Ludvík Vaculík: A day in August

Before the Russians came, I could put on a sock, get into a shoe and tie its lace while standing on one foot. Now I can only do it while swearing and leaning against a nearby wall. I am aware of several such changes, heralding decline. For instance, for you, the reader, it is already September, while for me it is still only August, although we are both sitting over the same text! This year, I could not find a blackbird's nest in my garden. I did not even look for it very hard. I was not much interested.

Before the Russians arrived, I was afraid that they would come, but I thought they wouldn't. The worst always happens. I say this as an optimist. My optimism lies in my conviction that whatever happens it need not be for ever. But I see myself now much less involved in any possible forthcoming change than before the Russians came. While I should be growing towards certainty, I am growing towards doubt. Instead of investing what I have learned about life into politics for the benefit of the community, I amass my knowledge in private. You see, I regard my writing as a private matter which places no obligation on anyone - not even an obligation to read it. Thus I may be heading towards non-involvement, but those who would confirm my suspicions that I am "hiding my head in the sand" would make me angry. If I were to make my views available for the benefit of the community, I would perhaps in the end be obliged to seize power and proclaim a state of emergency.

Before the Russians came, I was one of those who thought that socialism could be adjusted, so that it could be inhabited in comfort. Surely socialism must have had a certain power to convince, otherwise so many once sensible, responsible and honest people would not have found it so interesting. But even before the Russians left, I had become of the opinion that people turned socialist or anti-socialist not because of their views but because of their disposition. It is a question of temperament, emotion and ambition. According to their nature, one type of person says "things must be radically altered", while another maintains "if it ain't broke, don't mend it". Philosophical or economic theories - they are just background noise, from which people of both kinds pick and choose. One thing was strange, though: why was it that during the "building of socialism" a worse class of people came out on top. They imbued socialism with their own nature. It became repulsive, criminal, and in the end also generally bankrupt. This was no accident. The arrival of the Russians was a confirmation that these features had became an inherent part of socialism.

Before the Russians left, most of us had realised that such socialism was a crime, based on a mistake, willingly committed by society in the past. This mistake had been used by communists,"people of an unusual nature" to take over power and to proclaim a permanent state of emergency. Why was it that such people managed to get to the top? I ask the wrong question becausecorrectly we should ask How come we allowed it to happen. It was clear to us, before the Russians left, that a number of things had to be changed radically. By caprice of history, that opportunity did indeed come. When I say "caprice of history" I mean all those facts, measureable by exact science and subject to known laws, which many good people of a particular kind believe in, regardless of their intelligence.

Once the Russians had left, we hoped, believed and worked hard to be allowed and able to create a better social order. Was it meant to have been the old one? Why is it that once again, ruthless, selfish, power-hungry people, fraudsters, smugglers and even murderers are coming first? It is because of them that we have to replace our normal judgment, taste, good upbringing and good manners by a fence, made of laws. These people place snares in the fence, in which we will get caught - while they will always get through. No, the new system - or rather the new way of life which is looming - is not what we imagined when the Russians left.

Once the Russians are gone, who then can come? People who have not drawn a lesson from communism and who will therefore use democracy to create new social conflicts? These people have taken no lessons from capitalism either - that is why they are liable to duplicate all its mistakes and failures. It seems that the 1989 opportunity to start something better from scratch has almost disappeared. Perhaps the last remnant of this opportunity is connected to our current government, where there are still people who like to work honestly and hard, and whose ambition contains the desire to serve and to prove themselves. These are people with an open past and with transparent intentions. There remain a few such islands elsewhere, in the centre, in the regions, but they are slowly sinking under a tide of civic helplessness, vis-a-vis the "people of an unusual nature", identical in any era. I walk round the garden, propping up apple trees laden with fruit, and I ask myself: why don't we rebel against this? It is an archetypal question: why is it that when people are being killed, most of the victims are not even armed? Must superior people always end up worse off? Hasn't time come for them to rebel by force? It has. The time has been here for quite a while now. The destruction not only of countries, but of civilisation, is thunderously approaching from the south and from the east. Less conspicuously, in a cleverly disguised mercantile form, it is also coming from the west. Who should gather the people together to take council and to vote on what to do? And if they cannot agree on anything, who will take on that honour, who will take on that disgrace of telling them what to do? The worst outcome now would be a weak government. Something must happen fairly soon.

Before perhaps the Russians come.


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