I am addressing you as a former Czech human rights dissident who helped the Czechoslovak opposition, especially Charter 77, for 20 years to change the repressive pre-1989 Communist regime. Charter 77 was a human rights movement that was very heterogeneous. While this factor made it fairly strong and attractive before November 1989, it was the movement’s Achilles heel after the so-called Velvet Revolution.
The Chartists were united in their demand that laws should be respected and human rights conventions implemented, that people should not be sent to prison for their political views, that there should be freedom of the press, speech, assembly and association. Many argued that ethical principles should govern political decision-making.
They all agreed that the prevailing economic system was grossly inefficient and increasingly less and less able to satisfy the expectations of the population. The social contract upon which the social and political order was based had come under increasing and eventually destabilizing strain. The Chartists facilitated the emergence of a rudimentary civil society. Given the absence of any permitted critical dialogue, any genuine pluralist forms, even a tiny non-conformist voice represented a major challenge to the system. I am trying here to stress that Communism collapsed because of its own contradictions and that the internal factors in these systems were more decisive than the alleged pressure of the West or the superiority of liberal capitalism.
In my opinion Dick Howard of Stony Brook University was right when he argued that the East European changes were revolutionary in the sense that they made it possible to pursue «democratic policies of rights.» There was no Fukuyama’s End of History or a victory of liberalism. Most of the population, including many of the dissidents, even including Vaclav Havel, did not wish to see the return of capitalism. However, there was no consensus as to what system they wanted to implement. All proposals were marked by lack of experience, by naïveté, by wishful thinking. And there was a very fertile soil for illusions. I recall my friend the late Jirí Dienstbier, who became the first post-1989 Foreign Minister, declaring that «the Cold War was won by the civil society,» a great illusion that stemmed from the fact that a number of dissidents became government ministers. Only two years later the dissidents began to understand that their former «power of the powerless» (Havel´s phrase) was quickly replaced by the powerlessness of those in power. And most of them were removed from all power positions anyway. The real power shifted to the new financial oligarchy, Western banks and Western advisers.
Under the slogan that past injustices have to be set right, a major program of privatization unfolded. Supporters of capitalism, such as the then Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus, today the President, warned that economists and managers should not be slowed down by lawyers and those who wanted to agree on rules preventing the laundering of dirty money, widespread corruption, etc.
East European countries were successfully incorporated into a variety of regional and global Western-dominated structures and institutions. The Communist past was rejected wholesale. The Right-dominated media helped to discredit ideas of socialism and even attempted to criminalize them. In some countries, including Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic, a real witch-hunt unfolded, reminiscent of the U.S. McCarthy era. Interestingly enough, the real targets were not former Communist Party officials, many of whom never believed in their ideology and easily turned into very cynical, corrupt and successful capitalists. The wrath of the new «revolutionaries» was aimed primarily at those former dissidents who remained convinced socialists. Psychologically it was understandable. For example, people asked me how could I have escaped from Communism only to join the Labour Party and become critical of Maggie Thatcher, when it was the Iron Lady who had led the courageous and victorious struggle against the evil Communists. Such an apparent absurdity could only make sense to people if I could be shown to have all the time acted under the instructions of the Communist Secret Service, the StB. Conspiratorial ways of thinking prevailed.
TALK BY JAN KAVAN
Can be seen at You Tube
Kavan was born in London, the son of a Czech diplomat, Pavel Kavan, and a British teacher, Rosemary Kavan. His father was a defendant in a Czech show trial in the 1950s and served almost four years in prison; his mother later wrote a memoir, Love and Freedom.
Returning from England to the former Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Communist government, he was the foreign minister of the Czech Republic from 1998 until 2002, a deputy prime minister from 1999 until 2002. He was a member of the Federal Assembly from 1990 till 1992. member of the Senate from 1996 till 2000 and a member of the Chamber of Deputies from 2002 till 2006. He was also the President of the United Nations General Assembly from 2002 until 2003. Kavan was accused in 1991 of collaboration with Czechoslovak secret service (StB). He was totally cleared by the Prague court in 1994 and finally by the appeal court in January 1996
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