Today we are observing a certain astonishing phenomenon. Not long ago I was in Yugoslavia, if one can still use this name. Perhaps, it would be better to say I was in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. I got the impression that the press, radio and television of these nations communicate in the language of 50 years ago, that the conflicts have returned that appeared to be forever burried. In Serbia, for example, one hears about the Croatian ustaszas, and in Croatia – about Serbian Czetniks.
Also in other countries one can notice the return of the language, symbols and ideology which ceased to function 50 years ago. In Poland ondession(?) is returning, in the Ukraine statues are being raised for Bandera, in Slovakia – rehabilitation of priest Tiso, in Romania – a thousand copies of the newspaper “Romania Mare” appear, which glorify Antonescu, in Hungary Horthy is praised.
What does this return of old demons mean?
H: I am slightly surprised by the revival of the old demons. It confirms one of my earlier observations – that communism through some method has stopped history. It has halted its natural development and movement. Metaphorically it can be said that it was a type of anesthetic and only now the society is awakening to the state before it was applied [the method?]. All the problems which the society dwelled upon before the anesthetic are suddenly returning to life and everyone is surprised by this.
Also it astonished me, especially where younger people are involved, who did not study this in school and who really did not know anything about this – how very alive these bad traditions are in them, the ones which you spoke about, and also how good(?). In our country, in each city or province, one can observe that people are reestablishing their traditional links which were destroyed 40 years ago. Now they are returning to regional consciousness which is reawakening and also sentimental bonding between the regions.Not only are evil demons reawakening but good spirits too. All this is very astonishing.
M: Which demons of the Czech tradition do you fear most?
H: If I were to evaluate all these events…, those which are beginning to appear, I would consider anti-semitism as the most serious, and also national intolerance, which can be observed in Slovakia and in a different form on the Czech soil.There’s a paper published in this country, called “Politika”. It is well-read but it also publishes anti-semitic articles which are vulgar and abnoxious. There is some sort of a … … … with which we last dealt in 1938 in the times of … … … Republic, and between Munich and German occupation when all kinds of fascist organizations were being developed, such as “Vlaiki”(?, and when there were all kinds of attacks on Karel Chapek. There is a correlation between a number of complex situations of chauvinism, fascism, intolerance and hatred directed against those who are different. Today it appears in a form of hatred towards the Vietnamese, Cubans, Romanians, or gypsies. In a way it takes on the form of a cult of a “clean race”. It is a return to the phenomenon of Czech fascism which differed from the German only in that that it was Czech. In Slovakia, on the other hand, a tradition exists which the communists referred to as … … … fascism. Incidentally, memories are being … … … up of the Slovak nation from the time of 1939 to 1945 and a number of anti-semitic signals are being reborn and this is very, very dangerous. But there are also other dangerous demons which are appearing on our unstable soil and shich can find this soil very fertile. The democratic state in relation to the previous totalitarian state must appear as undecided and uncertain(?). It must also appear as inadequately strong and energetic. It is natural however that people who their entire lives dealt with a totalitarian state do not simply acquire all of a sudden a different kind of self-confidence that serves as … … … for those who would dream of a strong state. There appears to be a desire for a strong personality, for someone to come onto the scene and clean up the mess. It is less significant how strong the people carrying the flag are, or whether they are from the right or from the left. I think that this kind of danger exists in our post-communist nations.
M: Don’t you get the impression that … … … pertaining to communism are dominated by the question: Where did this communism come from? How did it occur that from the leftist traditions, from the language, from the rhetoric, and from the leftist system of values, all of a sudden there appears a system of a non-people dictatorship, and at this time if we were to forget that the leftist face of dictatorship is only one of its(?) faces. Is it possible for the system, a totalitarian system, or dictatorship, … … … the rightist ideology to exist? We are observing in all of Europe a return to rightist values. Do you not fear that the danger is much greater than we acknowledge, than it is acknowledged by the society. Today no one is going to be conned by the promises of the leftist totalitarianism, but everything which … … … of the leftist, ideology, is always associated with communism. Do you not think that anti-communism which recommends a rightist rhetoric and puts itself far away from national values which were destroyed by communism can be something of a new danger to us, the kind of a danger that neither our society, nor we are prepared to deal with.
H: I must admit that I myself don’t feel threatened, I don’t fear the rightist rhetoric which would be proclaimed(?) [used?] by the new authority. However, here I speak only on behalf of myself. And I myself feel immune to the bacteria of totalitarianism regardless of its face. Maybe that is why those who suspect me of being leftist do so. Such signals would be indicative of the possibility of an authoritarian state and a rightist state. Naturally in our society [they] do appear, but through what I do I don’t assist them.
M: For me it is clear that you will not be vulnerable to dictatorship or a totalitarian ideology of the right. But you are from another kind of an ape. The ape from which you derive yourself is not suitable for any kind of dictatorship. You yourself have said on many occasions that you don’t place yourself either within the boundaries of the right, or within the boundaries of the left. I defince myself in a very similar way. Furthermore, you say, and this again is very close to my vews, that categories, or lables, or typifications don’t explain the world for me. But why is it happening in Czechoslovakia and in Slovakia and in Poland? All kinds of people appear who talk of themselves as of the right or the left. What exactly are they trying to say through this?
H: I also find it slightly entertaining(?) [funny?] simetimes when I read in the paper that some sort of a right party has been created or that someone is going to creat an association of parties of the right. I associate that with the societal desire to creat some sort of a pluralistic political spectrum. People know that in the democratic tradition the political strength polarizes itself from the left to the right [ is spread between the left and the right political poles?]. Hence they make attemps to describe it and to locate somehow in that spectrum. Today there is this specific description that can be applicable to a supporter of the right. Which for many reasons seems rather understandable(?). What else could one expect after the fall of communism!? Especially of those who supported the left because of their convictions. I think that is a normal counter-reaction. However I do think that if nothing obstructs the normal development then with time the political spectrum will stabilize itself, and that such a hypertrophy of self-descriptions will dissolve(?) itself. Because only then will serious political work be acknowledged and the realization of different programs will become actual. And the matter of who belongs where will no longer be an issue to be declared or proclaimed(?) [important issue?]. There issues rather caracteristic of the time that we live in and the epoch of post-communism, since it is something that the world has not experienced yet. It is a new phase in which a number of different, unexpected and dramatic moments are constantly occuring. I myself must admit that today some things simply astonish me.
M:It is a time of great dangers and being involved in politics today means making your life more difficult. Any politically thinking individual would rather wait for a period of five years till this process of fermentaion was over, and then would get himself involved in politics. It is however a stage that must be struggled through and must be overcome even though it is full of paradoxes and absurdities.Now I would like to ask you about something which I find rather astonishing and which I don’t understand. On what is the whole authority of priest Tiso in Slovakia based. Perhaps this question may show my ignorance, but in my picture of the history of the Slovak nation, it’s not the tradition(?) [something?] that can be rehabilitated.
H: Yes, I agree with you comepletely, and I believe that it is a very sad and a very dangerous occurrence. I must say that. But this is not the opinion of most of the citizens of Slovakia. The rehabilitation of priest Tiso is demanded basicly by small groups. You, however,asked what are the causes of this. They are specific and very rational. The Slovak nation ever since the 8th century has been ruled by a … … … nation. The Czechoslovak Republic was not, for the Slovak people, adaquate enough to fulfill their desire to be an independent nation. However we can acknowledge the responsibility of the Czechoslovak Republic(?) [However, thank to the Czechoslovak Republic they were not……] that it was through them that they were not dominatied by the Hungarian nation, and that they were able to acquire their freedom despite of the pressure of the Hungarian and Magyar armies. But they didn’t feel the taste of freedom. One of the periods of independence of the Slovak nation was the time of the Slovak Republic from the time of the … … … . The nation belonged to Hitler and it developed out of Hitler’s will(?) who through various means tried to appease it.
The Slovak nation adjusted itself to rules and regulations of the German nation. Nonetheless, in relation to the other nations which collaborated with Hitler in Slovakia there was a relative method(?)of existance. Of course we are not going to take into consideration the deportation of Jews or the selling of Jews to Germans. The atmosphere of war surrounded the whole nation. But the interior of it was not so clear. The strain of war that Poland had undergone Slovakia did not experience. Slovaks don’t like it when Czechs remind them that it was a Slovak nation(?). They believe that it was their problem which they themselves must resolve and that Czechs have no right to interfere in it. I think these are sort of different elements of a certain collective historical consciousness in which existance is encircled, although, I repeat myself, it is not a common occurrence. The fact is that the execution of Father Tiso after the war was a debatable matter. In Slovakia it was believed that a priest’s life cannot be taken. And in this I differ(?) [And here my views differ from theirs?]. Catholics are not united in opposing death penalty. And in this matter time did not eliminate their recollections(?).
Publicly I have attempted to keep myself distant from the contemporary dilemmas of the Czech nation, and of the Slovak nation, thinkning that a democratic government of Czechoslovakia cannot really have anything to do with that.
M: You’ve said interesting things about the Slovak complex. But now I’d like to ask you about the Czech complex. I will forever remember the conversation which I had in November of 1989 in Warsaw … … Tigrits(?), Karel Szwartsbenger(?), Jiri Pelikan and Vilem Krechan(?). I concluded that communism in Czechoslovakia was kaput [finished], to which Tigrits responded: You don’t know the Czech. The whole spirituality of the Czech nation is caught between(?) [has as its source?] Schweik and Kafka. The Czech are unable to shake off the communist dictatorship because they suffer from the complex that they did not defend themselves in 1938, nor in 1948, nor in 1968. I don’t need to tell you how glad I was when it became apparent that I was a specialist with regard to the Czech soul, and my friend Tigrits and the others agreed with that.
H: Something is being confirmed here which I suspected a long time ago. In the 1979s and ’80s a number of foreign journalists would approach me and repeat the same thing: that there was just a handful of dissenters and that the nation would never joing them, and it would never reawaken because it was content with what it had or at least it had come to terms with that, and that we were playing idiots who beat our heads against the wall, etc, etc. And I told them: What can you know? Many possibilities are napping(?) in the soul of this society. I have lived through many surprising events and I believe that everything is possible. I have lived for example through the euphoria of 1968 when there was a general national common peaceful opposition to the Soviet invasion. I was completely astonished by this because prior to this apathy had ruled for so many years. I was surprised that it came from within the society. However not even a year had passed when the same society returned to apathy again, and I was once again astonished. How was it possible that the same people who not so long ago faced tanks with their bare hands now were saying: All this makes no sense; it’s better to spend time gardening(?). I understood then that we were simultaneously Shweiks, … … … , and all these traits existed in all of us simultaneously.
M: Communism was an ideology which in an unusually simple way, simple words was able to explain the construction(?) of the world to any idiot. Its few formulae were smarter than Plato, Hidegger. And now communism has collapsed and along with it the simple way to explain the world. A void was created, a vacuum. And I’m getting the impression that dirty, simple nationalism is presently entering this void, that these people who were explaining the world by utilizing communist categories do the same today by using nationalistic categories.
H: We all know from studuing our physics that nature cannot stand emptiness, that it cannot stand something that is created from pressure(?) and it tries to liquidate it. The main of the most primitive ideologies, the one that pressures to fill the vacuum is nationalism. It is not the only one, however. There are other simple ways of thinking and explaining the world which try to fill the vacuum. Nonetheless, I think that the world presently has a great chance. In a book which I’ve recently written I’ve come to the conclusion that at least in certain regions of the world there is a chance to terminate an ideological era and to begin a new era of an idea. That means that an era of an open society, an era of consciousness, of global relationships and global responsibility simultaneously could become an era of a non-dictatorial ways of thinknig, in which, in my opininon, not everything would have to modify itself to suit the method. In the whole epoch of the contemporary world there would exist a tendency that one thing with another could not be in conflict, that it is necessary to have a close and a complete picture of the world. The idea of the world view(?) has come into existance. For me it is an approach which is filled with conflicts. I’ll explain what it means. Could the world be so simple that it is possible to have just one global view? I have a thousand views which are parallel and which pertain to many issues, and a thousand of different opinions. I think that after the present epoch with its constructions of rationalism, a new epoch will open itself up. Vaclaw Belogradsky is the first of post-modernists. Generally, I think, the human personality preferrs to have several possibilities, being able to think about each issue and each matter in a different way, and not to use only one method of thinking or one approach. Simultaneously there is a pluralism of ideas where the most suitable approach would appease(?) [would be the one which would solve] all conflicts, regardless of the nature of the conflict, whether it’s ideological, national or some other. Everything must fit into one view of the world. Of course, looking from a different angle one would see a diffenent picture of the world. And that becomes the source of a coflict. Returning, however, to the vacuum, it is not only a great source of unhappiness, but it’s simultaneously a chance.
M: The era of ideology is coming to its end. Is it not a blessed wish(?), a wish of the humanist, of the intellectual? Because in all post-communist countries we are observing a return to nationalism, a return to utopian ethnically homogeneous nations, to the utopia of a “clean” nation, the nation without foreigners and those who are different. The phenomenon that facinates me is the phenomenon of nationalism as a nation and a state, but also the zenophobia mentality, the dislike of gypsies, Jews, etc. In Germany this is articulated even in a more radical way. I’ll tell you a funny story that I’ve heard myself. Two Germans meet, one from the East, Ossi(?), and the other from the West, Zessi(?). Ossi says: Welcome, we are one nation. And Zessi responds: Us too. Tell me then, how would you describe nationalism as ideology, as the world view?
H: It’s a complicated question. However when you look at the history of the last thousand years you see that it’s a consistant series of conflicts of regional nature, or national nature in which the elements of difference(?) play the main role. It means that the dilemma(?) of belonging to a nation is found in people at grade(?)… … … and means more that class affiliation and class consciousness. Most of the wars in the contemporary history were national wars, wars between nations.
People are searching for something with which they could identify(?), for a common sign. The most simple is a national identity. Because in order to be, say, a Czech one does not need anything, one does not need to be smart, or good, etc. It is enough to be born here. That is probably the main cause of the fact that regardless of all the experiments(?) certain national call always find a response. If there is a call addressed to a Marxist, or phenomenologist, or existantialist, it would not be so loud(?) [heard] because most of these people would not know how to describe it (?). However anyone knows what a nationality is. That is the simplest and the most dangerous thing. Communism had a strong tendency for homogenity. The idea was to make sure that everything was the same from Vladivostok to Berlin: the structure of the national administration, the way the communities looked, etc. It means that there were efforts, sometimes in most horrible ways, to erase all the differences between the nations and nationalities.
I think a lot of time will pass before societies of citizens develop, the citizens who will appreciate all levels of their own identity, and will not try to put themselves above others.
M: And what about Zenophobia? Where does it come from? Why in Czechoslovakia, where there’s no Jewish problem? Why this anti-semitism in “Politika”? Why this aggressive attitude towards gypsies?
This is not a specifically Czech phenomenon. It exists in all of post-communist countries. In Germany, for example, there are at least two absurd situations. Nazi symbolism appears which till recently did not exist.
H: I think that Zenophobia in post-communist countries has at least two causes. One of them is that for fourty years we did not live in an open society. When you are in London, Paris, or New York you meet people of different races who spead different languages and you are accustomed to it. There there are problems too, for example with Turks in Germany or with Arabs in France. But generally people are accustomed to the fact that the world has become a cosmopolitan place, that it is possible to move within it and to change your place of residence. We, however, lived in a kind of a ghetto. Now people encounter other people who for whatever reason are different and who speak a different language. And this is a new experience for them. The second reason, which may serve as an explanation of this phenomenon is that people want to find a guilty party. They are in a state of shock caused by freedom, by the absense of garantees, by disillusionment in the hierarchy. This is a state which I have many times compared to that of a person who’s just been released from a jail. When you are in prison, you are happy for the moment. When you are let free, and when it happens so suddenly, you become totally helpless: you don’t know what to do, you may even have a desire to return back to prison, because you know what awaits you there. But you don’t know what to expect of this newly acquired freedom. The same thing is happening with this society. It does not know what to do with this freedom. Hence, this search for an enemy who could be blamed for all the misfortunes. Of course the easiest enemy is a person or a group who at the first glance looks fifferent form the rest, who speaks a different language, or who has a different skin color. Because people tend to localize their own misfortunes and the misfortunes of the world and the source of their frustrations, and separate it from themselves. It is much easier to point a finger at someone else and to say: That is the devil.
Zantovski: Apart from what Mr.President said I believe that the Czech society in relation to others is not clearly zenophobic. After the revolution there was not an anti-Soviet wave, and aside from the discussions of historical relations with Germans and the related problems there were no anti-German sentiments either. Gypsies are attacked but those attacks are limited to a small group of young people who describe themselves as skinheads and have no wider base in the society. Public surveys indicate that the Czech society has a rather good record in this respect. It does not mean of course that there’s no intolerance or zenophobia in our society but compared with other countries these incidents do not occur on a mass scale. Of course we are still concerned with such facts regardless of the scale because this is a very dangerous situation.
M: I’m happy that in Poland, as well a here, the Presidents, the people polemize with them(?). I must, however, say that this way of thinking is closer to me. The issue here is not based on the quantity but on the present dinamins of the danger. Zenophobia is generally a relation expressed towards foreigners(?) [ dislike of foreigners?] but it is also present in the German attitude which I had mentioned awile ago. After all Germans are one nation, but at the same time it appears that they are not. Viewing the situation from that angle I cannot but wonder about two issues. The first pertains to the decommunization of Czechoslovakia which in my opinion is quite important in this respect. The relation to communists is articulated in our relation to other people who are different from us, people with different biographies, with different experience. Here’s an example. It is not an incident that the leader of the Republican Party, Mr. Slavik, and the leader of the Polish National Party, Mr.Gertseg, take after their role model, Jean-Mary LePan(?). I must say that there is something in this, thought it may appear irrelevant, humorous and marginal. But we are all people of our century. We must remember that Hitler at the beginning was an absolutely grotesque person. What could such a Hitler mean in a conservative Germany!? He was an Austrian citizen and a failure of a painter.
H: The destruction of the hierarchy, of the values provokes people like Slavik to propose their own simple values. It is a negative proposition of self-description. Slavik is not proposing any program of a positive value. He simply wants to destroy the present authority: the state, the Parliament, and the President. Such negative self-description is simple and understandable. People have become accustomed to the vices of the communists and now they are simply disoriented, they don’t have anyone to curse [blame?] anymore, and instead they are told to curse those who rule today. It allows them to propose a simple way of life. The present situation has a base for different kinds of agressive attitudes and zenophobia. This is not limited just to national intolerance. In what Slavik says one would find notes in favor of the “clean” Czech nation. But at the same time there could be other, cheaper models. I’m fully conscious of the existing dangers. The example of Hitler came to my mind a number of times.
And once I even spoke about this example publicly for which Slavik immediately took me to court. Such situations are specifically dangerous in certain parts of the Soviet Union where in many way they are much worse then the situation is here. I believe that our societal organism can handle and manage this particular virus. At the same time we have certain historical traditions here. In a war period there was a number of attempts to bring down Masarek(?), leftist and rightist. But none of them were successful, and they remained as marginal episodes. I believe that even now this danger will grow simply because our young, inexperienced democracy does not know how to deal with it yet. The police is undecided and disoriented and they don’t know whether they shoiuld intervene. They fear that they will be viewed as the continuation of the communist police and they simply walk away and do nothing.
M: On many occasions you written and spoken that in this world where political culture is so ridden of virtues it’s necessary to return to spiritual values. In your opinion, what is the role of religion in the post-communist epoch. Under the communist dictatorship for all of us, people of the orthodox background, and non-orthodox [too], it was a source of strength. It was obvious that it was a natural law to which we all must remain faithful. But what does it look like today?H: I think that we … … … in the post-communist world, perhaps I’ll limit myself to Czechoslovakia, has two measurements. On the one hand it is something very important in perspective, since it reminds people of metaphysical … … … of our conscience and our responsibilities, it accentuates brotherly love. The reminder of such traditions, of Christian values is a matter one must pay attention to. This is something that a demoralize society as ours badly needs. However there’s also a second measurement which maybe is smaller in Poland than it is here. And it is entering of religion, or the church, into the political life, some faith, something deeply internal, spiritual and individual in the secular world, in the world where anything can once again become an ideology or doctrine. As I said before, I think that there’s a chance for a return(?) of the world away from ideology.
How dangerous the entering of religion into the political world is is visible much more clearly in Moslem nations than in Christian ones. And it is visible in the form of fundamentalism. A nation is basd not on religious criteria but on the criteria of dictatorship, of ideology. A nation which is based upon such elements is by its nature intolerant because it reducing a human[being] to a measure of life(?) and, hence, dominates the human and manipulates him. I think that a nation that bases itself on religious elements, as compared with those based on ideological or nationalistic elements, is always dangerous.
M: Permit me now to ask a question of you, as of a president of a nation. How does the church bahave in Czechoslovakia? Does it put pressure in the matter of penalization of abortion? Does it demand to be written into the formulae of the Constitution that the country ought to base itself on Christian values? Does it demand itself to be written into the regulations and guarantees, and values of the educational system? In your conversation with the Bishop of the Republic was it said that if Czechs and Slovaks are Christian nations, then the Republic ought to be formulated in a way(?) to serve a Christian nation?
H: I have never encountered such a thing, especially in the Czech nation. In Slovakia where Catholicism is stronger and there is a political group called the Christian Democratic Movement the Church doesn’t really demand that the nation be based on the foundations of a religious nature or have a role guaranted by the Constitution. But one can observe certain traces of the participation of the Church in the political life. The Czech Bishop Miroslav … … … is for me an example of such religious participation in the political life. Which in a way we need. Rejuvenation of spiritual and moral values is included in his program. And I consider these things rather important. In the Czech Church, however, there has been no efforts made to defince our nation as a Christian nation or as a Catholic nation. The Church wishes to separate itself from the state, and wants the guarantee of non-interference in its own regular work, and at the same time it demands a return of the land and property that belonged to the Church and which in 1984 and after 1984 were taken away from priests and nuns. But unfortunately neither in Czechia, nor in Slovakia there have been no efforts to nationalize the Church, ot to replace the old leadership of the Communist Party which had suppressed the will of the Church.
M: And now I will ask you as a writer, as an intellectual, and as a citizen about your attitude to the idea of detaining a woman and a doctor and later sending them to prison for an abortion?
H: It is an unusually complicated issue on which at this point I don’t have a ready opinion. Instinctually I feel that abortion is something which is bad.
I think that most people feel that way. But at the same time it would be necessary, and it is necessary to solve this problem, considering the demographic explosion[growth of population]. And in this area(?) I’m not realy ready to answer. Our policies with regard to this matter are rather liberal, and certain parliamentarians, the ones of Catholic orientation, would like to make them stricter. They have made references with regard to this issue to me personally to get my support but I am not able to support their demands. Because this problem is terribly complicated and even though there is so much literature and research on the subject. I am not able to tell you how it would be with us. I don’t have a specific problem with this policy being allegedly too rigid. Actually I think it’s the other way around.
M: And how would you react as a citizen, not as a President, if priests would tell the citizens as to what party they were to support and which party they were to vote for in order to be good Christians?
H: From what I have said I think it is rather clear that I would not consider it to be a good idea. So far in our country there have only been single incidents of such nature. It was in Slovakia. I think it is not the priest’s responsibility. I can understand, however, that at the moment when communism and the entire system have collapsed, priests are always supporting the issue of freedom, whether it’s “Solidarity” in Poland or “The Citizen’s Forum” in Czechoslovakia. Cardinal Tomashek(?) if I remember correctly once set(?) a mass in the cathedral with the intention of supporting the citizens. If something like that happened today I would consider this a very unpleasant incident.
Vondra: At this point I cannot even imagine a priest telling his parishioners as to what party they should vote for.
M: Not long ago in Slovakia in the magazine “The Cultural Life” there was a provocative religious article by writer Martin Kasarda(?). After the publication our mutual friend, the Slovak Premier Jan Charnogurski held back(?) his donation to the magazine, and the Vice-Premier of the Federal government turned to a judge to begin a process of investigation.
In Poland a bishop issued a letter on the matter of means of mass communication in which he state that certain texts are obscene and others are not.
The second incident is the one with writer Sulman Rushdie. He was accused of having violated religious sanctity. And he was sentenced to death. Of course….
End of the tape