Thursday, May 29, 2008

Silliman's blog

The Language poet and scholar Ron Silliman has an interesting account of events of 1968 in his blog today. (edit: That is, May 29th)

I don't know much about the events of Mexico City, but the Prague Spring is something I've been researching, mostly from the somewhat dramatized biography of Havel, titled "Havel" by John Keane.

In 1968, the first secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was Alexander Dubcek, a mild-mannered (too mild according to his critics) individual who sought to bring progressive reforms into the government.

These reforms had enough of a success to draw the attention of leaders in Moscow, who later brought Dubcek to Moscow for rounds of intimidation; he was not much later rudely expelled.

After Dubcek was expelled, the young Vaclav Havel became convinced that long-term moral resistance to the regime was necessary. But there is an event beforehand that stuck with me in my research - a moment in the early summer of the "Prague Spring" when Havel and several other young artists have the opportunity to meet with Dubcek on a veranda (the exact Czech term for that escapes me) overlooking the town square...people are cheerful and optimistic, umbrellas are being opened to protect from the sun, lemonade is being served, and Havel is wearing sunglasses, practicing an ancient arab technique of dialogue/debate called Ketman.

This is very similar to what Stephen Colbert does today. In ketman you take a position which appears to be mocking your true position, thus avoiding being tagged at your true position. So, pre-emptive self-mockery in order to avoid true mockery.

Although you wonder who was the witness to this scene the way Keane describes it, (perhaps the whole thing was a bit of theater in the mind of the biographer) we have Havel smirking and saying things like "all of us agree that socialism is here to stay", followed by Dubcek, looking drawn and tired in a suit and tie, not looking at Havel directly, but unfooled by the tactic, replying in a flat tone:"do you really think so?"

Havel says: "the Party looks out for us, that's why I believe in socialism!"
"Do you really think so?" asks Dubcek, not smiling. "Maybe you only think so because you are young and successful, but there are many people in Prague alone who are dissatisfied."

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